That’s it, the festive season is over and the mince pies have all been munched. Christmas has been wrapped in old newspaper, stuffed in to carrier bags and sent back to its summer residence in the attic. The spiders own Christmas now, they will gently coat it in cobwebs and make their home among the baubles and tinsel. Whilst the spiders get to work, the rest of us can make a start on the new year. I generally start the year by trying to be outside as much as possible. Let the cold winter air numb the over indulgence of the festive period. Any kind of outside will do, running on the marsh, walking up the market, or just wandering around Walthamstow. Wandering is often my preferred option, I walk out of the front door with no particular place to go and then see where I end up. On my latest meander through the highways and byways of E17, I ended up on a very empty Wood Street.
Blue sky hung above me and there was a chill in the air as I turned on to Wood Street at its junction with Forest Road. The noise of traffic soon vanished behind me as I walked up the almost deserted street. I only usually go to this bit of Walthamstow if I need something. A visit to Colvins or mooch around the indoor market perhaps. Whatever the reason for my visit, I usually have just that, a reason to be there. This time I didn’t, I was there for no reason at all, I had just followed my feet. Most of the shops that I would normally visit were still closed. With nothing else to distract me, I looked around at the buildings and shops that make up the fabric of Wood Street. Surrounded by brick and wood and stories new and old, my brain began to wander.
I don’t think I had really appreciated the patchwork of buildings and public art before. I’m not sure if it’s new, but I noticed the mural of interlinked pipe work on the building next to images in frames. Like a labyrinth created by a mystical guardian plumber, waiting to trap passers by in its turns and corners. A little further down the road is number 78, a tiny wooden building that my other half has in the past described as a shed. This unassuming building is much more than a shed, it is an old butchers shop, and an eighteenth century weather boarded one at that. All the farms that provided its goods and the butchers that trod its ancient floor boards are long gone. The building remains though, like a half remembered memory it clings on to the modern tarmacked street.
Continuing along the road I soon walked past Wood Street indoor market. The market was closed unfortunately so I couldn’t go in and gaze in at the antique shops that line its narrow pathways. One section of the market, the bit on Marlowe Road has been demolished. The land it once inhabited now has the roots of new flats sinking in to its clay. Perhaps the remaining section of market was protected by the stone faces that stare blankly out from above one of the entrances. I have seen the faces before, but hadn’t given them much thought until this visit. They are like stone guardians, each one angled in a slightly different direction, scanning the road with their cold hard eyes, looking for trouble. One of the stone watchmen seems to looking at the Viking shop, you can almost hear him say “non shall pass” to the Viking interlopers over the road.
It was starting to get chilly, perhaps the relentless stare of the stone faces was bringing the temperature down, it was time to move on. Walking past the Dukes Head pub I paused again outside the small blue wooden house on Marlowe Road. This tiny wooden building is nestled next door to newer, larger, brick built companions. Hidden behind its neighbours, this second weather boarded relic has also managed to avoid change and demolition. Its small windows peer out and look as change and traffic and the modern world surround it, looking at change but resolutely avoiding it. I know very little about the blue house, but I’m sure its weather boards conceal enough stories to fill Wood Street library.
I think Wood Street could tell I was looking for its secrets as the weather really started to close in. The blue sky was hidden from view behind thick clouds, rain was starting to turn the pavement dark grey, it was time to find refuge. Safety came in the form of Cafe Bonito, a glass fronted oasis on Wood Street Plaza. Protected by its large windows, I ordered the one thing that I knew would push the cold from my bones, a hot chocolate. The hot chocolate at Bonitos is like a life saving elixir. The velvet thick chocolate melts any trace of winter as soon as it makes contact with lips, memory of rain dissolves and muscles forget to shiver. Slowly melting in to my cup, I realised the weather was going to prevent me from getting to the Lea Bridge end of Wood Street, block me from the grand houses at the top of the road. That didn’t matter though, the memories and stone faces of a deserted Wood Street, had rid my brain of the lethargy left behind by Christmas. Fueled by thoughts of Vikings, stone men and long gone butchers, I headed to the train, as ready as I could be start a new year.