24 hour walk round London: PART 2 (Midnight to Midday)
Midnight, 25th June, somewhere around East London
It’s 12:00am and I’ve been walking for twelve hours through London looking for animals in distress.
I feel sweaty, confused and ever so slightly delirious. It must be the heat. Perhaps I’m the animal in distress. Maybe, somewhere out there is a hedgehog writing a blog about helping humans who’ll be looking for me but he is stuck in a forest surrounded by other hedgehogs who are loitering for sex. (see last blog) …(In fact you MUST see last blog or you’ll think I’m very weird).
So far I’ve seen lots of animals that have been perfectly happy, and only one that was unhappy (the bird in a cage – which was, I presume, miserable) but which I couldn’t reach. I’ve only saved 3 maggots. At this rate I’m on a rescue tally of 1/4 of a maggot per hour – they pay more than that at MacDonalds in Sierra Leone. If I continue at this rate (which I can’t because I’m about to collapse unless I eat some steak) then at the end of the year I’ll have saved 2190 maggots. That’s 2190 maggots who’ll be cheering my name, waving little maggot flags with my little maggot face on them. Even with my new-found compassion that constitutes a really shit year and a really shit blog
I stumble onwards, armed only with my compassion and my weak iPhone GPS signal. Stop thinking Martin, keep acting. I’m serious about helping ALL animals.
Ten minutes later I find myself in another very dark forested park, somewhere south of Epping Forest. I see a poster for a missing cat in the darkness.
I point my bike torch into the gloom and see a couple of golden eyes blinking back at me. Perhaps it’s the missing cat? Or more men looking for sex? Or perhaps a fox? Perhaps the fox has a limp or maybe he’s wheat intolerant?
TEXT TO ANN in US-of-A: ‘I’m about to go into a dark hole’
Then the eyes run away… if you get what I mean. I find myself in total blackness and suddenly I feel very alone.
Is it wise to be wandering through forests at night like this?
But is it wise to take a year out looking for animals in distress when you have no degree in zoology and don’t know what to do when you find them?
No as well. And two no’s make a resounding YES. No room for logic on this year Martin, ignore the nagging intellect.
Then I hear a rustling by my feet. I rush over to investigate. A little brown creature comes stumbling out of the undergrowth. I recognise it from the spikes sticking out of its back and on account of the masters degree I have in spotting wildlife: it’s a
porcupine hedgehog. I shine my torch on it to see if it is blogging about me. But it’s frozen solid. Not moving at all. I think I must have scared it so I walk away and wait. 5 minutes later I creep back. It’s not moved an inch.
TEXT TO ANN: ‘Quick! Quick! Tell me if hedgehogs freeze because they are frightened or because they are ill!’
ANN: ‘I think because they are frightened.’
ME ‘Is that what Google says?’
ANN: ‘They often have TB’
Oh crap! So much uncertainty in this world.
ME: ‘But is it sick?’
ANN: ‘Look for hedgehogs with flies or maggots, that are limping, wobbly, or with bald spots, that are very small or very large like grapefruit’
I decide it has none of these afflictions. I get my salami out, as it were, and feed some of it to the hedgehog, carefully ripping it into pieces (as it were) making sure no bit is too big and throw the morsels at the hog. A tiny bit of salami lands on top of it, skewered on a vertical spike. I panic. Not only will that be massively annoying for the hedgehog (imagine being really hungry – and perhaps ill – and having a hamburger stuck to your head but not having arms that reach your face) but worse than this it also might make the hedgehog more desirable to predators. Hell, if I stick a bit of mozarella on another spike I’ve made a forest cocktail snack. Very tentatively, and in a crap city-boy kind of way, I try and reach the hedgehog with one hand reaching out whilst simultaneously moving my body further and further away from it in case it viciously attacks me in a way that no hedgehog ever has attacked a human before. You can’t be too careful in the wild. I reach it, retrieve the salami and put it back in my pocket.
As it were.
Isle of Dogs
2:30 am – totally out of it.
I’m now in a serious trough of low energy. I keep on tripping over paving stones, it’s hard to hold my head up. 14.5 hours of walking is leaving me very weary indeed. A drunk man comes up to me outside a night club and shows me a card trick. It’s a really crap trick but I’m too tired to protest. I just stare at his cards. I walk past eight men in hazard suits who have been sewage cleaning and smell of shit. I wake up some more.
Then I see a baby fox run across the road. A flicker of excitement. I try and talk to it – I’ve heard their screams in East London. Watch this unimpressive video…you can just make out the fox in the darkness… it kind of talks back..
4:00 am – somewhere
I walk some more from Greenwich and then jump on the first bus I see. I’m so tired I can’t take another step. I randomly get off and then realize my mistake and immediately hail a cab that’s behind my bus. When I get in I have no idea where to go. ‘Follow that bus’ I say. Nothing makes much sense anymore.
I buy a red bull from a 24hr garage and wake up amazingly fast. So this stuff does work. I climb over the spiked fence into the park and stand on the open expanse of cool grass. I feel blessed to be here. All is still. A faint glow on the horizon promises a new day. These transitional moments are the best. And then sure enough – more hedgehogs. So many of them scurrying around. A little dance of the creatures and they don’t mind me at all. Despite saving almost no animals this has all been worth it. All my life I’ve lived in London and never have I been so attuned to gentle life that resides within it. It’s quite something to see the cycle of the city – bright and muscular during the day fading to dark and cool at night – and then the life comes out of the shadows, if you wait long enough. I stand and stare for half and hour at the dance of the little ones, smiling for most of it.
I walk onwards and come up to the fence of London zoo. I get my camera ready.
I’m excited, perhaps I’ll see an elephant waking up over the fence, perhaps I’ll see an alligator. Shall I climb in and set them all free? Where is the best place to get the shot? I hear a gentle noise and stop still. The voice-over from an explanatory video that is on loop in one of the zoo’s buildings. I can’t quite make out what is being said but the voice of the man is rather educational, a little mechanical.There is no other noise.
I feel overcome by sadness. I don’t expect this feeling at all. I don’t have any problem with zoos. Maybe it’s because I’m so tired. But I’ve not felt this sad for a long time. I can’t see the zoo over the tops of the hedges but I also can’t hear it, other than this voiceover. And the silence, peirced by a single human voice, seems terribly wrong. All that life in there and yet…no life. Are ALL those animals in there asleep? Perhaps. But I’m reminded of a line on the front cover of a book I have by John Berger ‘Why look at animals’ that i never really understood…and now I do:
‘Everywhere animals disappear. In zoos they constitute the living monument to their own disappearance’
This vast zoo, just out of sight, is weighed down by silence. All those animals and somehow not there.
Primrose hill – sunrise
I lie on the grass and watch the white gulls circling above. The horizon becomes a soft pink. I drift off to sleep.
45 minutes later I’m woken by a dog chewing my hat. I sit up and watch London come to life before setting off at 7am for breakfast.
This is where I used to come as a kid. If you want to see someone looking very very tired watch this.
24 hours completed. My body is heavy but my spirit is light.
I’ve seen a new side of the town I’ve lived in most of my life and it’s moved me. I’ve not saved many animals, I’ve not learned anything academically impressive but I’ve touched a silence of sorts and I feel, somehow in someway, more in tune with the animals that roam in the shadows. I’ve looked and listened and felt.
And now it’s time for sleep. And look who has come back from the vet, Bug, a little dazed but very happy to be home and doing totally fine.
Just in time to snuggle up with me and moose in the bed.