Living, Moving Things

30Sep08

Almost 40 years after the Stars and Stripes were erected in the Sea of Tranquillity, the son of a sunflower seed seller floated from his Shenzhou VII capsule, tethered to his vessel by a red umbilical. As the blue planet passed-by above his helmet, echoing applause rattled through the speakers and we saw the Yuhangyuan frantically waving his small red flag as if taking part in a different revolution.

But amid the mania for Grand Prix racing that passed an incongruously-luxed Singapore courthouse, I might have called up my mate Sion to lend me his balcony and catch the shrill zip of motor sport in the night air. From the red mother ship of the Prancing Horse, a Brazilian called Felipe hared off down the pit lane also attached to his life-support that sprayed octane as it waggled behind – as if venting retro-rockets were spiriting him away from his orbital shipmates.

From such macho endeavours, the TV ads cut to a slinky female draped Bond-style in a chequered flag that keep a testosterone-rich appetite fuelled with petrol, girls, noise and collision. Then back on the live commentary, the emotionally-challenged Martin Brundle admitted he sometimes spoke rubbish; a few laps later qualifying this by saying of the tarmac that it: “.. is a living, moving thing!”

After the chequered flag, we left to explore nearby woods to feel the psithurism of riverside willows – just as Kenneth Grahame often stole away from his Bank of England desk to experience. We walked beyond the allotments above Dulwich College into Dulwich and Sydenham Woods, where the Crystal Palace railway used to cut through the ancient no-man’s-land known as the Great North Wood. Once a vast dense forest stretching from Croydon to Camberwell, today’s tracts are a pitiful remnant of ancient oaks that were felled for the Deptford shipyards and as the camp for fortune telling gypsies that Pepys wrote of in 1668. Even Defoe mentioned it as a hideaway for city plague-escapees in self-imposed quarantine. The Wood’s native oaks and beeches now seem to be strangled, wrapped with ivy vines, holly, yew, rhododendron and bamboo alongside plastic Coke bottles.

Topping off this weird weekend, dispatches from the frontline told us that Skodas are being stolen in Salford as get-away cars. Robbers hanging out of swerving Octavias to shoot at Manchester police seems about as unlikely as a peasant’s son walking on Mars.

With apologies to Roger Deakin.

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