The year I stopped to notice Walthamstow

Author Miranda Keeling on how the area won her over

Miranda Keeling (credit: Ruth Crafer)
Miranda Keeling (credit: Ruth Crafer)

When the pandemic hit, I was living in Tottenham: a place I had lived since I was eleven and which felt very much a part of my identity. From my house in Seven Sisters I would travel across London and the UK or head to Europe or the States, all the time writing down the small things I saw and heard in notebook after notebook. Then lockdown descended on us, which meant no more plane, train, tube or bus rides, and my world became small and close, limited to what was a bike ride or walk away.  

That was when I fell in love with Walthamstow. I had always lived so close by but it seems the  places closest to you are often the ones most overlooked. I had friends who lived in E17 when I was  at school and fading memories of the streets, the parks, the market but it was not until a new virus was raging through London and days stretched away with no work and no childcare for my daughter that I began to cross the River Lea. I walked and cycled from my front door and down the towpath to explore Walthamstow Wetlands, the beautiful rows of red brick Warner houses near Blackhorse Road and St James Park with its tall trees and miniature forest in the back. I discovered Lloyd Park and a set of swings that allowed me to sit on a bench seat beside my daughter and swing with her, instead of pushing her endlessly forward and back. As always, I wrote down the things I saw: 

In a shop window in Walthamstow headless mannequins display different coloured saris to an empty  street. 

An elderly couple walk through Jubilee Park with peaceful faces. Their mood no doubt aided by the  classical music soaring from her handbag. 

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A man stops on his way past Walthamstow Station to say hello to a black and white cat, who greets  him as the dear friend he clearly is

For many years I have posted my observations online and, read together, they form a mini-travel diary. I think noticing things in this way helps me to really see them and, as I wrote these tiny moments into my notebook, I realised that this place – east of my familiar river, with many  identities and atmospheres both beside and distinct from each other – felt like a welcome. In the end, I ended up moving here. 

As things opened up and we were allowed to go back inside buildings that weren’t our own homes, I brought my notebook with me: 

In a quiet café, a waitress at the counter draws in blue biro on the back of old receipts – so far a cat,  two mice, and a female vampire with fabulous curly blue hair. 

A collective Walthamstow residents’ sigh of woe wends its way through the tube at the words: This  train will now terminate at Seven Sisters. 

Now things are opening up, I know I will start to travel again but, when it’s time, I will be happy to return home. 

Man in Walthamstow: Every day I buy the same sandwich from the same cafe. Every day, the same.  It’s only a cheese sandwich you know. But now it feels like coming home. 

Miranda Keeling’s The Year I Stopped to Notice was published today by Icon Books.

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