No romanticism. This was the old country and I’m not talking about Ireland or some fairy tale shit like that. This was East London. You could smell the air; fuck me, you could see the air. It was thick with chemicals blowing down the River Lea like a cloud of invisible death. Paint from Matchbox, paint from Berger paints, chemicals and all sorts of shit, like toxins and god knows what, from a myriad of companies that regularly flushed their waste into the river. This was our playground. On a baking hot summer’s day you’d walk in the long grass, being stung to fuck by nettles and you could smell that rich concoction of pollution. But along the river there seemed to be a connection somehow with the country. Not that we ever saw the country, but it felt like it. The heat of the sun somehow seemed magnified, maybe it was the water or maybe it bounced of the mishmash of factories that lined the edge, vying for space and offering the only employment you were likely to see...if you were lucky. Some of the buildings were already ghosts, pale imitations of a former glory. Broken windows letting light into the darkness within. They became the hunting grounds, the kingdoms and palaces of our dreams...of our imagination. It was either here or the bomb sites from world war two. They still existed 30 years after the Nazis surrendered and the Japanese paid the price for not surrendering quickly enough. Burrowed out holes in the ground, brick walls still standing somehow, more through dogged stubbornness. Like yellowed teeth in an old man refusing to have dentures. These houses ran the back of the park. All you had to do was jump the railings and a new world opened up. It was an adventure for kids ignorant to the death and destruction that caused these labyrinthine burrows of connecting cellars and partially collapsed houses. Sometimes you would find stuff. The odd coin, a penny or a bunch of newspapers or letters. Lives ripped from this world in a flaming inferno of violence dropping from the sky onto the shit hole houses. Many said Hitler done us a favour. He at least enforced some modernisation on the area. Now it’s the Olympics, but god help us if we actually see or talk to anyone from the area. Fuck’s sake they won’t even put the marathon route through East London for the shame of exposing the area to the world. We had freedom though. Only ourselves to care about. No paranoia about perverts or non-existent child killers. We ran the playground the full length and breadth of where our legs would take us without a care for boundaries or private property. What was private anyway? It was our world. Shitty it may have been but it was ours and in a way we was proud of it. Fools to ourselves. Escape came in our imaginations and if that wouldn’t do the trick there was always a pint or two of larger down at the social club – even though we were kids. We fought like soldiers on school trips – not that there was many, but we stood no shit from anyone. And we fought like warriors among ourselves. Sometimes all you could do was fight. Pain the constant reminder that you was alive. This was my playground and I called it home...I still do.