Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The night I became a walk of art

Maggie's Culture Crawl 2013

Emdad Rahman: I had signed up to test myself at this new walking lark that had started to take a grip of me. It was also a great opportunity to raise awareness of the magnificent work carried out by Maggie's Cancer Centres. Contact with the lovely Tessa had answered all my queries and I knew I’d made the right decision whilst I did a reading for the late Mujib and Malcolm at Stepney Football Clubs 20th year celebrations last Wednesday, just 48 hours before the night walk. Both these advocates of Stepney were lost to Cancer over the course of the last 12 calendar months.

During lunchtime I finished Friday prayers and took the routine two flights of stairs to my desk. I was astonished to find myself out of breath, a bit dizzy, with a slight chest wheeze and red eyes; all in the space of five minutes. Astonished, I took to Facebook and got some very handy tips from friends. 

The best pick me up was an on route nap on the District Line, and when I reached Embankment Gardens I was in Hulk mode. Thus the adventure commenced in the distinguished company of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, John Stuart Mill, Robert Burns and The Imperial Camel Corps (among other statues) at Victoria Embankment Gardens. I bumped into a gentleman enjoying a crafty ciggie round the back reaches. He was very conscious at the perceived lack of sensitivity it would promote if he smoked openly amongst the crowd – especially during a walk for Cancer. We chatted about the walk and said he hoped to ideally be at the top of the Gherkin to see in sunrise. "I have no such intention shipmate," I shrilled, especially since I was teaching at weekend school at 9 am the following morning and charity event refereeing at Human Relief Foundation's Syria Cup 2013.

The gospel choir Singology did their thing and due to the large number of participants, the 2000 walkers were split into two starts with a half an hour in between. I had no intention of going second and I was off and away straight after a short introductory speech from Maggie's daughter Lily Jencks and the comical/ trendy American style energiser warm up.

The first stop was the London Eye, the tallest cantilevered observation wheel in the world, and one of London’s most iconic landmarks. Every walker was treated to a free rotation with 360 degree unique views across the city. I skipped it because I’m well ard!

I grabbed my first apple right after the stopover at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. The Maggie's team had painstakingly threaded apples and hung them off trees at strategic locations over the course of the route including the Albert Bridge. It was an ingenious and highly creative idea and added an element if the surreal to the walk. I can never eat a red apple without my lips swelling and my eyes itching irritably. As my throat was dry I couldn’t resist plucking the first one. I plucked too hard and another fell to the pavement. I shrugged at two fellow walkers who immediately became my on walk companions. The apple was delicious, crunchy, cool, sweet – and surprisingly there was no reaction. As I picked up speed I devoured it in record time. I reminded myself of a vegetarian T Rex or a thrashing Great White Shark or even my little one at home– It was brutal.

King Charles Street and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office were next up and there lay await a Cultural treat: tea tasting by Fortnum & Mason and an inspiring reading from Josephine Hart's book, Catching Life by the Throat by Give a Book.

I took a quick glance around as I walked in and out, grimacing at William Hague's wincing mug shot – “enough to give jitters to the bravest of the brave”, I muttered to myself as I stepped back into the night. Some surprises are best left for Halloween. 

After a few more miles of solid walking we stopped at Zaha Hadid's Roca London Gallery. The Gallery also hosts an active calendar of social and cultural events, exhibitions and installations focused around Roca’s values: design, innovation, wellness and sustainability. The cultural treat at Imperial Wharf included amongst other things a BDP light installation, Silent Movie and performance by H2 Dance.

After a quick call to the missus, updating my WhatsApp and Facebook and a few further miles of toil and sweat we took 120 seconds at Maggie's Centre, Charing Cross Hospital. The west London location had opened in April 2008 as the first Maggie’s Centre in England. The centre won a RIBA award for architectural excellence in 2008 and Lord Rogers and his team were awarded the Stirling Prize for the building in 2009. Cultural treats in store for crawlers were artists Robin Blackledge and Dominic Robson who bought the voices of Maggie's with their sound installation, Talking Tables. I was handed a dubious looking bottle filled with the brown stuff. I jumped a mile before realising it was only 500 ml of Curiosity Cola. Silly me! I had a quick chat with the nice volunteer ladies before setting off again.

"I just need some water mate," said a homeless guy when I pre-empted and told him I had no loose change. "You won't believe how hard it is to find water at night mate," he added. I thrust my water bottle at him and thanked the Lord above for my own good fortune. “Too many bounties, not enough gratitude,” I muttered to myself. The phenomenon of the late Junction Silent disco awaited crawlers at the Royal Geographical Society, a world centre for geography, expeditions and education. I realised I’d had no loo break and still didn't need one. We were also very fortunate with the weather and I never needed to zip up my coat throughout the route. I observed the nocturnal shenanigans in certain areas. Kensington was interesting, watching all the immaculately dressed Arabs come out in their shiny sports cars.

A homeless man literally wanted the shirt off my back as he and his companions had heard a rumour that the glow in the dark T shirt was the golden ticket to a full English at the Gherkin. I scoffed at the thought. The approach to the last apple tree saw another homeless looking man run up to greet me and relay glad tidings of the tasty and crunchy delight that lay in wait for me twenty metres or so ahead.

After passing the sight of the old Smithfield meat market an Innocent Smoothie awaited at Maggie's Bart's centre site. I embraced it like a long lost friend. Maggie's are planning to build a second Centre in London in the grounds of Barts Hospital in the City of London. Barts itself houses one of the most advanced cancer centres in Europe. Once open, the Centre will serve 1.5 million in North East London, an area with one of the lowest one-year cancer survival rates in the UK.

Stephen Holl is designing the Centre, and its opening is planned for 2016. We walked past the site where the Centre will be built. I downed my raspberry Innocent Smoothie in one.

A mile after that and I'd done it. Easy! Easy! came to mind. 30 St Mary Axe, affectionately known as the ‘Gherkin’ was where we celebrated crossing the finish line. Avoiding the bacon butties I made a beeline for the yoghurt to scoff down with a muffin. I updated my family by WhatsApp and my friends on Facebook. The cultural treat in store for finishers was a taxicab photobooth and Leon serving breakfast. Throughout the night, Creative Connection were scheduled to complete their graffiti mural of the event. There were masseurs on hand to tend to the needy. Many would stay and watch the sun rise over London.

To be honest I wasn’t too bothered about seeing London from the top of the Gherkin but since Moklis was running late in picking me up I thought I might as well. Climbing the stairs after the lift ride I made sure I was the first to step into the hall at the top of the Gherkin.

I've lost my photos since due to an IOS update malfunction so if anyone at Maggie's does have any of me at the various locations then please do get in touch and let me have them.

As I’ve boasted a zillion times, I think I did a real blistering pace from start to finish for Maggie's Culture Crawl 2013 - This was a memorable 15 mile night walk for Maggie's brilliant Cancer Centres. I savoured the creative aspects and this is one I'd happily do again.


Why Maggie’s Centres are so important?

Silently cutting the golden hours
A persons being it deflowers

Lurks quietly that deathly scavenger

And until that very day
When one leaves this worldly fray

They've had peace for a little while longer

© Emdad Rahman

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