Wrapped in a mugginess of the mind, suffering from cold and depressed by the dankness of late night Regent’s Canal, I made slow progress on Dunston Road, heading towards the bowstring bridge, which conveyed Kingsland Road traffic over the water. It was one hour before midnight, and from a way back I spotted an extraordinarily large gang of local kids, larking about on bikes, under the bridge.
Facing the prospect of a gang beating and ruminating on the risks inherent in my nocturnal stroll produced a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach, but stubbornness and pride, supported with optimistic delusions, propelled me on.
The relief was sweet though, when on closer inspection, the territorial thugs were revealed to be skinny Hoxtonites, regaled in hooded tops, jeans sagging de riguerly from their posteriors, facial hair good for grazing. As I reached the crowd I stopped to observe these fashionable ghosts, traipsing here and there, dragging bits of plywood around, some with hammers in hand. The additional presence of a dozen BMXers presaged the establishment of two enormous ramps, constructed on opposite sides of the underpass.
Ramps finished, one or two went into action, at first rolling gently up and down the ramps.
Meanwhile, a generous crowd of Hoxtonites swilled bottles of beer, chewed fat and showed a half-baked interest in proceedings. A girl shriek with laughter, in response to a guy pointing out how one of the bikers, an average sized fellow, with a nondescript rounded face lightly coated in facial hair and stoicism, looked ‘so generic’. The girl, in fits, mocked ‘You’re so cruel!’
The BMXers for the most part mingled with the crowd, slouched on their bikes, chatted, preferring to look into the murky distance of Regent’s Canal than to make eye contact. Every now and then one of the bikers would spontaneously leave his compadres, as if the wild had called, and nonchalantly swing bike into action.
The police turned up, at first two officers, and then a big van, illogical it seemed given the van then reversed back into obscurity, as if the whole thing was some ill thought out bit of action in a badly programmed computer game.
As the night drew on the numbers engaged on the ramps and the intensity of action grew. A sense of wonder began to fizzle inside of me each time an attempt to defy gravity was pulled off; each time two spots of rubber were imprinted on the vertical browning brickwork; each time the back of a hoodie came within centimetres of caressing the underside of the bridge. I felt invigorated; the mugginess in my mind displaced by the sensation of goose pimples, prompted by the cold and the excitement.
This show was like street art, something, somewhere and some time all unexpected.
Two young children from the flats across the canal, still up at half past eleven, were let into their front garden to watch. They were overcome with emotion; they jumped up and down and screamed with excitement. I felt the same way.