About half a mile from my home in Walthamstow, the streets and industrial units all come to an abrupt halt. The cityscape is replaced by the waterways and marshes of the Lea Valley Park Authority.
The park runs for 26 miles from the banks of the River Thames out into Hertfordshire and is dedicated to nature conservation and recreation. On a casual afternoon stroll you’re likely to share the park with people running, biking, canoeing or boating.
But at night, the park becomes a different place when the nocturnal creatures – like bats – come out to feed.
Curious to know more, Bronny, Del, Sarah and myself decided to join a ‘bat walk’ – and weren’t entirely sure what we’d let ourselves in for….
Del: not sure what’s he’s let himself in for….
Our guides for the evening, Jeanette and Lisa immediately, and unexpectedly, plied us with tea and hob-nobs at the visitor centre. Lisa is the park ranger, and Jeanette a volunteer from the ‘Lea Valley Bats’ and was our bat expert for the evening.
Bats, bats, bats….
Jeanette gave us a intoduction to the various types of bats we might see and would hopefully hear with the help of bat detectors.
You can detect bats, but not Meatloaf with this device
Bats orientate themselves in flight, and detect their prey by sending out a sonar know as ‘echolocation.’ This is where the bat detectors come in, because apart from some young children, these sounds aren’t audible to the human ear.
Bronny and Sarah: having fun twiddling knobs
As dusk encroached, about a dozen of us headed into the marshes.
If I was a bat, I’d like to live around here too
The marshes are an oasis of peace and tranquility in the middle of a busy city. Much of this grassland covers debris from WWII bomb sites, and became a protected area in a bygonne era when central and local government believed that creating such natural spaces were essential to the well being of their citizens.
Bat alley comes alive
Jeanette walked us down to an avenue of trees called ‘bat alley’ explaining it was unlikely we’d hear any bats yet at this early hour. But much to her delight, our bat detectors suddenly fizzed to life and in the half light we caught glimpses of the darting bats.
Jeanette, identifying the bats
I had been ‘so-so’ about the whole bat experience up until this point, but seeing and actually hearing the bats and the sounds of their remarkable ‘echolocation’ was an exhilarating moment.
Tuning into hear the bats ‘echolocation’ signals
Different species of bats can be heard on different frequencies, and we were able to identify the Noctule and Pipistrelle.
Lisa: a ranger, but doesn’t look anything like Chuck Norris…..
Lisa, the park ranger of five years told us more about the work in the marshes. Nearly all the conservation work is only made possible by volunteers, who’ll turn up to weed, plant or build on weekends.
Burn baby burn… the lights that hurt the bats
A growing problem for the bats and other nocturnal creatures on the marches is the number of lights on the parks borders that blaze away during the night.
They draw insects – the bats food – towards them, so the bats have to follow. This is extremely unpleasant for the bats. I’m reminded of the later stages of ‘Lord of the Rings,’ where Frodo has to enter Mount Doom……
Our friends, the bats. Watch them while you can…
Half a mile from bat alley, a new housing development is springing up. Across the other side of the marshes, a gargantuan development of 2,000 flats is planned. This latter project is against the local communities wishes, and will soon concrete over well-loved playing fields.
Activists cite many reasons why this development is poorly planned, including the lack of parking space and any thought for where the new residents children may go to school.
Another reason, is that it will be built right on the border of the Lea Valley Park and the lights from these new homes will illuminate a great swathe of the park where the bats once roamed. People have to live somewhere….. but so do the bats……
Purple and G Double: checking I’m in the house
I will always be eternally grateful to M.C. G Double, for the public name-checks he’s given me.
They’ve only happened twice, and each time it was upon entering a packed-out night club.
They go something like this: ‘Yo, yo! It’s Mark Burton, photographer, in the house!’
At which point, I’d like to pretend that I’d just made an ‘American Gangter-esque’ entrance into the club, replete with full length fur coat, Fedora, and a bikini-clad babe on each arm. Instead, I was fiddling with a flash gun, and Bronny and Kalleen (my ‘babes’) were having a good chat by the bar.
Kalleen and Bronny: We’ll wear our bikini’s next month
I know G Double, his M.C. buddy, Purple, and several other Grime artists as my cousin, ‘DJ Magic’ (or Peter, as he’s still referred to at family parties) runs London’s hottest Grime club night, ‘Dirty Canvas,’ with his friends David Moynihan and Robin Pasricha. As I realise people of all ages, and from different countries read my blog let me clarify: ‘Grime’ is the name used to describe a genre of music with its roots in rap, reggae and dance music.
M.C.s Purple and G Double: by the light of the silvery mobile phone
Grime is very ‘street’ and also very hip. This leads to an interesting mix of folk at these nights, as Grime draws its followers from a wide social and cultural background. There is a lot of standing around at these nights between acts – and when the performers are on stage, the audience does a lot of head nodding and taking photos on mobile phones. The day it becomes evident their pictures are better than mine, I fear I may longer be given a backstage pass……
M.C. Ghetto, live on stage
Peter, David and Robin started ‘Dirty Canvas’ about four years ago with a modest night in the Whitechapel Art Gallery bar. Fifty people was a good turn-out, but the atmosphere was always lively and kept people interested enough to come back for more. Dirty Canvas then moved onto the ICA where the numbers increased to about 200. Its new home is now at Rhythm Factory on Whitechapel High Street. From the difficulty I had making my way from one side of the club to the other, its fair to say there were about 400,000 people ‘in the house’ that night.
Probably the best name in Grime? M.C. Griminal backstage
Personally, I think one of the big draws of the music is that is there is a limited amount of money to be made in Grime. There are a few exceptions – artists like Lethal B, Dizzee Rascal, Wiley and Kano have all had commerical success to varying degrees – but generally, whoever is involved is there for the love of it.
Show me the money: I know its here somewhere…..
The limited resources available to the Grime artists gives the scene a creative edge – and encourages a very ‘DIY’ approach to music making. Pirate radio stations play the latest tunes; independent releases get mixtapes and vinyl out to Grime’s followers. M.C. Ghettos latest mixtape, by way of example, sold 2500 copies in its first week of release. Pretty impressive stuff! Peter, David and Robin have also founded a record label called ‘No Hats, No Hoods.’
D.J. Logan Sama: to be found on the wheels of steel in nightclubs – and on Kiss FM
Its true, that Grime nights had a poor reputation about three years ago for being potentially, and sometimes, actually violent. Its also true that Dirty Canvas isn’t the kind of place you want to repeatedly keep treading on the biggest fellow’s trainers (you know, the one standing at the back with a hooded top and about ten burly mates).
Don’t stand so…. Don’t stand so…. Don’t stand so close to me trainers……
But Peter, David and Robin have had great success with their violence-free ‘Dirty Canvas’ nights. Much of this – I think – is down to their extremly calm personalities. Hyped-up rappers and their ego-monster managers can be ‘challanging’ to handle – especially when the club is packed, and they all think their boy should have been on stage ten minutes ago. This is where I’ve observed Peter at his serenist. Squeezed into a back-stage area the size of a garden shed, with umpteem artists, managers and posse members, Peter has a gift for absorbing stress and deflecting the demands of the unreasonable. Somehow this attitude backstage, and David’s calm demeanor on the door, filters outwards.
DJ Magic: like a cucumber……
This means Dirty Canvas can be all about the music. Frenetic, creative, sometimes dreadful, often superb.