I wasn't sure whether I was going to bother writing about this or not. I've had to wait a couple of days to summon the energy and even thinking about it now I find completely exhausting. What the hey... here goes...
So, since I broke my toe I've been missing out on most kinds of exercise. And I'm alarmed to discover that I've reached the age where these things matter. I spend most days sitting at a computer, writing this book and as everyone knows, the main activity of a writer is eating biscuits. It's essential. 10 years ago... maybe even 5, I'm pretty sure I could have sat at my desk all day eating biscuits and not put any weight on. Sadly this is no longer true.
Well my toe has done its time and while I can still feel it's a little off it's better than it was and I'm happy to push it a little bit. I'm no good at exercise for the sake of it... I play football and I ride a bike because they're both pleasurable. I reckon with my normal day-to-day gadding about on a bike and a hopefully-weekly game of footy I'll get my fair share of accidental exercise and shouldn't need to force myself through anything else.
Incidentally, these musings are all very much the undercard for the main bit of the story which I won't be getting to for some time yet. You might want to make a cup of tea.
So anyway... I woke up on Wednesday with a terrible cold and have been producing record breaking levels of snot ever since and on Saturday as I stared at a blank screen, the ability to put one word after another having left me, feeling heavy, lethargic and muddle-headed I decided to take the bull by the horns and fill my lungs with some good healthy oxygen.
So I decided that a bike ride was the order of the day and that a trip into the Lea Valley - (glorious countryside/can be reached in 30 minutes/wouldn't know you were in London) - was a good idea. And seeing as I've turned into a boring old man with boring old man hobbies, I put my camera in my saddle bag as a way of giving myself an excuse to dawdle when I was out there.
So... near the start of the journey, I head through Victoria Park where I discovered there was a funfair running. I recognised many of the rides because the same fair seems to pop up in various East London parks during the summer every year. I stopped and took a couple of shots of the ferris wheel for the sake of it... one of which later became this:
But then I carried on my way to the far end of the park, under the A102 and out to the canal towpath, joining it just by the old Loch Keepers Cottages that used to be the home of the Big Breakfast.
A nice 10 mile ride, some photos of a canal and more of an electricity pylon later and I was heading back through Vicky Park feeling altogether healthier. I wasn't aware that I had a cold and I was feeling pretty smug about having forced the lethargic me of before to unletharge himself.
As I came by the fair it seemed a little livelier and though it certainly wasn't dark yet the light was different and I thought I'd take a few more shots. I've photographed it before now so I wasn't expecting to get anything startlingly different out of it but it delayed me a little while longer and kept me in the outdoors.
So, there I was snapping away when a finger tapped me on the shoulder and a voice said, "Excuse me, we're police officers, can we have a word?"
"Of course you can," said I, because, of course, they could.
"Can you just come with us, away from the noise then," said he, guiding me away and behind the rides.
"Can we ask what you're doing?"
"Fairground rides. Would you like to take a look?"
So, I handed him my camera and showed him the first few photos... all of which were shots like the one you see here. I was using a slow shutter speed and trying to capture the movement of the lights every time. Mostly failing but still, they were all pretty much of the same kind.
"How do you scroll through this?" he asked, clearly wanting to see more than I'd shown him.
I showed him how and he proceeded to whizz through.
"Okay," he said, "I'll explain why we've asked to speak to you. We were called in earlier because someone else was taking pictures of children."
"I see," said I. "Well, as you can see, that isn't what I'm doing..."
"No. I can see you're doing... um... arty stuff," he said, still scrolling through, now examining several shots taken from underneath an electricity pylon. "There's nothing wrong with this at all."
"I mean, I understand why people are concerned," I said.
Which is true. I'd hate for anyone to think I was taking a picture of their kids which is why I never pointed my camera at any. The only photos I took were of fast moving rides... the kind of rides that little kids are too little to go on in the first place. Rides which were obviously pretty photogenic in their own right. Even so, these are paranoid times and I understand why people want to be careful and I was genuinely untroubled by the fact that the three of us were having this chat.
"There's nothing wrong with anything you've got here," he said, handing me back my camera. "We're just having a friendly word. That said, my advice would be that you should leave."
"Look, we'll tell the security guards that you're not taking pictures of people but that's not all we're worried about. There are parents around and there have been incidents where parents have beaten people up because of what they think they're doing."
Now, I understood why he was giving me this advice and it made sense to me in the abstract. At the same time, it didn't tally with my experience. I was being careful of what I shot and how I shot it and I didn't have any sense of anyone being uncomfortable with it. More to the point, I didn't want to be seen having a word with a couple of policemen and then disappearing straight away with my tail between my legs. I thought that would make me look like I was doing something wrong when in actual fact they'd just established that I wasn't. We were on public property after all. Which is pretty much what I explained to them.
"I see where you're coming from," he said. "We will tell the security that you're okay but I still wouldn't hang around if I were you."
"I'll just be another 5 minutes."
"Okay," said she as we prepared to part company, "can I just take your name and your date of birth."
I gave her both and she scribbled them down in a notebook. I thought it was odd that she didn't check by asking for ID.
We went our separate ways and I pushed my bike over to another ride. There was a hard looking guy operating it, cajoling punters on to it and so on and so, mindful that he was someone I wouldn't want to be on the wrong side of, I asked him if he minded me taking any photos of the ride. He just shrugged and said it was fine. He obviously couldn't care less and seemed confused that I'd even felt the need to ask. So when the ride got going I took a few shots - all of which were uniformly dreadful.
As I wheeled myself away from that space there was a familiar tap on my shoulder.
"Mr Gorman," said Mrs Plod, "I thought we asked you to leave."
"Really?" I asked, genuinely bemused, "I thought we agreed I was going to stay for a few minutes."
"I don't think so," said she which was the first moment where I felt a tinge of annoyance because it was quite definitely how our earlier conversation had gone.
"We don't want you to take any more photos Mr Gorman," said Mr. Plod. "The security guards don't like it."
"But the guy who's running the ride doesn't mind."
"The security guards don't like it."
"But you've told them that I'm not taking pictures of people. I mean, it's not just not-kids... it's not even people."
"Yes... but the security guards don't want you taking pictures of any of their rides."
"Okay," I shrugged. "Only that's not what you said before. It was people taking pictures of kids before. I mean, there weren't even any kids on the ride."
"Are you going to leave now, Mr Gorman?" she asked.
"Yes, but I'm just trying to make it clear that..."
"Because if you don't, it will be a breach of the peace," said he, making it clear that our conversation was over.
"Yeah and I'm going but..."
And then I gave up. Because, really, what was the point? So I turned and cycled home feeling ever so slightly threatened by life. I really do understand why there might be some rational concern about a single man wandering around a fair with a camera but at the same time... it wasn't overrun with kids and I was careful never to do anything that might give anyone any reason to be worried. Unless simply being in possession of a camera is enough these days? But then fairs are photogenic places; full of character and light. People are bound to want to take photos of them, aren't they? Now, the next time the fair comes to one of my local parks I'm going to think twice about getting my camera out because the next time the police ask me I'll think, "yeah... and my names already in their book." and I really don't think I should have to feel like that.
I honestly don't mind them asking me what I'm up to... but I do mind that when they establish that I'm clearly not doing anything wrong I'm made to feel like I am.