Robin, ‘the log man’, as he calls himself, is a tree surgeon by trade but sells logs to boaters to earn a little extra pocket money on the side. I had first met him by Victoria Park on the morning of my birthday. He was a cheery fellow who knew the East End of London very well.
“Grew up round here”, he explained as we walked towards his pick-up van. “It was much rougher then, of course.”
So a real, genuine Cockney – like Gideon’s father, who was born in East Ham. “They say that you are only a true Cockney if you grew up within the hearing of the bells of Bow church,” he once said to me. Bow church is stranded on the peninsula highway known as The Mile End Road which mounts into the high, desolate disc of city surrounding the now redundant Olympic stadium. At the time that Gideon and I lived in Stepney Green, Bow church represented the edge of the knowable universe, in the same way the Compostella de Santiago may once have done to the old Spanish theologians who walked along the nearby cliffs.
Robin gave plenty of forewarning that he would arrive this evening with a promised delivery of logs. But I was so busy editing a podcast at the charity, and then visiting the vet with Behemoth that it completely slipped my mind. I was on the boat with a very healthy-looking cat, and had just tucked into dinner. In a burst of nostalgia I decided to make myself one of those easy ‘quick –fix’ meals that reminded me of my childhood – mashed potato, fish fingers and broccoli. So I was just about to tuck into my long-awaited dinner when I received a call on my phone.
“I’ll be with you in twenty minutes”, he said. Bugger, I thought. I had totally forgotten to get money out, and had to raid our piggy bank to come up with fifteen pounds. I was three pounds short.
I like using Robin because the thought of buying farmed timber makes me uncomfortable. Buying from the tree surgeon is a much cheaper and more sustainable solution. He gives me what he shears off trees and at a very reasonable price – around three pounds a bag. There is no wastage. It suits us both.
What I had forgotten in my haste, was that Gideon was working late at the bike shop tonight and so I had no helping pair of hands. By the time Robin drove off I was left on the Homerton Road with my bicycle and eight heavy bags of logs. All in all it took me forty minutes to carry the bags of wood down the stairs by the canal and hide them next to a tree, for Harry to pick up later. The air was so cold that my breath was coming out in mist. The weight of the bags made my wrists sore and the tips of my fingers tingle. All I wanted was to be back on the boat, safe and warm, with my fire on and my book out. But I was lugging timber down a flight of slippery stone stairs by some council estates. A couple were having a solitary tête-a-tête at the bottom of the stairs, I kept interrupting them. I wonder what they thought of me, passing them to hide my bags of booty in the darkness. I saw the young girl’s face occasionally when she got up to let me pass. Her expression was sad and when she moved her head scarf to one side I saw that her cheeks were wet from crying. He seemed like a very serious young man too, and perhaps a little cruel.
I can hear a dog yelping in the distance, or perhaps it is a fox, screaming.