Sounds of Hackney Summer

Lost in nature and sunshine on the marshes, and all on the edge of Zone 2.

You want to hear the sounds of Hackney? Are you expecting the police cars up and down Kingsland Road making Ridley Road afternoon shoppers strain even harder to be heard?

Are you expecting the diesel cacophony of double decker buses queuing outside the Hackney Empire as teenagers yell their deepest ‘secrets’ down smartphones to this week’s best friend?

Yes, you can hear all that.

You can hear air being sucked through teeth on obscure estates that have seen better days; or Shoreditch ‘Silicon roundabout’ ad execs chatting about their new viral campaign as they clack their Flat White cups onto vintage China saucers in retro cafes.

I’ve heard myself the screech of tyres, the slam of a car-door, and combat-booted footsteps as an armed-response BMW deposits police with submachine-guns on Morning Lane.

On Narrow Way last summer, I listened to excited teenage chatter that indicated the Stop & Searchplaying out in front of us was going to escalate into something bigger.

Like a self fulfilling prophecy, that August afternoon ended with stereo down-wash from police and TV choppers, synthesising with rolling news coverage of the London Riots in a negative feedback loop encircling Hackney Central.

But get off the main drag and the sounds that surround you in Hackney are subtler and softer.

There’s the omnipresent distant Doppler fall of high-up jet engines, as airliners lazily carve an arc to starboard following the Thames to west London and Heathrow airport.

Underneath them, on Walthamstow Marshes, the soft swish of bullrushes along the River Lea is regularly disrupted by the clackety-clack of Stansted trains as they hurtle east to the airport at Stansted.

The occasional throaty chug-a-chug of a canal boat temporarily obscures the shouting of kids in kayaks; gravel crunches under the impact of Clapton’s canal joggers, and the purposeful stride of Orthodox Jews bound for Stamford Hill.

Mid-afternoon this is all drowned out; heads tilt upwards for the deep bass thukka-thukka rhythm of the Chinooks that commute over Hackney’s green hinterland.

On neighbouring Leyton Marsh, protest banners make multiple plastic flapping noises on the fence of the temporary Olympic basketball facility that local residents opposed. The bulldozer noise has ceased, but locals hope for its return; this time it’ll be as the field is – in theory – returned to its natural state.

Further south again, the wind rustles trees on Hackney Marshes that once hid Dick Turpin in his pub hideaway while across the canal in Hackney Wick, walkie-talkies hiss static at the goods entrance to the Olympic Park.

An ice-cream van plays Yankee Doodle and bikes clatter to the floor as kids drop them in a timeless summer ritual.

My Hackney, my summer, my sounds.

This piece first appeared on new website Urban Vignettes.

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