Julian Lass

As if water were stone I cycle my eyes upon the towpath, breathe harder and focus my way forward.

My concentration is swifting, but as the canal moves along, I notice—as gently as café lattes placed on pine-topped tables—the changing scenes on the canalside.

I do know, yes I think, this is the Regent’s Canal, the Grand Union Canal, but it is hard to know what that means.

By the time I slow down, going west, at the building site past Kingsland Road that has upended a demolished warehouse, I meet a convoy of cyclosts, psychlists, jiggers, iPad-nidging, tungling, slipstroaming, whoal-hoogling, heads turned east, a jugular highway for office trudgers, an installation of perpetual motion, fluxing and flowing.

The sycophant, hyaline, oily-tongued water is at rest, untroubled by currents passing above. Brakes squeak, chimed notes rise from loosened glockenspiel paving slabs, a canal-side melody played by rubber wheels. And then the setting sun lights emptiness: a window of a cubicle of a ground floor of a new construction; capital exchanged for dark nothing.

Concreted, steel-framed blocks, our minimalist cubicles, are seeped in dusk. Stopped racks, empty scaffolds, shivering plants, crowd-tamed coots.

A tree, once surrounded by designered paving, is now a multifoliated stump. A plastic bag tucks into a handrail, its insides fogged by discarded dog dirt. Grander warehouses, maintaining a trace of industrial heritage, have evolved into open-plan offices, cubbyholes for media elites, while worn estates full of fighting dogs stand parallel in time over the water: the old and the new eye each other, suspicious, on their respective territories.

Two bulked-up men seek gym beginners for a new venture round the corner. ‘What you photographing for mate, is it a project?’ Keen to pace territory between two bridges, they head westwards, their sales patter running ‘you got to beef up to stop the bullies.’