I'm having a bit of an insomnia moment, so I turn on the television and randomly tune it to various stations. I come across the 'extreme sports' channel, and watch a film about skateboarders and parkour runners. As I'm watching them using steps, guard rails, benches, ramps, statues and other street furniture to make their way across town in an interesting way, I start to wonder if they see the city in a different way to the rest of us. Do they see jumps, 'grinds' and the like on an almost unconscious level?
Then I start thinking about how I see the place where I work. I see it on three different levels. I see the streets as a map. Main roads to use in order to get to the different areas of town, the junctions that I always seem to be taking, turning left to get to the police station, turning right to head towards Forest Gate. Turning right here to get to Leyton, or straight on towards Stratford. It's all there in my head – in the white and yellow of the A to Z. This is the way I think of Newham as I'm going to a job.
The other way that I think of the streets is as I’m trying to make my way through the traffic. I stop seeing cars and lorries as vehicles. Instead I’m watching the spaces that they make. I’m watching the patterns they make in the road ahead. I’m unconsciously aware of where the drivers are looking, have they seen me or not? The way the vehicles move is also in my mind. Are they hesitant? If they are then there is a good chance that they will stop suddenly. Are they speeding? In that case they may overtake the car that has seen me and has pulled over. But I spend my time seeing, and aiming for the spaces.
Finally, I see Newham in terms of the patients I have treated. Over there was the 26 year old who dropped dead playing football. Across the road is one of our regulars, a lovely old lady with a list of ailments as long as your arm. That street I’m about to pull into had the drunk who didn’t notice that he had a broken hand. Now I’m cruising past the road that a twelve year old died in. A hundred yards from where I’m eating my McBagel is where the teenager got stabbed after the Notting Hill carnival. Every street has a story, and some memories are always triggered as I drive past them. For me, Newham is full of ghosts.