I remember walking through the woods when I was a boy, maybe eight years old. I was born and raised in Africa (all over the place - it's complicated), but my mother's family was in England and my dad's in Belgium. And some of my most vivid memories involve winter and autumn.
There is a particular smell to an autumnal walk. You can quite literally smell the earth; the leaves are almost all fallen, half of them have already been turned into mulch or compost and the other half are just waiting for a well aimed boot to send them skyward. As the gold, orange and red leaves tumble back to the ground around you, the air is crisp, you can smell life and death all at the same time, and all is quiet,silent, still. The moss has started growing again furiously where it can, and as the cold and damp take over, the mushrooms become kings of the forest floor.
I loved this time of year. It's hard to explain why; perhaps it was knowing Christmas was around the corner, or knowing the cold would be followed by a log fire and the smell of my uncle's pipe. It might have been the promise of a pub lunch I knew was bound to come next, or the relief and the contrast after Africa's hot, dry weather. I'm not sure. But I felt all was well with the world, as I stood there, surrounded by falling leaves in the woods.
What I do know is that since we brought this old, unloved and disused warehouse back to life (after the squatters and ravers had done their worst and left), the area has felt cold, hard, grey. You are more likely to be rubbing dirt and soot out of your eyes than a fly around here. So we planted our wildflower to see what would happen, and if you've been following us you will know how well that has gone. But what I never anticipated was the return of the fungus.
I had completely forgotten about the mushrooms. Where in London do you see them growing naturally? If you want to see a mushroom in London, you go to Lidl or Borough market, depending on your budget or where you see yourself in London's pecking order. You don't expect to find mushrooms living, growing, thriving outside a self storage building, especially not one in East London! But that's exactly what we have here. When I first looked outside my window down onto the junction between Wick Lane and the A12, my tired eyes looking to see what was causing the latest round of incessant honking by the cars, vans and trucks outside, I saw this.
At first I thought some rubbish had blown onto our wildflower planting, and I frowned. Then I looked more closely, went downstairs and realised what it was. A fungus! You may think I am crazy to take a photo of a mushroom and write about it (and in all fairness you would probably be right), but as I had my back turned to the traffic, all was silent and for a moment, just a moment, I was back in the woods, I was eight years old, a warm log fire and Christmas were around the corner, and all was well with the world.
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