The smell hits me as soon as I come out of Cartridge World: dried salt cod. It is not just the instantly recognisable waft, but the memories it evokes. For a split second I am back in Havana as an eight- or nine-year-old in a fun-packed, baseball game in the courtyard behind the fishmonger’s five or six doors down from my bloc of flats. All of a sudden it is all makeshift baseballs again, using a tennis-ball base and plenty of string and Scotch tape wound around it, a wooden, dented bat and sewn-up gloves.
However this is not Havana in late 70s but London, E17 in 2016. Walthamstow on a Saturday winter morning. Minus the winter. The local postie sees to that. The January-defying dark grey shorts, red jumper, rolled-down thick socks and trekking shoes have been a common sight during this climate-change-ratifying weather. He walks just ahead of me on Hoe Street towards the intersection with Lea Bridge Road and High Road Leyton; his single-strap, yellow-and-red bag banging repeatedly against his side.
An avenue of people stands beside me at the traffic lights. It looks busier today. Perhaps because it is Cup day. This is deep claret-and-blue Hammers territory with Upton Park a stone’s throw away. Although it is only noon and West Ham are not due to play Liverpool until later on in the evening, some of the locals might already be on their way to their local boozer for an early pint and some pie and mash. Sandwiched between Lyca- and Lebara-decked shop fronts their nasal Cockney twang mixes with heavily rolled Somali “Rs” and agglutinated Polish consonants.
I make my way to Tesco Leyton Superstore where I have left my car. I drive out, turn left onto High Road Leyton and at the traffic lights I am forced into a stop by another vehicle stationed in the middle of the street, at this box-junction-free intersection. Julie Fowlis’ “Tha Mo Ghaol Air Àird A’ Chuain” is a perfect companion for this mild, cloudless Saturday winter morning. As my car slides down Hoe Street, the rolled-down window lets the smell of dried salt cod waft in again. Baseball-filled memories flood back.