London-by-Zee 6 – Hackney City Farm

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Today’s the day. We’re taking Zara to Hackney City Farm. Finally. To celebrate her first birthday. And she couldn’t be happier. Then again, she’s always happy, and of course, she has no idea where we’re heading really. She does love a good train ride, though. It’s funny, to her, most experiences are new. But this time she’s in for a big surprise.

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Paul Don Smith

We get off at Hoxton and I take a few shots of the always flavoursome Art Under the Hood corner. Instagram gold, that. Suddenly, I catch a whiff of the good stuff. The couple in front of us are smoking a massive spliff, each! We catch up, pass them and I stare at their nonchalance with a mixture of disbelief and irritation. But the guy stares back at us threateningly, like, “What?”

For some reason, everyone’s carrying massive pot plants, bags of flowers and mini trees. I can’t work it out. It looks like a nearby botanical garden’s having a closing down sale. Or they’re restocking the roof garden of a department store. We walk on, past Roa’s rabbit, which has been reclaimed by the leaves.

Suddenly, we’re there. Hackney City Farm. A sign by the entrance advertises duck, goose and chicken eggs. The smell of well-trodden straw wafts towards us. A crew of ducks and chickens steam past. And suddenly, it feels like we’ve stepped into a bizarre pocket far removed from our daily jaunts around north London.

Zara’s literally jumping out of her sling, craning her neck to get a better look and pointing at the creatures from her picture books come to life. “Der… Der… Der,” she says. Pointing and looking back at me with sheer disbelief, amazement and joy.

A rooster puffs up his chest and crows at us. A group of Indian runner ducks stand on tiptoes and flap their wings. And chickens mill about like pigeons. We head in and check out the massive pig. But he doesn’t stir, his hulking body sprawled out on his cosy hay bed. We pass another giant pig passed out in his tin-roof sty, but the star of the show is the little paddock around the back.

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The sheep pretty much keep to themselves in the middle of the patch, leaving the entertaining to the more amiable goats and donkeys. Luckily, they oblige, coming right up to the fence to say hello (and eat leaves). Zara’s favourites are Larry the donkey, who’s 22 years old, and his younger girlfriend Clover, who’s 16.

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Incredibly, donkeys can mate for life and live for up to 50 years. Suddenly, an Italian friend’s comment about eating donkeys broke my heart a little. Later, Zara…

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I wash my hands on auto-pilot before leaving, brainwashed by the 500 signs telling me to do so. And on the way home I work out that the streets’ mobile flora is all streaming in from the Columbia Flower Market, which is just around the corner. I grab a cup of coffee and we walk the busy lane, stopping to smell the roses on our way home.

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