Mile 13 – 14

The entrance to Tower Bridge, south side to Corner with Garnet street

The Secret Life of Wapping

Words by Roshni Goyate, images and artwork by Rob Self-Pierson


The Secret Life of Wapping

A blog about the East End’s hidden gem

Conversations with Mad Max, part I
Monday 26th November 2012

Pretty much anyone who lives in Wapping will have come across Mad Max. His weird yet inoffensive odour of gin mixed with oranges, his signature shades, the beard that inexplicably remains the same length even though he has no way of trimming it. For years he’s been a source of contempt and curiosity for countless locals and outsiders alike.

And like many local ‘eccentrics’, he has a hidden history full of wonder.

A few nights ago I fell into conversation with him in Swedenborg Gardens on my way home. Unsurprisingly we bonded over gin. (I was inebriated enough not to be intimidated by his sometimes aggressive manner. Which, it turns out, is just the way he talks, rather than any real anger at anything.)

After about 15 minutes of chatting he started speaking to someone else. Someone who wasn’t there. He even introduced me to the not-there person. It went a something like this:

Mad Max: Have you met my dearest Kat?
Me: Cat? No, I don’t think I have. I didn’t know you had a cat.
Mad Max: NO NOT A CAT.

At which point I nearly fell off the bench.

Mad Max: My dearest Kat. She’s always by my side, dear Kat. You probably can’t see her though, cos she’s dead.
Me: Dead? Who is she?
Mad Max: Oh, Kat? She’s my love.  Say hello, go on. Manners, lad. Shake her hand. Say ‘how do you do’.

I extended my hand to the air where he was pointing and said ‘How do you do’. Of course there was no reply.

He went on to tell me she’d died many years ago. People say she jumped off Tower Bridge. His eyes filled with tears and, speaking to the air again, he mumbled something like ‘It shouldn’t have ended that way, should it, darling? I’m sorry’.

If I hadn’t pulled out my nearly finished bottle of gin to comfort him, that trembling lip might’ve turned into full-on waterworks.

When I got home, I did a quick search online and sure enough, there was a Kat who’d reportedly jumped from Tower Bridge years ago. Mad Max must’ve been her husband or something. My guess is her death is what unhinged him.

I have a feeling I’ll be bumping into him again soon.


The Secret Life of Wapping

A blog about the East End’s hidden gem

Conversations with Mad Max, part II
Thursday 13th December 2012

I’ve been talking to Mad Max again. His ghost friend Kat is still with him – he was chatting away to her when I saw him.

It seems he was really into this Kat person, whoever she was. When he started telling me about her in more detail his voice took on a certain tenderness. And once he got started, it was hard to stop him. I thought I’d share a bit of what he told me here, so us Wapping folks can be a little more understanding of his quirks.

Kat – short for Katharine – was a bright young thing, stubborn-minded and very sure of what she wanted. They’d met at school, where she helped him pass most of his GCSEs by giving him after-school tutorials. After college, she went off to Oxford to study PPE, or ‘plop, poop and eggfarts’ as he described it. I suppose he had no interest in spending three years of his life at uni.

They lost contact until she got back. By the time she returned, he’d been working hard at his family’s antique jewellery business and was actually doing rather well for himself. (I know, it’s hard to imagine Wapping’s very own Mad Max selling antique jewellery, isn’t it?)

In his words, she was a ‘right stunner’. Yes, he said it to the ghost. ‘You were a right stunner, weren’t you?’ And then, looking at me, ‘she pinched my heart from inside me that day I saw her after all them years.’ At which point his mind disappeared to a happier moment from the past.

I would’ve left him to it at that moment if he hadn’t suddenly snapped out of it, exclaiming ‘I know! I know! But the emotions made me do crazy things didn’t they? I wanted you to myself!’

He was clearly talking to Kat the ghost, but I was intrigued. What crazy things was he talking about?

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find out this time round. He retreated into one of his well-known mumbling monologues of nothingness. I suddenly became invisible to him. I’ll try to get more out of him next time.


The Secret Life of Wapping

A blog about the East End’s hidden gem

Conversations with Mad Max, part III
Friday 28th December 2012

It’s Mad Max’s birthday today! He came up to me and told me himself. So folks, if you see him in the next few days, be sure to wish him a happy birthday.

Thanks for all your comments on my last post about him by the way. I’m really enjoying unravelling the mystery of our local eccentric. It’s nice to know there are people out there who knew him when he was not so mad. And people who knew Kat and her family too.

Just one of the perks of running a local blog!


The Secret Life of Wapping

A blog about the East End’s hidden gem

Conversations with Mad Max, part IV
Wednesday 16th January 2013

Has anybody seen Mad Max lately? I haven’t. I’m sure he’s around and fine, but feel free to get in touch or leave a comment so we all know he’s okay. It’s been snowy and very cold lately.

The last time I saw him was about a week ago, back on the same bench where we first chatted in Swedenborg Gardens. He was sitting silently and seemed lost in thought. When I sat down next to him, he reached inside his coat and pulled out a ring. He told me he’d given it to his Kat and asked her to marry him.

Then he began another little exchange with the ghost. Something about it being part of the family and very important to him. Actually, it wasn’t a little exchange at all – he stood up and started shouting at this figment of his imagination. There was some very colourful language about how she should’ve respected his feelings and didn’t she know who he was, and he’d worked very hard to get where he was. I’m surprised nobody came out from the nearby flats to see what the fuss was all about.

I couldn’t get his attention again, so I left it at that.

Again, if you’ve seen or heard from him, do get in touch.


The Secret Life of Wapping

A blog about the East End’s hidden gem

Conversations with Mad Max, part V
Tuesday 29th January 2013

Thank you to those who’ve contacted me via the blog. I’m glad Max is around and okay, even if he hasn’t spoken to anyone.

I’ll let you know about my next conversation with him.


The Secret Life of Wapping

A blog about the East End’s hidden gem

Conversations with Mad Max, part VI
Friday 1st March 2013

Readers, I’m not sure if I’ve fully understood what happened last time I saw Max. Maybe you can help me.

I bumped into him in St Katharine’s Docks. Like before, he was just sitting, reflecting. When I sat down next to him, he told me she’d had that ring on when they pulled her out of the water. He took it out of his coat again and I got a proper look at it: a gold band with a fire-red ruby.

So I guess she’d said yes to him after all.

At that moment he turned to Kat the Ghost and said ‘It was such a lovely moment, wasn’t it? In the car, when your hands were tied to the wheel so you couldn’t go anywhere. It took years, but in the end you were all mine. The ring fit you just perfectly.’

Turning back towards me, he said ‘Then we went for a romantic drive along the river. Up to the bridge to get a view of our favourite river in our beloved city. And then my dearest Kat took a dip. She was just so excited about the wedding, she threw herself in.

‘You’re a silly girl, aren’t you, Kat? Why did you make me do that?’

I’ve grown so fond of Max in our few months of chatting. So I was surprised to feel my stomach turn when he said that. It was only when I got back home and replayed the conversation in my head that I started to question what he’s been saying.

Our Mad Max is just a harmless eccentric, right? He’s not really suggesting what I think he is.

Is he?


 This bit by Rob Self-Pierson

mad max montage

Scratching the surface

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