SPRING IS HERE. It might not look like spring. The air is still bitter and aroma-less, the birds that frolicked a few weeks ago have swiftly buggered off again and everyone’s whinging about the snow. So, the weather’s glum and with the economy set to decline even further because of it, us Brits are even glummer, but spring has definitely landed. How do I know? Because a few weeks ago, I lost my job. My home has just been sold too, our landlord needs the money and our close friends have just had a baby. Everything’s changing, even without the warmer days we just know it’s time to clean the porch or grow that fringe out.
The Moon of Other Days
Ok, so it’s not directly about the River Wandle, but it does mention it and with a river this small, that’s enough for me. The poem seems to be about missing south west/westLondon (I don’t blame him) and a friend, but I’m not totally sure and can’t find much about it as it’s not a famous piece. If you know more, please, please let me know.
I was recently introduced to the work of Nick Papadimitriou by fellow MA student, Rachel Andrews (Thanks Rachel!) and it has blown my tiny mind. After decades spent researching and documenting London’s topography for, among others, Will Self, he’s put together a book, Scarp (great review by radio producer Tim Dee). It tells the story of the landscape surrounding his home in Child’s Hill, north London, through a mixture of memoir, nature writing and social history offering an account of a life lived on the edge lands, geographically and existentially.
After battling a drug addiction, he took to walking and over the last thirty years he’s kept records of everything from the progress of building works to roads, animal behaviour, sewage systems, dead things and even the weather. He calls his work ‘Deep Topology’. The London Perambulator is a documentary about him, he’s a little eccentric, but absolutely fascinating. It features some words from an impressive list of friends too, including psychogeographers Will Self and Ian Sinclair as well as, bizarrely, Russell Brand (he just gets everywhere).
If you’re interested in London, non-fiction or just interesting characters, it’s well worth a watch. I can’t wait to read his book.
There’s a certain romance to the River Wandle. Most of it’s hidden behind walls or pushed underground in concrete tunnels, the bits we do see are small and often littered with Lucozade bottles and broken washing machines. But despite our best efforts to hide it, dirty its waters and forget it even, it just keeps on flowing.
It’s funny how we treat nature in London. We seem to bully it, as though giving it an occasional kicking will somehow make it go away. I don’t think Londoners hate nature, I just think, for the most part, we fear it. In a fast moving city, we like our landscape to be straight forward and simple to understand.
The Wandle was once famed for brown trout fishing attracting, amongst others, Admiral Nelson to its waters. After a chemical spill a few years ago destroyed what was left of the natural population, the trout have recently been reintroduced. The water is so clear now that, despite the odd bit of crap, it has become a crucial reserve for the endangered London eel (European variety, not jellied). There’s even a nature reserve up towards Carshalton, the wonderfully named Wilderness Island.
In the 19th Century the Wandle became the most industrialised river in the world for its size, attracting textiles mills from William Morris, of wallpaper fame, and Liberty, of expensive fancy pants fame. There is even a theory that The Mill on The Floss by George Eliot – who lived in Holly Lodge in Southfields after she fell out with her family over a relationship with a married man – was set on her waters.
The Wandle Trust organise a river clean up on the second Sunday of every month, anyone can volunteer. There are two jobs: picking through the river for rubbish, which means you get to wear waders, and collecting said rubbish, which means you get to play about with a wheelbarrow. I opted for waders on what turned out to be just about the coldest day of the month. Needless to say, I was in dire need of a cup of tea after a few hours getting absolutely soaked (must wear waterproofs under waders).
I can’t help but think that if the river was a single living, breathing entity, that all the rubbish we throw into it would somehow be feeding it. Perhaps one day, it will rise against us, taking strength from what we always thought was waste and force us to become its fleshy slaves.
For the last week, I’ve been hanging about in Bath and Corsham for my second MA residential week. I have to say, it was bloody brilliant. We met some fascinating people – author Maggie Gee, travel writer Gail Simmons, radio producer Sarah Blunt, poet Terry Gifford – and had such a great time.
Corsham Court is a privately owned Estate in Wiltshire with oodles of land and more peacocks than you can shake a camera phone at. From the outside it’s stunning, but inside the halls are full of a bizarre mix of animal skulls and art. The grounds used to be the residence of the Bath Academy of Art and there are some pretty amusing stories of what it was like in the sixties – I can’t help but wonder how many times the world was put to rights there – but now it’s used for Bath Spa postgraduates.
Our week culminated in a ‘Cafe Ecologique,’ organised by our wonderful tutor Paul Evans, which was loosely part of the literature festival. I get really nervous so I had to get quite drunk, but I did manage to read a piece, even if it was a bit shakey and slightly slurred. I chose a really short bit of non-fiction about my relationship with my body as a part of nature, however I’m not sure it went down too well with some of the older men. I definitely noticed a few side steps afterwards, so I suppose we can count that as a huge success.
Our next residential is hopefully going to be in Melaka, Malaysia. Apparently there’s a really interesting clash of cultures there: British, Chinese, Indian. The first one was at Dale Fort in Wales.
The first parakeets of spring have arrived! Last week we spotted dozens in Istanbul, swooping in pairs, their brilliant green and yellow tail feathers following like a silk train. It seems as though they’ve followed us home. They’re not very popular creatures, but they have a certain poignancy in London.
Ring-neck parakeets originate from the foothills of the Himalayas, no one is totally certain how they got here. Wether they were released from the set of the African Queen, by a drug-adelled Jimi Hendrix or just moved here because of a change in weather patterns, they’re part of the city now. As newcomers, they get a lot of flack, but spring walks would certainly be less colourful without them.