The Egg has arrived in Portsmouth after a happy few weeks in Milton Keynes, but with little time to fully report on all the various happenings and so please look out for retrospective posts into the blog. Nicole Ris from Solent TV found me at the Quayside yesterday, before I went to talk at ASPEX Gallery a little later in the day…
The Egg will be leaving Milton Kenyes on Sunday after a fabulous few weeks on the Grand Union Canal at Stanton Low Park and now at Great Linford.
Time is like a river made up of events which happen and its current is strong
No sooner does a thing appear than it is carried away and another comes in its place
And this will be carried away too
Marcus Aurelius (Meditations)
But these currents sometimes cycle around like the daily pulse of a tide, and one thing, much later, can be found echoed at the heart of another. Well down river from Trinity Buoy Wharf in 2006, I lived for six weeks on the derelict Shivering Sands Forts, six miles off shore at The Nore. At the time I admired the buoy there that marked the western approaches. In January this year when my large sculptural egg was exhibited in the Chainstore at Trinity Buoy Wharf, I discovered this deep channel marker was made there.
On a sunny afternoon last December, I found Yoda on the River Lea trapped in a sea of duckweed, a green sludge just down river from the Bow Flyover. He assured me that the weed ‘harmful to people is not, but beauty spoiled here it is’.
Darren Jones, a Canal & River Trust waterway supervisor remarked in an old issue of CRT News that ‘Removing it is a painstaking job for the team because the pieces are tiny and they move as the boat makes its way through the water. It’s like trying to mow a moving lawn. With the weather like it is, no sooner have we cleaned a section, than a new lot has floated in, but we’re confident of getting rid of the majority before it gets any worse.” (CRT News 17 July 2015) That was two years ago.
I spoke with Yoda on the subject and he felt the we needed a new approach to an increasing problem. ‘You must unlearn what you have learned’ he said and pointed me toward new research by Dutch Scientists funded by the Welcome Trust, to explore the potential of this weed as a super food to rival Soy. It is thought to be around 43% protein and to be rich in vitamins.
However, a spokeswoman for the Trust has said: “Don’t eat it, don’t fish it out of your canal, not the garden pond. Not from anywhere.We don’t know if it’s safe, we’re still doing the studies. We also don’t know if humans can digest it, so until we have the evidence – don’t eat it.” Yoda also added that the water in which it grows ‘of the Source it is not'(actually he could have said force) and that pollutants contaminate its stream.
Cynthia was thrown out of home when her ‘mum’ had a clear out. “I don’t know what I had done wrong. Suddenly I was cast away with a mattress, a new mop from the kitchen that had never been used and all sorts of other things. But I’m worried about my friend Ted over there. He nearly drowned, but a kind samaritan put him on the wall”. Ted told a similar story. He feels we live in a city of neglect and waste and that this canalised river is its refuse channel. Shoved into a bin bag, he’d been taken out after dark and heard someone say ‘just chuck ‘im in’t cut.’ He floated all night in the airtight bag and then somehow found himself on the barge with Cynthia.. “I don’t know what will happen to me now” he told me, hopelessly exhausted and slumped against the graffitied concrete wall. This was on January 28th. When I returned this week to see how they were doing, both had drifted on…
The City Mill river separates London Aquatics Centre from the West Ham United Stadium. I peered at its fractured reflection through thin sheets of ice, as I tried to steady the camera and ponder the wintry scene. My dad remembers a big freeze when the Thames partially froze over in 1947, and the photos below of Limehouse Reach and the entrance to Deptford Creek from February 1895 are visual testament to the kind of weather conditions I can only recall as a child in 1963. Meteorologists and historians think the last time London’s rivers completely froze over was in 1814. There was a frost fair on the Thames in its honour, that began on February 1st and lasted five days.Will such intemperate conditions become less or more likely with global warming?
During the “Frost Fair” in 1814, oxen were grilled, drinks were consumed, dancing ensued and an elephant marched beside Blackfriars Bridge across the frozen Thames River. The river froze over at least 23 times from 1309 to 1814. The river was frozen solid enough to hold a “Frost Fair” five times, counting the one in 1814. When the Thames River froze over, this affected the livelihood of the watermen and lightermen who moved people and goods. To compensate for lost earnings, they organized the fairs, charging the renters and traders for ice access.
The canalised waterways of the Bow Back Rivers meet a tidal Bow Creek at the 2012 Three Mills Lock and older Bow Lock. The freshwater river is a different place to the slightly brackish tidal channel, but both provide a habitat for the common reed. Both creek and river have poor water quality. Ten percent of homes hereabouts have plumbing connecting toilets directly to the river. Storm drains and sewer pipes are also often interconnected and in heavy rain can result in an overflow of human waste into the river. The charity Thames 21 have launched a ‘Love the Lea’ campaign to draw attention to the impact of this on the local riverine environment. It is clear that this pollution impacts animal and plant life and discourages people from enjoying the river. Phosphates in laundry soap add the essential element phosphorus to the river, which in large amounts can lead to the explosive growth of algae, thereby outcompeting other plants in the river system. Thames 21 have set out to fix these broken rivers in different ways, including a programme of reed bed creation and maintenance that has been in operation for at least seventeen years (I first encountered their planting activity on Bow Creek in 2001). The reeds help remove pollution, they provide habitats that increase biodiversity and they are beautiful to see. Currently local people are being asked to vote on where they would like new reedbeds to be planted at http://www.thames21.org.uk/reedbeds-in-the-lea-navigation/ and http://www.thames21.org.uk/reedbed-vote/
Huge tilt hammers and Naysmith’s Steam Hammer were in operation as early as 1854 at Mare and Company’s Iron Ship Building Works on Bow Creek that was the precursor of the Thames Iron Works on the same site. A large local employer, it gave birth to the Thames Iron Works Football club in the 1890s that later became West Ham United, whose nickname The Hammers, is evocative of these steely origins.
The club is embedded in local culture and I found evidence abounding on my walks along the Bow Back Rivers that make an island of the new West Ham stadium site, and around creek side streets down river.
In the 1990s, a local man called Peter Steele, did much to remind local people of this connection when as ‘shop steward of a forgotten workforce’, he lobbied for the memorial that was made on the entrance walls to canning Town Underground Station.
West Ham United Stadium bounded by the Bow Back Rivers in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park image ref. #COYIpic.twitter.com/GbhZbNnJdZ