Monday, 7 May 2018

Adventures along the River ............

Not all adventures happen when you are ten.

It was the August of 1979 and I was home for a holiday and armed with a new camera I took myself off down by the river.

I was curious to see how things had changed from when I worked at a food factory hard by the tunnel.

Back then our favourite end of work routine was to walk into the Cutty Sark at lunchtime with our overalls stilled caked in milk powder and rub shoulders with the posh young things who had popped over the water to sample south east London pubs.

With hindsight I am the first to admit it was childish and irresponsible but when you are 19 you view things differently.

I can remember thinking that nothing much had changed in the decade I had been away.

The river was still a working river, warehouses still lined the water and during the day the place was filled by the noise of men at work.

And in the evening, sitting outside the Cutty Sark there was that occasional dull thud as the moored barges banged gently together on the swell caused by a late night pleasure boat.

I haven’t been back in thirty years but looking at pictures posted by friends of the same places, it seems the transformation is so dramatic and complete that I would feel lost.

At which point I have to stress, that this is no nostalgic rant at what we have lost.  The Thames could be a smelly and dangerous place, where those who worked it were often labouring for long hours, for low pay, and going home to substandard houses whose sell by date was well out.

But as a ten year old from Peckham soon to move to Eltham this was the backdrop to my life.

We never lived far from the river and despite its busy working existence we played on the mud when the tide was out, looking for treasure, but usually finding nothing more than sodden lumps of timber and the odd dead fish.

We took to the foot tunnels and travelled the ferry, explored that other place north of the River and on occasion just sat watching as ships, tugs and the odd upper class sailing boat passed us by.

Along with all of that, there was the smell, which was a mix of ozone, and ships fuel and rotting seaweed.

But being out of Peckham, you were also mindful that the stretch from Woolwich to Greenwich was not your stretch and there was every possibility that you would be challenged by other kids or told to “bugger off” by someone making his living from our playground.

And then I was eighteen and standing at the bus stop opposite the ferry, behind the cinema, waiting for a bus to work at six in the morning, idly watching the river, and catching the odd sharp gust of wind whipping off the water.

As adventures go it didn’t match those from my childhood or the ones I was to recreate in the ‘70s but there was still a bit of magic about it.

Location; the River across three decades

Pictures; walking the Thames, 1979, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

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