For me, it always comes back to the Thames. Our city has many symbols and motifs, but there is no greater avatar for London than the Thames. It is the physical embodiment of London’s stubbornness, our ability to endure. We experience the most appalling crises and yet, like the Thames, we carry on.
The Thames mirrors London’s ability to experience renaissance. Just as the city has time and again confounded those who predicted its decline, so too the Thames; in the 1960s the river was declared ‘biologically dead’ and was a free-flowing rubbish dump. Now, due to the sustained work and passion of many hands-on campaigners, the Thames is the cleanest river flowing through any major city in the world.
Every Londoner has a personal relationship with the Thames; it plays a part in all our London stories. Mine starts with one of my earliest memories; a boat trip followed by a ride on the newly opened Docklands Light Railway for my third birthday. My parents could not have known that their choice of birthday treat would spark both a passion for the river and an interest in transport that led to my railway career.
When I was Shift Station Manager at Waterloo, I used to go up onto the station roof to enjoy a truly unique view of London. You can’t quite see the Thames from there, but you can feel its presence in the peaks and troughs of the skyline. As a Metropolitan Police Special Constable in Kensington & Chelsea, I would relish opportunities to patrol the borough’s small but impressive shore.
During the first anxiety-inducing months of the pandemic, my husband, Liam, and I found ourselves drawn back repeatedly to the Thames. We walked downstream as far as Weybridge and upstream beyond Richmond, delighting in each new discovery. The Thames is a constant comfort, precisely because of its habit of endurance.
Here in the three boroughs of South West London, we are treated to the finest, most beautiful and most interesting section of the River Thames. Our Thames is not the grand, portentous river of Westminster or the wide-open vista of the Isle of Dogs. Our Thames is full of nooks and crannies, meanders and aits (and eyots). It’s a river of paddle boarders, rowers and sailing boats. Liam used to work on Raven’s Ait in Surbiton and on his days off we’d lounge in the sun on the island’s front lawn.
Recently, I had the pleasure of delivering addressed letters to voters on Eel Pie Island. I will admit to taking my time wandering the pathways of that unusual, delightful, storied place. Walking back over the footbridge, it struck me that Twickenham’s riverside with its stumble-upon quality is precisely what we want a riverside to be in our neck of the woods; calm, interesting, quirky and of value to the community. Any plans to change this area must be treated with the utmost caution; we could take the wrong course now and regret it for decades to come.
These are tough times, but with the Thames as our example we will endure. I realise I haven’t yet mentioned my London Assembly campaign. No matter. For now, may I wish all Twickenham & Richmond Tribune readers a very Happy New Year.