The Unorthodox Website Blog

Water Baby

16 Jul

Chelsea Harbor from the air

I was born late on March 20th. It was wartime, and they had something called ‘Double British Summertime’ which had already started that year, according to my mother, so it’s confusing as to what time I was really born – sometime between 8.30 and 10.30 pm I think depending on whether you go by GMT or DBST.

At any rate, I was born ‘on the cusp of two star signs’ as the astrologers say, Pisces the fishes and Aries the ram.  Now I’ve never been into astrology – astronomy yes, the exploration of the Solar System and the Universe, but astrology always seemed too way out for me. Certainly the horoscopes printed in newspapers and magazines are a load of nonsense – and I find it hard to believe that everyone born under the same star sign will have similar things happening on the same day.

However, there may be something in it. There are several water signs, for instance, Pisces being one of them. For whatever reason, I have always been attracted to water (apart from drinking it, which I only do if there’s absolutely nothing else to drink. Not that I’m an alkie – I just prefer fruit juice or fizzy drinks to water.)

But I do like to go swimming in the Summer in natural water - usually Hampstead Mixed Bathing Pond, the Serpentine Lido or the sea. I also like being by rivers, streams, ponds or any expanse of water.

I live near the River Thames in Battersea, and my mother lives near me. So I often push her wheelchair (she’s nearly 96) the half mile or so to the River and we sit and observe what’s going on.

Not that much on our stretch of the River because most of the tourist boats don’t come upstream this far. A lot of new piers were installed recently, and a frequent hop-on/hop-off catamaran service calls at them as far downstream as Greenwich and Woolwich, but upstream the last pier is Millbank for the Tate Britain gallery.

To makes matters worse, the Festival Pier in Battersea Park was removed upstream to the South Bank near the Royal Festival Hall some years ago, so we now have no pier in Battersea at all. Apparently there’s one further upstream in Wandsworth, though I’ve never actually found it, there’s one in Putney, and another just across from where my mother and I usually sit at Chelsea Harbor. All are only used infrequently – Chelsea Harbor just by early morning/late afternoon commuter boats.

So there’s very little traffic going up and down the River in Battersea. The odd tug pulling barges loaded with container crates, a few tourist boats going upstream to Richmond, police, fire and river environment management boats, and small privately owned vessels.

I’ve written to Thames Cruises who run the catamarans, but there are no plans to extend the service upstream. I believe, for some reason, they wouldn’t be allowed beyond Putney anyway, but that would be great for us. If we want to travel to Greenwich or anywhere downstream by boat, even though we’re by the River, we have to take a bus or train to Westminster.

On the Battersea side of the River are quite a few houseboats, though many more are moored at Cheyne Walk across the River in Chelsea. Chelsea Harbor has a Marina with some very expensive looking little yachts and other boats, also a luxury hotel.

We often sit by a houseboat called Jadi, previously there was a much older and even bigger boat there, but it was rotting away. I sometimes wave or chat to the owner of the Jadi, which is currently being refurbished. The other day we saw her and her two children take a little motorboat ride up and down the river, their two dogs anxiously looking over the side of the Jadi waiting for them to return.

I’ve often fancied a canal boat, even if just to hire it for a week or so. The idea of living on water appeals to me. I have been on short cruises on various waterways, including the Norfolk Broads and in the Lake District, and my mother and I have been on quite a few Mediterranean cruises, and one all around Great Britain.

Back in London, one thing which annoys me is the money wasted on Hungerford Bridge, now renamed the Jubilee Bridges and Charing Cross Railway bridge. Actually the Hungerford footbridge, which had absolutely nothing wrong with it and ran alongside the railway bridge, was demolished for no good reason and two completely new pedestrian bridges built, one each side of the railway bridge. What a complete and utter waste of money!

There was no need for a new pedestrian bridge there, and certainly not two. Where we desparately need one was in Battersea, alongside the Overground railway bridge which joins Battersea with Chelsea Harbor/Imperial Wharf. To get to Chelsea Harbor a quarter of a mile away across the River we have to walk miles and cross Battersea or Wandsworth bridges then back again, or else get a bus or train across the River.

Just the other side of the Overground railway bridge is Battersea heliport, used by the rich. Unlike New York City where helicopter flights over Manhattan are very cheap, one over London would cost you hundreds of pounds. The luxury millionaire apartments next to the Heliport have closed in balconies because of the noise from the helicopters!

I do love the River, but upstream of Lambeth and Vauxhall Bridges it is not used much, at least not till you get past the lock at Richmond. This stretch of the River between Richmond and Vauxhall is very underused, and people living near it have few piers or boat services they can access easily.

I also like other waterways in London – the River Lee for instance, and I look forward to the Leeside Olympic Park and the improvements that will bring. Also the Regents and Grand Union Canals. When I lived in Camden we frequently walked along the Regents Canal from Camden Lock, thru the Zoo to St John’s Wood, or took the Jenny Wren or another tourist canal boat to Little Venice or Paddington Basin. I’ve also walked the other way as far as Victoria Park and the River Lee, using towpaths where possible.

Battersea Park has a lovely lake. No swimming allowed, but there are parts where you can imagine you’re right out in the countryside by a river (because of the islands, and twists and turns), or even on a bayou in Louisiana (I know, because I’ve seen some bayous in Louisiana and Mississippi, but Battersea Park has the advantage of having no alligators.)

There is also the Festival Pond with fountains, though these are not always working. Kids tend to paddle in this shallow pond in hot weather, though they aren’t supposed to.

Yes I love water, and as kids we frequently holidayed in Margate and were always in and out of the water – either the sea or the salt-water pool which was in front of the Sun Deck, till they demolished the Sun Deck and turned the swimming pool into a boating lake. Shame, as the sea at Margate isn’t deep enough to swim in unless you walk out miles.

For days out we often went to Southend (5 shillings or 25 pence return on the Eastern National green bus from the Nag’s Head, Palmers Green near where we lived) or else by coach to Clacton, where we also spent some holdays.

Now Brighton is much more accessible from Clapham Junction where I now live (this should have been named Battersea Junction as Clapham is miles away to the south). My mother and I went last Saturday and it took just 45 minutes, quicker than the 49 bus to Kensington Gardens/Hyde Park and the Serpentine Lido.

Wherever natural water is, that’s where I want to be. But clinical swimming pools (indoor or outdoor) smelling of chlorine have little attraction for me. I’ll only use them if there’s nothing better.

Yes, whether there’s anything in astrology or not, I’m definitely attracted to water like a true Pisces. Being on the cusp of Aries the Ram may have other connotations, but I”ll leave it there for now!

Chelsea Harbor Pier looking across to Battersea

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