Tuesday, 16 June 2009

A Psychogeography Field Trip along the Thames

Thames Barrier looking towards the City of London, June 2009

Work took me to London today and a trip along the Thames from Embankment Pier to the International Cruise Terminal at Tilbury and back. Like most of the people on the boat I like to consider myself relatively well travelled and having a reasonable knowledge of London. However as we followed the sinuous course of the Thames, a route most will be familiar with in outline from the opening credits of Eastenders, a new view of London emerged.

I've always known that London in reality is much more compact than it might appear on a map or that journey times via its overburdened transport network would make you think. But by following the Thames you see how close together major districts are. You also see sweeps of the city and country's history from the ultra modern docklands developments back through the Royal Naval college at Greenwich and back even further to the Tower of London.

As we passed along the Thames it was also possible to observe major differences to the river today compared to the one we would have experienced before the 1950's, gone is the hustle and bustle of one of the worlds great ports, moved down river closer to the sea or across the sea to Rotterdam. Gone to is the stench and pollution , its impossible to imagine this river catching fire or being the source of outbreaks of disease. Indeed I saw plenty of evidence of a clean river, evidenced by the presence of fish eating Cormorants and some rather wonderful Common Terns.

The very embankment of the Thames of course points at possible future changes. Surge tides forced up river and a sinking east coast allied with the effects of climate change could have a serious impact on this city and the Thames Barrier is a visible reminder of that possible fate. To me the Barrier reminded me of the walls around a medieval city with the tidal gates ready to be closed shut in the face of the enemy, not this time marauding Vikings but a surge tide threatening London.

Will Self writes a column in the Independent called Psychogeography [The study of the effect of geographical factors on the mind or on behaviour ] and today felt to me like a very enjoyable journey into my own Psychogeography of London and the Thames.

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