SOMETIMES I’VE WONDERED how much more quickly this site could develop if Larkin’s toad of work was sent packing. Those fantasies don’t live very long once they’re dragged onto dry land.
There’s a queue of people in my cramped local newsagent with similar hopes of escape. Some spend £30 at a time on the National Lottery for a week’s worth of daydreams. It’s their money.
Work constrains this site but it’s also what makes it possible. Better to get something like the Waterways sound map done slowly than not at all and, anyway, it only needs about another four days of walking and recording to complete it.
Of all the rivers and canals that have been covered so far, the Wandle is probably my favourite. Very little of it before Wandsworth is entombed in culverts like the Edgware Brook pictured above. The Wandle drops, I don’t know, a couple of hundred feet on the way to the Thames, so it often flows quite quickly and audibly through south London.
The Wandle was also once a working river. Watercress was cultivated in its uipper reaches, and several street names along its course include the word ‘mill’. Here is the crackle of the electricity sub-station in Copper Mill Lane:
Canal waters are silent unless strained through a lock or paddled by ducks before take-off. The waterway becomes a thread to draw you through London’s maze. By the Grand Union Canal in Southall, the music of a distant marching band boomed and faded with the wind:
Bathwater gurgles as it goes down the plughole and in poetry brooks babble and chatter. Lethe was one of the rivers of the Underworld and drinking it brought forgetfulness or ‘unmindfulness’. The ear is drawn to the sound of water as if it held a secret, but there’s nothing there except this moment, then the next, and the next.