Stage Four – Bridges and barges

It’s been such glorious summer weather in London yesterday and today that it’s hard to sit down indoors and get on with writing work. Yesterday I walked from Battersea to London Bridge, and today I went back to Battersea to meet up with a friend who used to live on a barge there. I knew a bit about narrowboats and canals before this project – having a friend who is a boater was one of the things that has got me interested in exploring waterways – but barges were completely new to me. We had a lovely walk down in the foreshore mud and a good look at the grounded barges at low tide. I asked a thousand questions and Mark told me many more things than I had asked – it was a great success! I hung around for a while to watch the tide begin to lift some of the boats moored on the Chelsea side, but finally (reluctantly) came back home to write this. You can see here a short clip of the tide coming in – it really comes up the river fast, and the piers of the bridge create a lot of turbulence.

Yesterday I was paying attention to bridges – the section I walked is thick with them and I crossed several times. Some of them are beautiful, some quite ugly. It was rather bizarre to encounter strings of fairy lights and a very hipstery development office under one end of Vauxhall Bridge, and rough sleepers’ encampments under the other end. Gentrification has a firm hand on the river, but I don’t think they’ll ever quite manage it – I was talking to Mark this morning about how it is very much a working river still. For every pleasure boat you see go by there’s probably one or two shipping barges moving freight or waste, or carrying out other work.

I found myself thinking several times yesterday ‘how am I going to get some bridges into a story’ – which is a sign that I’m being turned back-to-front a bit by this research. I mentioned in an earlier post that I had been finding it tricky to decide what to make note of, how will I know what I might want to use later? Part of this is a sense of being time poor. I feel like I only have one chance at this so I must ‘get it right’. In fact, I don’t have just one chance, I live here – I can revisit anything at any time. It doesn’t matter if I miss something, or which things I miss. The other thing is just getting the whole process backwards. Walking around thinking, ‘will I use this in a story, should I write it down/photograph it, can I think of a plot now, if I don’t should I not bother to write it down as it’s clearly irrelevant…’ It really just doesn’t work that way for me.

The way it does tend to work, and I keep reminding myself of this and filling pages of my notebook with as much as I can, is that ideas come later. I don’t know if I’m explaining this very well, but what I’m learning is that my head will tell me that I must assess each piece of data for its potential usefulness in a story before I record it – but my experience tells me that the most random thing I write down might be the thing that I pick up and slot in somewhere in a plot that is otherwise completely unrelated. It’s all much more uncontrolled and disorganised and random than I quite like, I’m trying to just go with it! I really love how this project is teaching me things I had no idea I needed to learn!

Stage Four Stats
Weather: glorious! 26 and sunny
Distance: 7 miles, with quite a lot of crossing and waffling about
Stops: All the bridges, Battersea Park, Battersea Power Station, Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens for lunch, Southbank/Southside, The Old Thameside pub/Golden Hinde for feet up and finishing my notes.
Highlights: catching my husband for 5 minutes between meetings when I walked past his office, park benches with arms in the shape of swans,  the brutal beauty of the Power Station (I hope they don’t make it too pretty in the redevelopment), new fish by Nicola in Skylark Gallery