US and UK – I Lived By the River – Part Eight of Nine


North Greenwich (Isle of Dogs) Bowls Club

North Greenwich (Isle of Dogs) Bowls Club


Fifteen metres above me, the brown, brackish Thames flowed one way or the other past its Greenwich Village south shore. Almost half a kilometre away north under the river stretched and seemingly narrowed the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, in a slightly down then upward curve hugging the waters above. No drips could be seen or heard happening. But the presence of water on the floor of the tunnel, the smell of it in the thick air and the close but light feel of it on the skin could not be denied. I tried not to think about how many summer floods the tunnel had seen, nor how much days, months and years of tides had reduced the distance between the Thames’ riverbed and the ceiling below it above me. Three people walked faster ahead, silently, and would disappear from sight up stairs at the other end. Behind me, an eery echo from a single pair of feet descended the spiral staircase and entered the claustrophobic tiled-tube like a shadow’s messenger from the world above. For precious moments within that tunnel I was more alone than I would ever be in London, though I may not have truly been alone at all. Later that night upon my return to Blackheath I mentioned my journey through the foot tunnel to my momentary landlords, Jim and Tim. Tim said it was haunted. By the ghost of a young woman or little girl. And his silence left the rest up to me.

Kids do tend to make horror movies that much more horrific. There’s something in the innocence juxtaposed against the terror. Well, that and the reprehensible misfortune of youthful death. But I don’t really believe in ghosts. I’m more of a reincarnation sort of guy. Or maybe a swift upon death passage to either Heaven or Hell. So I’d be lying if I said I was really creeped out by the whole experience. In reality I quite enjoyed the idea of walking under a river – which I’d never done before. Especially one so mighty and famous as the Thames. But obviously the view from one of many bridges over it was always going to be a little more stimulating. Still, I wasn’t mugged down there, the tunnel didn’t finally give way to tonnes of water pressure above and I wasn’t possessed by a young female wraith bent on revenge for crimes long ago. Or was I? No. No I certainly wasn’t. Instead I emerged safe and happy from the identical glazed dome entry point across the river at the Isle of Dogs – just to the south of Canary Wharf. The tunnel had actually been built in 1902 and had been repaired only once, after damage to it during World War Two. Perhaps the Germans are claustrophobic too, if not phasmophobic. Hitler sure didn’t seem to love his bunker. Ahem. Moving on. . . .

If this needs a caption then you haven't bothered reading the story, in which case there's little hope for you

If this needs a caption then you haven’t bothered reading the story, in which case there’s little hope for you

The Isle of Dogs seemed first of all well-named, as it was full of seedy people and lower-class housing. Kind of, in hindsight, reminded me of the television show Misfits. Minus any hint of bizarre superpowers. After walking past a large park sure to have seen its share of drug deals, I approached what could only be described as London’s oddly segregated banking district through swiftly urbanising streets. Canary Wharf is a well-greened and quite surrounded by water collection of, again, mostly tall banking buildings. I was making for Jubilee Park, literally above the Tube station, at which an ice rink was located in the north-west corner. But it was a very small rink full of also very small and uncoordinated British children getting an obviously beginning ice skating lesson. So I hopped the train to the now very familiar London Bridge station and instead headed for the larger ice rink I knew was next to the Tower of London. Beware (states my journal): the Starbucks to the right of the Tower Bridge on the north bank doesn’t – or didn’t – have very good Wifi. I shouldn’t really have been buying God’s Own Drink (other than wine) at Starbucks anyway, as Emma had when I first enjoyed time alone with her in New York told me the chain was on the nose for (somehow legal) tax evasion. Almost a week after being rejected by her, I guess I couldn’t have cared less anymore. For the record I asked Starbucks Australia’s Facebook page if the company paid tax here, but never got a response. Corporate indifference? Now that’s taxing.

A distinct lack of retarded Londoners and tourists on the Tower of London rink initially heartened me; until naturally when my session came up they all came out of the woodwork and created a sharp-footed human flood across the ice. If anything the crowd actually made it more enjoyable for me, weaving at high speed past them often in curving sprays of ice as I navigated the frozen rectangle. I’d even gotten to the point in which I could slide-stop, instead of spinning in a circle or running into a wall as slow as I could. I believe skating had finally stopped being mainly an excuse to roll delicious memories of time spent with Emma around in my mouth, too. Speaking very figuratively there. Never actually got to kiss her. Damn it all. Liberated, I swooped for a good hour around the ice enjoying the cool air on my face and warm exertion in my legs. I suppose in many ways skating was reminiscent of surfing, which I hadn’t done in months and would classify as my greatest enduring conditional love other than reading. In order to get back to London Bridge – which is the next one not quite a kilometre west of the Tower Bridge – I walked in an arc north, west then south through the City of London. I strolled past groups of people enjoying themselves outside bars and restaurants after work. And past the other usual individuals walking with their heads so far up their arses they wouldn’t have been able to wave without tickling their own bum-hole. “Still, less homeless than in America,” I penned. After training it back I watched the annual British sport awards (yawn) with Tim and Jim, and hit the hay. Probably pretty early. It had been a long and enjoyable day.

The Tower of London, background, and its ice rink, foreground

The Tower of London, background, and its ice rink, foreground

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