I love the Thames River. I have written before of this love, including post #12, Take me to the River, on the anniversary of Churchill’s funeral flotilla. I have travelled on the Thames and run along the Thames and crossed over it more times than I can count. I love to stop in the middle of the Millennium Bridge and admire London from every angle. Tower Bridge to the East. Southbank to the West. St Paul’s to the North and Tate Modern at the South. And then there is that scene from Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, when the dementors sweep and swoop through the bridge. It is a river so rich in history, with so many, many stories…. So when my girls’ school organized a river clean up, in Richmond, I signed us up, and immediately began dreaming of all the Roman coins I was going to find!
Once a year, the locks are opened and the section of river below Richmond Bridge empties out. This make it the ideal time to do a good clean. Sadly, on the morning of our clean up, it had been raining for hours. And hours and hours and hours. It had been raining so hard for so long, that the river had refilled as fast as it had emptied. And it was still raining. The current was strong. Dangerously strong. But there we were. In our water proofs and wellies and gloves, clutching grabbers and bin bags. We were ready. We just needed to be cautious. And make sure our sense of humour was in full working order.
The good news is that the river, despite its appearance, wasn’t nearly as dirty as I expected it to be. No plastic bags at all, that bag tax must really be working. No fag ends, but then they do tend to disintegrate. Loads and loads and loads of glass. All kinds of glass. Bottle glass, wine glass glass, random rubbish glass. Even a pair of reading glasses. But then, just above that section of river sits a long line of upscale bars and restaurants. We also found pottery, some of it distinctly Victorian in style, sadly nothing Antiques Roadshow excitement old. Lots of tyres, blocks of concrete and metal rods. All of which we collected and dragged into a large rubbish container. When we finished, the cage was overflowing with our bounty. It was a happy sight indeed.
Another happy sight was something we didn’t pick up. Hundreds and hundreds of mussel shells. I couldn’t believe it. Actual shellfish in the river. “Can you eat them?” I asked the leader. I am quite the fan of a mussel or two. “Please don’t,” was the reply. “Their job is to clean the river. You don’t want to eat what they have eaten.” Fair enough.
We all know that David Walliams had to swim through raw sewage (and got sick!) during his epic Thames swim in 2011, but things used to be much, much worse. And things have gotten much, much better. The river was officially dead in the 1960s. But then the sewers were improved and earnest people like those of us on the river that morning decided to start cleaning our mess up. And we cleaned and we cleaned and today the Thames is the cleanest city river in Europe. It boasts 126 species of fish plus, porpoise, dolphins and seals. Wow!
We didn’t find any Roman coins, but a few from Brazil and Ukraine. We also found an empty ring box. Oh the stories we were able to spin from that combination.
The world is a mess. But the Thames is pretty clean. That has got to be worth a smile.