“The river sweats, oil and tar, the barges drift, with the turning tide, red sails, wide, to leeward, swing on the heavy spar. The barges wash, drifting logs, down Greenwich reach, past the Isle of Dogs” The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot
We look, but we don’t see. We listen, but seldom hear. We feel, but we don’t sense. It’s the unknowingly dreary nature of life in London, a city built on mud and rubbish, beating its ancient rhythm like a drum – and sadly yet, its subtler sounds elude us as they drown in the deafening din of cars, people and ceaseless industry.
We often sail our lives through the comfortable sea lanes of predictability as a matter of choice, and in the course of the journey, we are often missing the finer, interesting details : The jutting capes and the hidden coves, mysterious wrecks and sudden storms that can make the trip different, unexpected, and intriguing. So if you are a bit like me, still prepared for the new and unexpected even though I’ve roamed the streets of the City for 15 years, the promise of unseen (and even unheard) wonders and great storytelling should be impossible to decline. An insatiable curiosity for different perspectives is a passion worth feeding.
We met by wharves and churchyards, and talked of the banks of ancient rivers, and mountains of mud, and heaps of rubble and how this City has regenerated from the ashes over and over again like the mythical phoenix. We heard of Victorian tribes who traded in markets and guilds, produced goods in steel mills and brick kilns, and of those who profited from the accumulation of waste and its recycling. Of ambient sounds, of bells and clocks and voices rising in righteous protest, and how these make up the hum of the City’s lifeblood, whose existence I’ve realized for the first time. Of secret passages where time froze and of subterranean tunnels and bridges that crisscross the Thames, and of the treasures hidden beneath, washing ashore with low tide to be discovered.
I stood still, and this eternal circle of erosion, waste and rebirth was revealed to me. The unceasing din of construction and corrosion, material decaying and material rising in new heights like a familiar yet mysterious life form, the calls of the market stall holders that transcend time and locale, the hectic murmur of traffic… all these sounds and sights and smells are not just the mundane backdrop of daily life anymore : they have become music, sound and vision – a secret, magic daily opera, made just for myself : its singular, enchanted audience.
A Rubbish Trip is a poignant tour by Rosie Oliver, discussing conservation, London’s Victorian tribes and the social history of the Docklands. You can book it at Dotmaker Tours
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