Saturday, September 13, 2003


It is a beautiful clear, sunny autumn day in London. It's cool enough to make it absolutely wonderful walking weather, and I am taking advantage of it. I am going to walk along the Thames from Battersea to Kingston or maybe Richmond. So, I think there is not much blogging today. (One of my longer pieces will be coming reasonably soon).

Update: I had hoped to walk from Battersea Park to Kingston upon Thames (which is actually rather further than Richmond, although it may not appear that way from the way I put it previously). In London Transport terms the aim was to walk from the outer boundary of Zone 1 to somewhere in the middle of zone 6. As it was, this turned out to be too much for me and I stopped in Richmond (which is in zone 4). Kingston is a few more miles. (I could have got to Kingston if I had left the river at Putney, but following the river was the point). Following the river path, I kept having to get out of the way of cyclists, with who pedestrians share a thoroughfare. I could see their point, however. It is a lovely route on which to go cycling, also. And given the distances, this is perhaps more appropriate than walking. Also, there were lots and lots of English people walking their dogs beside the river. (What is it with English people and dogs, anyway?)

The Thames has traditionally been a working river up to about Chelsea/Wandsworth, but above that most of the activity on the river is actually leisure related. Lots and lots of rowing clubs, for one thing. If I had ever bothered to go and watch the Oxford Cambridge boat race, I would have seen this before, but I have never bothered, despite being an actual alumnus of one of the universities. Further up the river there were a few recreational power boats and other things as well.

And of course, the curious thing about London is that the more genteel parts of the city on which to live have spent most of the last 300 years moving upstream. This is presumably mostly a response to industrialisation, as the downstream parts became more polluted, but there is still something curious about the way in which people who work in the City (and now at Canary Wharf as well) often live in places that are extraordinarily hard to get to work from, especially given the nightmare that is transport in London. And some areas that are very close to these workplaces - in particular parts of the East End - have traditionally been seen as hellholes, although gentrification is occurring. (Like gentrification everywhere, it is being driven by younger people and older people take a while to notice).

In any event, I got to Richmond. This place was the subject of my favourite movie line of last year: Nicole Kidman as Virginia Wolf in The Hours saying "If it is Richmond or death, I choose death". The place doesn't really deserve that. It's pretty, contains lots of nice pubs in which to sit by the river, and has an air of genteel Englishness that (along with it being on a major rail line) makes it popular with expatriate bankers who prefer genteel Englishness to the vibrant consmopolitanism that is to me the biggest attraction of London. (On the other hand I went to Cambridge and have had all the genteel Englishness I could ever want already).

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