RiverThames

Mudlarking

Last weekend I managed to forcefully persuade a friend mine - in the cosy and jovial environment of Sevilla Mia* - to remain in London for the weekend. After a few bottles of San Miguel and some Sangria, he agreed. I thoroughly enjoy his company, we have bonded due to our common interests in both good comedy and cynicism (one could argue that the ability to be cynical is required to make great comedy).

The next day we ventured into central London to explore the Thames Walk; one of my favourite walks in London. On the way, we were amused by the folkloric tradition of Morris dancing. My girlfriend observed that in Spain they have a very similar form of dancing. We were approached by a member of the Greensleeves Morris Men; a man with teeth slightly to big for his face, but a sizeable beard to slightly obscure them. I inquired as to the historical routes of this amusing tradition and he tole me that they were unknown, but may in fact have been a combination of English medieval folk dancing, combined with a form of Spanish dancing brought over by Spanish immagrants. The name 'Morris' has nothing to do with the possibility that many of the bearded middle aged men who choose to continue this tradition, may all be called Morris. It possibly comes from the word Moors, a derogatory term applied to the inhabitants of the ever expanding Muslim Caliphate; which stretched, eventually, to Al-Andalus, what is now Andalusia in Southern Spain.

*If anyone gets the chance to visit Sevilla Mia, do it! As soon as you walk through the narrow corridor, down the stairs into the cellar bar you are transported to Spain. It is located off of Oxford Street down a narrow street called Hanway Street, close to Tottenham Court Road station.

We finally reached the Thames Walk. The particular route we had chosen to explore starts near South Bank and continues along the Thames river side towards Borough Market. On this particular day (and at this particular time) the tide was out, revealing part of the pebble and detritus covered bed of the Thames close to the bank. At a few points there are staircases that lead down to the river. It was here that we noticed people walking slowly along the bank, paying close attention to bed and on occasion stopping to pick something up.    

At this point we didn't bother the inquire as to why these people were stopping and what it was they were looking for. We found nothing of any value or interest, just the kind of leavings you would expect the find in a big city.

Often we found mammalian bones, we joked with the idea that these bones were the pathetic remains of people who, like us, had ventured on the Thames river bed and had been unable to escape before the tide caught up with them. 

We continued our walk and observed many people engaged in the same activity, some alone, some in groups.

My friend Dan and my girlfriend stopped to have some rest. I found a staircase which led down to a very busy part of the river bed. It was here I observed a young women and her son searching the river bed. I had developed enough curiosity to encourage me to ask the woman what it was she was searching for. She very kindly explained to me that they were engaging in an activity called Mudlarking. The etymology of the word is derived from the name given to poor, unskilled scavengers, who roamed the Thames foreshore in search of items that could be sold in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the case of Gemma, she was searching the Thames in search of historical artefacts. She told me you could find all sorts of interesting objects, from shards of Victorian or Edwardian plates, to old forms of currency. Gemma and her son kindly showed me some of there finds and allowed me to snap a portrait.

Gemma's Son

 

Surreal Wandering

Wandering the streets of London in the rain is a joy. It is a city that is full of grimy back alleys and hidden gems. It is a history lesson, but one that you can touch and see; buildings of Tudor, Edwardian, Georgian, Victorian descent meet the Brutalism of the 60's and 70's. 

Then there are the people, mostly tourists - the only ones unworried about the wet weather - enjoying the sights. Street musicians fill public subways with echoed melodies whilst pubs are crammed with raucous punters.

At one particularly surreal point in our wandering we were approached by an interesting double act. A man dressed as Hitler dressed up as Charlie Chaplan had teamed up with a chicken from a horror movie to aggressively demand money from people.  

As the clouds got darker and the street lamps began to light up, the rain fall increased. Sheltered by black umbrellas, tourists still walked, their pace slightly quickened, glimpsing views of the old city. Rain water cascaded from restaurant and pub awnings and warm light spilled onto the wet paths.   

In Old Borough Market, younger revellers drank and smoked in the street. We found a small cocktail bar and sheltered from the rain. With wet feet we drank red wine by the window and watched people walk by. Some, at ease with the bad weather, others rushed past dodging puddles. 

After feeling sufficiently dry, we returned home, leaving the rain to continue cleaning the dirty streets of London.