Wednesday, 1 July 2009

London is a River City

I took part recently in a walk along the route of one of London’s buried rivers as part of Amy Sharrocks’ project, London is a River City. We walked the Walbrook from its source outside London’s Highbury and Islington Tube Station through the City to its entry into the Thames, at a stony beach beside Cannon Street Station. The Walbrook was covered five hundred years ago and today it's concrete and cars all the way to the Thames. But as Sharrock’s explains, by following the route we uncover a submerged city, or at least become part of its layering. Sharrocks talks powerfully about water – how it's what we mostly are and how it runs through our imaginations and bodies:

‘stream of consciousness, flow of life, tides of feeling… We are water creatures, and our bodies are like colanders, constantly leaking fluids, thoughts and memories, yet trapped in a Sisyphean attempt to shore up against the future. If forgetting is an action that happens to you, then UN-forgetting might have to be an equally active effort.’

Thirty or so of us met all dressed in blue and walked all linked together in loops of blue elastic. Most passers-by stared or smiled, though some passed by as though there really wasn’t anything odd about it. I heard two or three recognise us unprompted: a little girl who said ‘they’re a river’, a businessman who asked, ‘are you a fountain?’

This was an event, not a guided walk, so we chatted for half of it and then fell silent for the second half to listen to the city or maybe imagine the river. Despite the odd watery street name, the city’s dryness dominated the view. As Sharrocks noted, like water, we were a little disruptive, but for the most part passed through lightly.

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