Monday, June 4, 2012

Diamond Jubilee Thames show for many!

Failing to arrive at the Thames before dawn didn't help me get a good place to see the river pageant, but if I had I think I would have been moved on from my hoped for place by the Timepiece at St.Katherine's lock. I got there to find it firmly blocked off, and moving towards the Tower of London embankment I found the gates closed, a well dressed group waiting to be let in, I learn from them that only those with an invitation were allowed beyond, and lo behold, an official sort of person began to address them, by the size of this group it was clear they weren't going to be crowded. Thousands of people will have been denied a chance to see the Pageant so a few chosen ones could do so in comfort. I thought this was supposed to be  a public/peoples event? It certainly didn't take this to keep people clear of the saluting battery at the west end of this place. Tower bridge was of course raised and the media were there in force as I expected, the public offered one of the few video screens I saw but wasn't prepared to struggle forwards to. Further along the river exclusion abounded, crowd control I understand, privileged access less so. People came in the night and probably arrived with a milk bottle to pee in were surely the ones who did best!
Readers comments on the BBC News website tell of similar exclusions on the south side of the river, someone in Shad Thames was asked for a ticket he never had. Trying to show  a million plus people something in an environment not set up for it can't be done, but I think everyone should have had a fair crack of the whip. I had to stand one footed on a plastic traffic cone to get my few seconds of river footage, it didn't take my weight long. I know the rain clouds didn't scare many off, but I think it was all a bit ignorant of the many who opened a brolly the moment it rained, lot of anger and argument breaking out among the affected, this doesn't seem to have been shown by the media who concentrated on what went right. A veteran of Trafalgar square at New years eve, I ought to have known better perhaps and watched all this at home? Next time theres a Jubilee Pageant on the river Thames I'll do that!
AAWWEE..cheer up, check out my latest painting, ...'The Blue Ensign'

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Jubilee approaches

The Diamond Jubilee Thames Pageant will be tomorrow afternoon, the Queen will be disembarking from her boat the Spirit of Chartwell at HMS President, I will try to get a vantage point by arriving a few hours early, I hope I'm not brushed aside by ITN or the BBC! I missed the Queens reopening of the Cutty Sark because of a dental appointment I plain couldn't forego, I don't want to miss this!
St.Katherines dock has been brightened up by oodles of bunting and flags on the Yachts there, lots of on board parties as apposed to street parties...see this brief video, I hope I will have much more to offer tomorrow...we shall see!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Return of the Robin

Robin at West India Quay before restoration
Working under the Spanish flag as 'Maria'
The worlds oldest complete steamship, the ss Robin was returned to London in July last year to the Royal Victoria dock on a floating pontoon, where the last parts of her restoration will be completed hopefully in time for the Olympics, not that she will be running in anything!
She spent some time at St.Katherine's dock and years at  West India Quay under the shadow of preserved dockyard cranes of the past near the DLR station.
In 2008 she was taken up to Lowestoft for restoration. 
She was launched in 1890 at Blackwall in London not so far from where she has been returned. She is one of three core collection Historic ships in London, the other two are Cutty Sark and HMS Belfast, both of which I've already written about here.
Like Cutty Sark she was built to a standard far above the norm, in this case to 100A1 steel ..put simply the very best. She also, like Cutty Sark many years with Iberian ship owners who clearly keep things going longer than us. Her boiler by the way is Scottish, she was towed oop narth to Dundee to have those fitted. I don't ever remeber going to sea in a ship that didn't have a Scottish engineer aboard.
She didn't spend too much time under the British flag though, she was sold to a Spanish company in 1900 and stayed a working vessel until 1974...that is just about incredible.
She was saved from the scrapyard for restoration though, and the Robin Trust have a really good website all about her life and times .... The Robin Trust
I'm planning a painting of this ship but some research will be needed as her appearance changed here and there over the years, I don't want to mess that up!
I'm really looking forward to her opening up to the public.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

When Ellen MacArthur came up the Thames

Ellen MacArthur about to board the Cutty Sark

The Trimaran B&Q at Greenwich

Sunday 20th February 2005 was a special day, British yachtswoman 28 year old  Ellen MacArthur was visiting London in her Trimaran racing yatch, the B&Q. Fifteen days earlier she had broken the world record for sailing around the world solo, this had been done in 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes and 33 seconds, the record would hold until 2008, when it was relinquished by her friend Francis Joyon.
She sailed up the Thames to the crowded Tower Bridge and back down to Greenwich where she would do a walk around to meet the public and appear on a giant video screen outside the Tea clipper Cutty Sark. Like millions of others I had been following her progress all the way, I hoped she wouldn't sacrifice her purple mascot Slinky to Father Neptune at the equator  and she didn't, sending him a piece of jewelry instead.
I was determined to get a 'celebrity snap' and after photographing her boat on the Thames (see above) went to a metal bollard near the door cut in the ships side, before the crowds gravitated there, that was as close as the public could get and actually a couple of feet past the erected fence too...I was still a member of the Cutty Sark Trust and wore the badges, but still glared at the jobsworth  security guard with X-ray eyes 'don't you dare'...he let me stay probably because I'd only get a replacement, so there I perched like  a Pixie for more than an hour on a post just big enough to balance on...just a bit uncomfortable but I was well rewarded with the photo you see above. A korean girl next to me had wanted a photo and an autograph, but never got either, act is Ellen was being ushered away from the crowd at this point onto her next stage aboard the ship to meet people like the Mayor of Greenwich and friends. Secret here is to stay focused!
Later that week I discovered a friend of mine was the cab driver who took her away to her hotel in the evening..small world as well as a giant one!
Find her website on my Links page!..

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sea Shepherds 'Steve Irwin' came to London

The 'Steve Irwin'
The 'Steve Irwin' passing Tower Bridge
On September 5th last year London had what many people would call a very special ship visiting, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Societies (SSCS) flagship the Steve Irwin. This hero of the Whale wars stayed mostly at West India dock on the Isle  of Dogs, but on the 12th she came up river and passed Tower Bridge to visit HMS Belfast next to which she tied up as many deep water vessels will, a fund raising dinner night was held aboard the Steve Irwin which left early the next morning.  
She arrived in her still rather new dazzle style naval camouflage and as it happens I was being dazzled by the sun that just had to show it's face when I took the photos, this paint scheme was developed in WW2 to help convoy escort vessels escape the eyes of U boats, it's worn also by the HMS Belfast. Previously she had been painted black. The SSCS version of the Jolly Roger is painted on the front below the ships bridge. She currently flies a Netherlands flag, the 77 you see on the bow represents 1977, the year SSCS was founded.She looked every inch a small warship armed to the teeth with catapults for the fabled butter bombs favoured by the Sea Shepherd Society, the butteric acid they splatter the poor defenseless  whaler with is harmless but atrociously smelly, stick your nose in bucket of vomit and you'll get the idea.
The Steve Irwin is the 53 meter former Scottish fisheries protection vessel Westra , built in 1959, she was bought after being laid up a while by Sea Shepherd and renamed Robert Hunter after a Co founder of the Greenpeace Foundation and close friend of SSCS president Paul Watson, he died in 2005. Later in 2007 prior to starting their operation Migaloo in the Southern ocean she was again renamed this time as the Steve Irwin after the late Australian conservationist. You can read about the entire current SSCS fleet on their website page here
Also, I found this very good video of her visit...

Monday, March 19, 2012

HMS Belfast

HMS Belfast & Tower Bridge
Sailing Barge passing HMS Belfast
The largest historic ship on the Thames is HMS Belfast, a town class cruiser that is maintained in the Pool of London by the Imperial War Museum. She was built by Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast, the connection obviously stuck. Accepted into the Royal Navy in August 1939 just in time for WW2 she got of to a bad start, hitting a sea mine in November that same year, she was out of it for repairs until August 1942, a long repair that had her return with better guns, armour and radar she did escort duties in the arctic for convoys going tot he Soviet Union in 1943. In December 1943 she took part in the battle of the North Cape where the German battleship Scharnhorst  was sunk. In 1944 she took part in operation Overlord, the D-day landings.
Thereafter sent to the Pacific area, she arrived just before wars end. Her final actions were in the Korean war. She left the Royal Navy in August 1963 and nearly got scrapped but was saved by the HMS Belfast Trust  in 1971 after the government ignored efforts to have her restored and kept as a museum ship. Tight sods.  She then became part of the Imperial War Museum in 1978. I went on her a few times in the 1980's myself.
It's not unusual to see visiting warships or cruise liners tied up next to her, this is because her Jetty that keeps her in deep water whatever the tide is the only one left that's up to the job, she therefore makes other things possible. 
She has been in the news recently, in November 2011 a pedestrian gangway was being repaired when this went tits up and it fell in the river, two workmen had slight injuries, but I think the reaction was way over the top myself, even though I flew down to the river to make a video (see below) when I heard the news flash. She is due to reopen after, that took  long time!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Havengore and MTB 102

MTB 102 in St.Katherine's Dock 
The 'Havengore' leaving St.Katherine's Dock 

The 'Havengore' and the MTB 102 ( Motor Torpedo Boat) are two boats with one thing in common, they have both carried Sir Winston Churchill, Britain's wartime leader.
While the MTB 102 is only a visitor, photographed by myself here in September 2009, the Havengore is permanently resident.
The MTB carried Churchill at a review of the 1944 invasion fleet in the company of General Eisenhower, the Havengore carried Churchill's coffin up the Thames at the end of his funeral in 1965...all a bit different!
The Havengore was built to be a hydrographic survey vessel for the Port of London Authority in 1956 and stayed that until 1995, making it their longest serving vessel. It can now be seen on the river quite often doing private  cruises.
It has a website..
The Havengore will be one of the leading boats at the Queens Jubilee sail past in June.

MTB 102 has quite a history , a 20th century warship made of wood, good job she could do over 40 knots, she was one of the Little ships used in the evacuation of the British forces at Dunkirk in 1940, where, due to the disablement of HMS Keith by a Stuka dive bomber she became the flagship to Rear Admiral Wake-Walker for the last two nights of that operation.
Post war she was sold to private owners and featured in the film The Eagle has landed and Soldier of Orange. She also has a website...

Friday, March 16, 2012

Beachcombing and Magick charms of the River

The banks of the Thames and plenty of other rivers will offer the same finds as the beach, be it Sea glass, Hag stones or  fishing net floats if you are really lucky, they make great Witch balls. I havn't been THAT lucky though.
All the Hag stones I keep to ward off evil intent, be they on my Sea Witch style Altar, key ring or nailed to my front door next to Horse Brasses came from the Thames bank, no need to go to the coast!
I wouldn't have to much faith in the Horse Brass I came upon recently though, featuring Tower bridge it was named on the Brass as London Bridge, it seemed that this brass was made by someone beyond help! Horse Brasses are excellent for warding off the evil eye, after all, that's what they where made to do.
To date I have only found one horse shoe, under Tower bridge and now nailed above my front door, but if you extend to old bones you are spoiled for choice, they abound.
However, it's not all finding, a few nights ago I went to Tower bridge and threw a matchbox containing a note with all my current troubles in it down into the river for the tide, river and waning moon to carry off, and I can't think how many silver coins lay on the rivers bed, a wish being made first. Those who throw them into the Tower of London moat at the 'Traitors gate' must be making someone really happy....they all vanish again whenever they drain it!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Bermuda Ketch 'Suhaili' in St. Katherine's Dock

The Bermuda Ketch 'Suhaili'
In April 2009 I saw a very special boat on display at St.Katherine's Dock, the 'Suhaili' , this is the Bermuda Ketch that Sir Robin Knox-Johnson sailed to victory in the Sunday Times Golden Globe race of 1968-9, making him officially the first man to sail around the world non-stop and single handed. Compared to the Trimaran sailed by Dame Ellen MacArthur it looks very old fashioned, and I like it's classic lines too. Another boat with similar sort of kudos was the Gypsy Moth sailed around the world by Sir Francis Chichester, that boat was for many years on display and open to the public next to the Cutty Sark further downstream at Greenwich  but was deteriorating and had to be moved. 
I still know Sir Robin better for his illustrated book The Twilight of Sail, my well thumbed copy is kept company by many books on the topic I have.  I'm  a great fan of the Clippers and late era sailing ships.

RRS Discovery

So I wasn't to happy when polar explorer Captain Scott's ship the Discovery was moved up to her birth place ...Dundee in Scotland, she had spent many years alongside at the Embankment in central London, and a short while in St.Katherine's Dock where she was open to the public and I bet I went on her, the last wooden three masted sailing ship built in Britain (steel hulled ones continued until about 1914) Further reading..

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Timepiece Sundial & Girl with a Dolphin

The 'Timepiece'.

The river bank is home to many works of art, most of which are statues and sculptures as can be expected, but this favorite of mine is neither. The Timepiece by Wendy Taylor has been at it's place by St. Katherine's lock near Tower bridge since 1973.  It is a stainless steel equinoctial Sundial that has a 3.66 meter diameter, supported on three rigid chains that get you wondering how it could be done! It certainly features in the City of London Sundial walk.. City of London Sundial walk there are quite a few sundials within a mile of this one.
I have produced a poster among other things of my photo here...Sundial poster 

The 'Girl with a  dolphin' is just meters away from the sundial, it's set in a pond with a fountain, you can see that operating in my video here...Girl and Dolphin video it was made by the sculpture David Wynne in 1973, it has a sibling upstream at Cheyne walk called the 'Boy with a  Dolphin made in 1975..... boy and dolphin video which doesn't have  a fountain, but it's just as impressive!

Monday, February 27, 2012

'Old Father Thames' the deity.

'Old Father Thames' atop the Port of London Authority building at Tower Hill.
Every river and stream I'm sure has a life of it's own, it's spirit and deity of which will be known locally, forgotten or never before known. A mighty few will be revered by many, and have monuments of their personifications built.
One such river is the Thames.The personification of the Thames is Old Father Thames , he looks suspiciously like Neptune, so much so that the grand statue of him atop the Port of London Authorities former HQ at Tower Hill  is sometimes mistaken for Neptune, the sea anchor and Trident he has probably help that. This is one of many images of him along the Thames, and my favorite. The building mentioned is by Trinity Square where the Merchant Navy war memorial is. He stands proud in his near nudity pointing out to the river and docks by Tower Bridge. His doppelganger seems to be Father Rhine also similar in statues to Neptune, in Dusseldorf you can see him with his daughters, representing the great rivers many tributaries.... Father Rhine Fountain
I think Father Thames would have a problem there, part of his span is named after informally Isis, a far more important Goddess, it all causes ongoing debate about the origin of his name, see here... River Thames Etymology money is on the Isis name being a contraction of the old (probably Celtic) name of Tamesis.

When Gracie Fields sang the song Old Father Thames in 1938 she sang something I ought to have listened to when I was a London dispatch rider, like a lot of other Londoners I couldn't get anywhere fast enough, I couldn't do anything fast enough and people depending on me didn't want me to think so.
Portrayed as a carefree soul in the song (he won't always forgive a fool) sometimes he's the man to carry your troubles away if you want him to help you help yourself, and you don't have to jump of a Bridge for him to do that.
Sometimes I go down to the Tower Bridge, the final crossing in London before he flows on to the estuary and sea a day or so after the full moon, at a time when the tide has peeked and staring it's journey back out too, and toss all my troubles written on a piece of paper off the bridge for the forces of tide, river and newly waning moon to carry away and it works, I feel better for a few days at least, come what may everything that can be right again will be at some point.
I'm glad we are treating tolerant Father Thames now with more respect than we used to...Victorian Thames cartoons  ..even Salmon and the occasional seal come upstream now.
In June the world will be treated to a new carving of Old Father Thames painted in glittering Gold flake, he will adorn the prow of the Queens Diamond jubilee barge Royal Barge Figurehead I am looking forward to this!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Battersea Power Station is being wasted

At a time in 1979 when I was nearly destitute, as a seaman having trouble getting a ship with all but no money handy, I booked into the awful but grandly named International Hostel in London's otherwise affluent Pimlico area, I was shown to my top floor room with slanted ceiling and two room mates who were nearly tramps, one was another seaman...charming. I asked if there was a view out the small window seconds after I arrived. 'What of..Battersea power station'? one of them asked, as if it was the last thing I would want to see. Actually, that giant Dinosaur with it's four huge chimney's that were still active was a depressing site for someone with plenty to be depressed about without it. 
It has many friends in the right places it seems though. 'One of London's best known landmarks' some say, but for who, somebody who needs to see where Battersea is from where they are?
It's a 1930's brick building, with another half added in the 1950's, in Europe designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott who also designed the Red Telephone box and Liverpool Cathedral. But Bankside Power Station just downstream and now housing the Tate Modern Gallery is both those things too, same thing, same designer so it's hardly unique, even if it's Art Deco , there's lots of those in London including the brick OXO building nearby on the Thames also.
Meanwhile this now derelict sacred cow has had hundreds of millions poured into it and still stands empty and wanting to die, even if it is the largest brick building in Europe.
All I see when I see Battersea power station is an urgent need for dynamite, to that end it is indeed being wasted, dynamite demolitions of substantial buildings make for a great public day out!
Now the site is going on open market sale for the first time, with lots of strings attached no doubt, and I bet dynamite won't be discussed. That's a pity, then could turn it into a prison. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Cutty Sark nearly ready..

In a dry dock by the Thames at maritime Greenwich lies the worlds last Tea Clipper, the Cutty Sark , shes been there as a public exhibit since the 1950's. This ship and her like fascinated me as a child, I've built models of them and painted them, I own an extensive collection of books about them, needless to say I've been on board many times and joined the Cutty Sark Trust.
On 21st May 2007, shortly after she had been closed for restoration she caught fire, I feared this was the end of her, however her legendary luck held, if she was ever going to have  a of the main destroyers of wooden ships, now  was the time to have it because about half the ship wasn't even there, but in parts being restored elsewhere.
Also, she was one of only eight ships that were of composite construction, that is wooden with an iron frame, and that was probably why there was enough left to warrant saving her.
She is now expected to be open to the public in spring this year.
I went down to her today to view the progress, public access is still very limited as it's still a construction site but you can see shes in much better condition than before. She is sitting higher than before, I'm not sure I like the glass surround shes been given, but it's a relief they dropped the idea of moving articifial water around her....that's for  Disneyland not here! The gold paint of her carvings is gorgeous, masts and bulwarks gleaming. The naughty figurehead of the Witch Nanny is also back, her outstretched arm with it's horses tail not yet attached, glad they are taking care, it's been lost before, as late as 1952 just before her docking. You can see and read the story about this interesting Witch figurehead here.. Cutty Sark Figurehead
Was she the fastest sailing ship ever built? That will always remain debatable but she does hold the record for distance traveled in 24 hours, 363 nautical miles!
Go Nan go!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Introduction to 'Down by the Thames'

I've long thought about doing this blog, so here it is. The Thames is a river I love, not just because I'm so familiar with it, I've crossed it daily, beach combed it's banks, worked on some of the river boats, even had it's tides come in handy for a sending my troubles away.
I'll write things about it as I please, current events, past events, my thoughts and history when I meet it or feel like writing about it. Why just write news, that wouldn't be my whole relationship with  Old Father Thames.