THERE’S a strange conflict that comes from living close to the Thames. During the warm, lazy days of summer, the river provides an idyllic setting – a place where folk can go to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature; to cast a line into the slow-moving stream in the hope of landing a perch or a chubb; to watch the water fowl bringing up their chicks and to marvel at the enormous variety of pleasure craft moving slowly up and down the river.
Contrast that with the Thames in full flood, as it was during January. Days and days of heavy rain quickly raised the water to dangerously high levels causing major anxiety for householders and businesses along the bank – and farther afield. Locks were closed to navigation because of the strength of the stream, boat owners spent nervous days making sure their pride and joys were still safely attached to their moorings, huge amounts of debris were washed downstream by the floodwaters causing weirs to clog, eroding soft banks and causing considerable damage to moored craft.
Additionally, fish in their thousands were carried away from their normal feeding and breeding grounds by the sheer weight of water and have been struggling to regain their original habitats ever since.
Say what you like about life by the river but you can rarely describe it as dull.
But maybe that’s what provides the real attraction for us. The unpredictability. Perhaps it’s a throwback to the early days of civilisation – Man against the elements and all that.
We’ve reached that stage in our development where there are few physical challenges left to us. Unless you happen to be on NASA’s astronaut training programme or working for Dr Robert Ballard (the man who found the wreck of Titanic) or the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, it’s unlikely that you will have many opportunities to boldly go where no man has been before. So the changing moods of the Thames keeps those of us who live or play on the river on our toes.
One thing I am sure about and that is that when you sit watching the water hammering over Sunbury weir or piling up and lapping over the top of the lock gates at Shepperton as it did recently, you really appreciate the power of the Thames and you learn to treat it with a bit more respect even in its quieter moods.