THERE’S been a tremendous response from readers to my article about mysterious coconuts bobbing around on our part of the Thames (Leader, March 27). I’ve received a steady stream of phone calls and emails from you with various possible explanations so many thanks, among others, to Anne Smith and Sherry Singh from Feltham, Sheila Ranawaya from Hounslow, Ron Powell from Staines, Mick Jenney from Shepperton and to Sid Stoddart from Ashford who all provided the answer – the coconuts are thrown into the water as part of various Asian ceremonials generally designed to bring good luck and to appease the water gods.
One person who had a great story to tell was Sid Stoddart from Celia Crescent, Ashford, who should know a thing or two about our waterways having worked all his life on or around the Thames, mainly as a lighterman hauling barges between the upper reaches and the London docks.
Sid, now 83 and long-retired, recalled that on many occasions during the 1950s and 60s, he had to travel along the Grand Union canal from Brentford towards Southall.
“There was already a large Asian population around the town,” he said, “and sometimes there would be so many coconuts and flowers in the water it looked like you could walk across the canal from one bank to the other on them.
“I used to fish them out and hang them up for the birds.” Thanks for that Sid – at least we can put our minds at rest and not have to worry about rapidly-accelerating global warming!
While I was talking to Sid and his wife, Molly, 80, they proved to be a fountain of knowledge about life on the water.
Sid’s first paying job on the river started when he was a teenager rowing the ferry across the Thames at Isleworth where he lived with his parents. He remembers that on one occasion two yobs burned down the parish church at Isleworth.
“I made more than £12 the following day,” he chuckles, “charging people a penny a time to cross the river to look at the ruins of the church.” (And that was at the time when there were 240 pennies to the pound – work out the numbers for yourself!)
In 1941, at the age of 16, Sid started work as an apprentice with Morgans Ltd based at Lion Wharf in Isleworth and was a regular member of the crew of the Isleworth Lion tug towing barges up and down the river.
“It was a hard life, particularly in the winter time when you were stuck out holding the tiller in the freezing cold. The tug had no cabin or anything so if it rained, you just got soaked,” he said.
After 20 years with Morgans and several more working ‘on the pool’ – a kind of freelance work picking up barges to tow under the old Dock Labour Scheme – Sid ended up working for Tough Brothers boatyard at Teddington until he retired in 1990. By then, he and Molly had moved to Ashford.
“I worked around the yard helping to slip and launch boats that were built or modified there,” he said.
Sid was privileged to help launch the biggest boat ever built at Toughs – the 130-foot long Brave Goose that was built for National Car Parks’ founder and millionaire Sir Donald Gosling.
“Sadly, one of the yard directors who was given the task of towing the ship down to the Pool of London managed to hit Richmond Bridge with it,” said Sid. “I did warn him that it wouldn’t fit under the bridge at all states of the tide but he seemed to think he knew best.”
Now, Sid and Molly confine themselves to odd trips out on their cruiser, Amity, which they keep at Penton Hook.