Thames Tideway Poetry

Maggie was so taken with the experience of our trip along the Thames from Limehouse to Brentford in August that, inspired by Terry Darlington, she was moved to write a poem in blank verse.

Tidal Thames

Three boats wait anxiously in the lock.
Silently and almost imperceptibly the water drops
As a narrow slit of daylight widens between the vast gates
And we see our first glimpse of what lies beyond.
Before the waters have chance to equalise, the gates are open
And the lock water rushes down towards the great river.
The tide surges past, and the slight breeze catches the waves
And creates a rough chop.
Suddenly from downstream a ferry rushes by,
Adding its wide wake to the turbulent waters.
Amidst all this, bobbing about like a cork, a friend in his inflatable,
Buzzing over the water
A reassuring presence.
Suddenly we are off, out into the maelstrom.
We pitch and toss as we turn into the tideway.
As we cut through the chop, spray breaks over our bows
And for a moment we retreat behind the safety of the cabin doors.
“Can we stand two hours of this?”
“Are we going to be seasick?”
“You’re braver than I thought you’d be!”
Why do we laugh so much when really we’re scared stiff?
We emerge and look back towards the jagged skyline of Canary Wharf receding into the distance.
Then suddenly, ahead of us, “It’s Tower Bridge!”
Pale and huge against the leaden clouds.
We try to focus our cameras as we rock and roll our way beneath its enormous structure.
The Skipper and First Mate study their charts and plough on.
We are just beginning to enjoy this.
Then it’s City Hall where Lucy works, the Tower of London, The Eye, all seen from a fresh angle.
And the first narrowboat, forging ahead, floats like a matchstick on this mighty river.
When we reach Westminster, our spirits are so uplifted that we sing patriotic songs.
“Rule Britannia, Britannia rues the waves...”
“ And did those feet in ancient times..”
On through the City we sail, steering to cut through the wake of countless larger vessels,
Each bridge greeted with a shout of recognition,
So familiar from above
So imposing from below.
And bus passengers and pedestrians going about their daily business
Look down from above and wave or smile,
not knowing how our hearts race down below.
Gradually the river widens, and the waves subside
As we follow the bends out of the wind.
We realise we may actually live to tell this tale.
Then ahead it’s the Albert Bridge and Narrowboat Albert and her crew
glow with pride as we glide beneath.

The battle is over and our little flotilla reassembles
As we head for the safety of Brentford Lock.
Our two companion boats sail on towards Teddington
And we wave our goodbyes
And express our thanks for their moral support.

Afterwards it’s a group hug and a cup of tea
And a photo to mark this momentous trip.
Will we ever do it again?
The skipper’s face looks doubtful.

But perhaps it’s like childbirth,
It’s not the pain you remember,
It’s the joy.

Maggie Parkin, August 2008