along the greenwich peninsula

the thames was beautiful, dark, and swift beneath the billion yellow and white lights of the city…

charles finch

i remember this day pretty well, only two years ago. i had ended up in greenwich after walking from new cross through deptford after a particularly difficult english class with a private student. the student unfortunately had somewhat unrealistic expectations of successfully passing an examination in order to practice medicine in the uk. it had been a depressing morning. my student struggled with the work i’d given her, and i’d started to feel a bit guilty about taking money for giving classes that ultimately wouldn’t benefit her. after leaving new cross gate — near goldsmith’s college - i decided to walk down through deptford, across deptford creek and into greenwich, past the markets, the royal naval college designed by wren, across the zero meridian and onto the thames walkway. my mood was as dark as the glowering sky, overcast, but never quite threatening rain.

everything was drained of colour, and reminiscent of the atmosphere of some of the more sombre passages in dickens. i thought of the character of magwich in great expectations, pip’s mysterious benefactor. my walk took me along the side of the thames, some guerilla artwork, and past enderby’s and morden wharves. across the river, a glimpse of the thames pumping station; a post-modern bit of whimsy looking for all the world like a temple to the river god. on this day i wouldn’t have been surprised to witness human sacrifice.

the thames snakes its way between the temple of commerce which is the isle of dogs and canary wharf forming a kind of yin-yang symbol with the peninsula. my walk ended around the formerly brown-field area of north greenwich now occupied by what used to be called ‘the millenium dome’ and now a concert arena owned by O2, the mobile ‘phone company, re-named in honour of themselves.

now look at these

the thames shouldered its way past blackfriars bridge, impatient with the ancient piers, no longer the passive stream that slid past chelsea marina, but a rush of ugly water that had scented the open sea and was ready to make a run for it.

j.g. ballard