Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Estuary English



Two power stations on the Thames Estuary. At the top is the one on the Isle of Grain in Kent, which I believe is no more. Or that might be just the chimney. The second is at Tilbury in Essex, taken in an equally wintry afternoon light from a gun emplacement at the fort. They come to mind because of three things: 1) There's a celebration of the estuary starting about now, 2) Rachel Lichtenstein's book Estuary is out tomorrow, and 3) I shall grab a copy as I make my way to a meeting on the Thames at Blackfriars.
    I lived close to both these shores once, and have found that over the years they have seeped deep into my bones. First it was helping to race a Thames barge on the wide stretches of water around Southend and Brightlingsea, later lonely walks out on the Isle of Grain and the Hoo Peninsula on bitterly cold days, then the discovery of the Cooling Marshes and Cooling church with its little gravestones that inspired the opening scene of Dickens' Great Expectations.
    Later still there were commissions that took me to the Essex shore to photograph both the Tilbury and Coalhouse Forts and the wonderful Bata shoe factory. All to the soundtrack of my re-discovery of Canvey Island's Doctor Feelgood. (I'm often asked what period of history I'd like to go back to and inevitably hear myself saying "the Kursaal in Southend in 1973 with Doctor Feelgood doing Route 66". When I should be saying "on the deck of the Victory" or something.)
    So much to see, so much to feel, so much to hear. Mournful ships' hooters in the fog, the clanking of iron doors on empty forts way off shore, the cries of marsh birds, rotting hulks, the orange flares of refineries. As John Piper said of the Romney Marsh "it's all 90% atmosphere really".

7 comments:

Sue Imgrund said...

Atmospheric indeed. I've got a few Dr Feelgood albums, and the very early ones with their B&W cover shots and mono recording are amongst my prize possessions. One of my regrets is never having seen them live.

Philip Wilkinson said...

A cornucopia of evocations and memories. Keep 'em coming, Mr Ashley. Keep going, Wilko.

Alan Godber said...

Again, not an area I'm familiar with but looks and sounds fascinating. I've always found that people divide into marsh or mountain. I tend to feel enclosed when surrounded by mountains; I suppose it's a question of whether you can be bothered to climb them. Estuaries, marsh, wide shingle beaches and endless bleak horizons... all good for me. Thank you.

Peter Ashley said...

Sue: I too never saw Doctor Feelgood. But at least we've got that fabulous Julian Temple film Oil City Confidential.

Phil: Phil, thank you!

Alan: I think I'm a marsh person. The Fens fascinate me, but I know I couldn't live there. The Romney Marsh though, I could see myself sitting by a fire in a brick shepherd's hut listening to the wind.

Jon Dudley said...

Saw the present incarnation of The Feelgoods at the 100 Club last year (they're a bit like the woodsman's axe - 3 new handles and two new heads but it's still the same axe). But the main man Wilko I saw at a festival near Faversham in July…he was everything I'd hoped he'd be - wonderful.

Peter Ashley said...

Yes Jon, I got ejected from the Shepherds Bush Empire for shouting out 'Imposters!' at an unrecognisable Stranglers line-up. But yes, Wilko.

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