Friday, 13 February 2009
London River memories.
Brentford has undergone significant development and gentrification in recent years but still retains some interesting bits including a thriving boatyard. A stroll from the High Street down towards the Thames will soon bring you to Brentford Creek and the entrance to the Grand Union Canal. There are a number of old barges in the area that have been converted to houseboats and as I was wandering along the towpath yesterday I happened to notice one of these craft that looked vaguely familiar. I could just about make out the name on the rusty bulwarks, Cecil Guilders.
For a period during the early sixties I worked as mate on the Cecil Guilders, and along with a dear old skipper known to all as "Dicky Doddler", made a living loading cargoes from ships in the London Docks for transhipment to the small ports of the Thames Estuary. This was the heyday of Jack Dash and the docks were a very militant workplace indeed. It was a tough, dangerous environment but one made bearable by the strong feelings of solidarity. We bargemen where a more individualistic workforce than the dockers but not without a real sense of mutual aid.
It's all gone now of course. The working river, the old East End, the class solidarity of the docks and the easy camaraderie of the barges. But much else has gone that will not be missed. The truth is that even though there was by this time a well established West Indian community in London, I don't remember ever seeing a black face in the docks that did not belong to a foreign seaman. And of course it was an exclusively male environment.
There's no doubt about it, nostalgia ain't what it used to be. We may look back on the past with fondness or otherwise but mainly we need to learn from history and move foreword. Later in the day there was a refreshing counterpoint to all this when I met up with some young comrades from Liberty and Solidarity. Energetic and optimistic they were a breath of fresh air and left me in no doubt that the ideas of libertarian communism are in safe hands.