All of this month, I’ve been thinking about water. As New Orleans prepares for a significant water-related anniversary, some important dates have flowed past in London.
Two events that were already in my mind rose very much to the surface on a trip for a family celebration to Hackney Wick, an area of east London close to the Olympic Park.
We went to a café (pictured) located just across the river from the Olympic stadium. This weekend, it hosted the London 2012 Anniversary Games, and for me remembering the Olympics always means also remembering the 7 July 2005 London bombings that occurred in the same week as the announcement that London would host the Olympics in 2012.
It seemed appropriate to be marking these anniversaries by the water. Hackney Wick and the other areas of London touched and changed by London 2012 are defined by their proximity to river, canal, marshland and estuary. And one of the elements of what happened on 7 July 2005 that has stayed in my mind the most after ten years is the way in which the boat service on the Thames put on extra free-of-charge ferries that night to help people get home.
Water runs right through London and New Orleans, and many other cities, in space and time. It’s not always the first thing we see or think of, but it’s always there, sometimes underneath the surface, as an conduit for trade, transport, refreshment, history, celebration, mourning and more.
But water staked its claims before people. It’s not there to serve us and cannot always be controlled. Apparently, there is a crocodile in the waters of Hackney Wick – though it’s worth remembering that its acts of destruction are most likely either the product of human actions, human imagination, or human prejudices.
I didn’t see the crocodile on the sunny Sunday morning I spent in Hackney Wick, which I think shows we can live at peace with our waters, sometimes at least. We shouldn’t forget, however, the role they have played and are playing in shaping our cities and that they carry many things below even calm surfaces.