Sunday, 4 May 2008

On my way to Silvertown

It was great to have a day in the middle of the week to devote to drawing. I wouldn't spend the whole day grafting away but doing the drawing was going to be the focus of the day. I made a flask of tea, packed my rucksack and headed towards Hackney Central. I didn't have long to wait for a train and I knew it would stop at Stratford where I expected to pick up another train to Silvertown because that's what I had done three years ago.

In no time at all we'd arrived in Stratford and to my surprise there was no connecting train to Silvertown. I thought I must be wrong so checked the timetable. No, Stratford is the end of the line. It didn't use to be but it is now. I do vaguely remember the mayor, Ken Livingston, announcing on the tv news that this line had been absorbed into the 'overground system' but it hadn't occurred to me that they would chop the last five stations off one end of it. However, had I paid attention I would have noticed that the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) had been extended to cover much the same route as the one that had been axed.

I decided to travel to London City Airport on the DLR which is fairly close to where the old station of Silvertown was. So instead of just stepping onto another train at the platform I had arrived at I had to go upstairs and run along a passage and flap about until I reached the DLR platforms. Once I'd worked out which train to get on I then had to change trains once again before I was sure I was heading in the right direction. I began to enjoy the journey as we left the docklands behind and traveled through a developed landscape that I didn't know even existed. When we stopped at Pontoon Dock I spotted the Thames Barrier in the distant. As I've always been intrigued by this river defence I decided I would get off at London City Airport and then walk back from there to get as close to the barrier as I could.

Feeling like a bit of a fraud I joined other passengers at London City Airport and took the escalator towards check-in. I had a quick look round this tiny airport which was built on the old King George V dock and concluded that it's just like Gatwick or Stansted airports but fortunately it's too small to also serve as a full scale shopping centre. Having traveled as far as I was planning to I chose a spot outside to draw which you can see on the left. I was attracted by the concrete and the different planes of the walls, the train bridge above and the curve of the glass passage through which I had just walked. I didn't realise until too late that I'd chosen to sit in the smoking section until I was covered in cigarette smoke and that is what eventually drove me away. By this time I'd felt I'd done as much as I wanted to and so headed back towards Pontoon Dock. I had to guess the route since I couldn't see the next station or the Thames Barrier. I trudged along a main road, navigated my way round a very large roundabout reassuring myself that if I got lost I could always retrace my steps. After not very long I could see Pontoon Dock and the most striking thing was that there were so few people and cars around. Finally I saw sign posts for the Thames Barrier Park and even better, signs for a cafe. There were hardly any people in the cafe either and I enjoyed a cup of tea while looking at the Thames Barrier through large picture windows. The park does look a little like an architect's drawing with the type of trees you see every where surrounding office blocks but it is tranquil and peaceful and does provide a green frame for the massive engineered blocks that make up the barrier that protects London from flooding. I gathered, from an old geezer who buttonholed me while I was leaning on the parapet by the river edge and subjected me to an extensive monologue, that there is a small exhibition about the building of the barrier in a building on the south bank of the Thames. We were on the north bank and after my long winded journey earlier in the day I didn't feel like trying to reach the south bank that afternoon.