We all think that the River Crane is pretty marvellous – but there are some in our community who believe its waters to be positively miraculous with the power to dissolve supermarket trolleys and old fridges, turn discarded plastic bottles into elegant holiday homes for garden gnomes and transport garden waste to Patagonia where it becomes a luxury food item for endangered penguins. That is why they so confidently use our river as a rubbish bin. This is also why the Tidal Crane Association was formed some 25 years ago — to clear up the rubbish and to keep the lower Crane beautiful, safe and navigable.
River Clearing Day was last weekend. With the help of Thames 21, an environmental group dedicated to the maintenance of London’s small rivers and creeks, some 50 people from the T.C.A in north St Margarets pulled on waders and work gloves and, inspired by the rumour that Humphrey Bogart had filmed in the Crane for his movie African Queen (he hadn’t) and his widow Lauren Bacall had explored the river herself in a small boat (she had!), plunged in, risking whiffy mud, leeches (yes, there are leeches in the Crane) and the possibility of Death by Drowning! Yikes!
Happily, as people become increasingly aware of the environmental importance of the river and its role in flood prevention, the amount of rubbish collected each year diminishes but still there is enough to fill a large industrial skip. This compares well with previous years when the rubbish has included cast iron baths, enough supermarket trolleys to keep Tescos going for a year, a three piece suite with matching wardrobe, fire extinguishers, Victorian back boilers and in one memorable year a large anti aircraft shell. This was quietly removed by the Bomb Disposal Squad.
River Clearing Day has turned from a grim and exhausting chore into a neighbourhood social event. As well as the relentless work sloshing around in the mud, the Day also includes a coffee morning, pond dipping for kids, a family tea party, free boat rides and a barbecue in the evening. Humphrey Bogart may not have filmed on the Crane (that took place on the Duke of Northumberland’s River over in Isleworth) but when the day is over and you are stripping leeches off your leg with salt, you may be forgiven for recalling his line from African Queen… “One thing in the world I hate: leeches. Filthy little devils!” Katharine Hepburn then kissed him. Sweet!
The Tidal Crane Association River Clearing took place on Saturday 5th July