Tide and seek: the hidden treasures of low tide
Raf Simons wool jumper, cotton shirt and brass bracelets, all POA. Brunello Cucinelli jute skirt, £2,530
Once a year the weirs at Richmond Lock, which keep the Thames artificially high, are lifted so that the riverbed can drain and repairs can be carried out. Locals know it as the “draw off”. This year, I take the usual route along the Thames path and I’m pleasantly surprised to see that the bottom is not the jumble sale of old boots, shopping trolleys and cadavers you might expect. I marvel at boats balanced in the slick mud as the dogs gallop ahead to their favourite set of steps down to the water.
The irony is not lost on me that it takes the intervention of men for the river to resume its natural state. For a few fleeting weeks it is able to release a heavy sigh and relax. Naturally, this process attracts the curious. The riverbed is a place of secrets. Throngs of wellied bohemians – as well as more studious navigators of the soupy gloop – flock like carrion to ribs, mudlarking for lost treasure and adventuring in the ebbing tide.
As I sit on the steps by Marble Hill Park, I find my mind wandering to what might lie beneath. It is said that dinosaurs grazed the banks of the river in the Mesozoic, and prehistoric pathfinders tracked the tributaries when we were still attached to the continent. It’s impossible to believe that I would be standing even remotely near here were it not for the historic draw of the river. We Londoners owe everything to it and our lives are shaped by its curves and temperament.
A woman nearby squelches past me in the mud armed with a trowel and a plastic bag. Is she dredging the riverbed for the lost voices of London’s traders and travellers? Or the battle cries of kings and the whispers of armies edging their way inland from the sea, nervous as to who or what might greet them? It’s easy to romanticise the river. Historian and novelist Peter Ackroyd tells us how the Thames has been described as “a museum of Englishness”, ebbing and flowing “like liquid history… it dissolves and carries all epochs and generations”. This grand abstraction is suited to a more scholarly illustration, but the ghosts of the river are beguiling. It is easy to succumb to the sacred realm of the water and its siren call. Either way, the dogs have found what they were looking for and quickly dispatch it in a frenzy of soggy splinters.
Watching this destruction of a possible ancient artefact, I contemplate my own relationship with the water. For the most part it has been a mundane presence in my life. Grey, deep and cold are words that come to mind. Many afternoons spent trudging along its banks in the rain would corroborate this, but my reflections are punctuated with moments of sun, shouting and laughter with my family, vignettes of people kayaking past our local pub at high tide, and watching geese and rowers skid across the water on frosty mornings. The river has also been the subject of many a dinner-table yarn: “Did you see that boat on fire?” “So-and-so’s car was caught out by the tide.” “You’ll catch Weil’s disease if you swim there!” (We did anyway, and I’m still here.)
The winter sun ebbs like the tide as I walk home, the same way I have always done, and I ponder my little sanctum between Eel Pie and Richmond. It is true that the river provides, dissolves and preserves. Things, people and stories fade into memory and flow downstream where they are stored until the moment is right to uncover them again. The spirit “Thamesis”, to whom sacrifices are made, will soon be bubbling and groaning as the water floods back in from the hills. The pocket of my jacket is now vibrating. My fingers abruptly tighten around a cold phone as I’m jolted back to the present. But it can wait for now. Or, maybe I should provide the river with an offering of my own.
Y/Project velvet top, POA. Ann Demeulemeester denim skirt, £425, denim bag, £255, and leather belt (just seen), £165
Miu Miu cotton knit top, £1,110, and matching skirt, £800. Ann Demeulemeester denim bag, £255, and leather belt, £165. Boots, model’s own
Prada canvas jacket, £2,100, and jacquard knit shorts (just seen), £1,200
Louis Vuitton mirror-embroidered silk top, and matching skirt, both POA. Izaak Azanei cashmere/wool cami top, £255, and matching cropped rollneck, £525 for set with dress. Legres leather garden boots, £510. Le Chameau wool socks, £45
Alaïa vinyl and leather coat, POA. Raey merino‑wool rollneck, £180
Raf Simons wool jumper, POA. Crown, hired from Themed Traders. Model, Phoebe Matthews at The Hive Management. Casting, Boutayna Fartale at 012 Casting. Hair, Neil Moodie at Bryant. Make-up, Nicola Brittin at Saint Luke using Armani Beauty and Skincare. Set design, Tobias Blackmore. Photographer’s assistants, Harry Burner and Jordan Lee. Stylist’s assistant, Yuriko Hiratsuka. Hair stylist’s assistant, Daniel Moura. Production, Giorgio Tsintoukidis at the.Curated