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Over the last couple of years I have attempted to convey how the Isle of Dogs to many residents and visitors is a special place which is full of history and mysteries.
To illustrate its effect on people, a couple of weeks ago I was contacted by Andrew Harris of Brisbane who visited the Island and endured a very cold, winter holiday in 2011 but the memory of the location stayed with him on his return to Australia. It was this memory that inspired him to compose the following poem.
The Isle of Dogs
The boats are port to starboard, cheek by jowl
At the Isle of Dogs, nosing and nudging the wall
Of the dock, held like a pod of pet whales
Ten deep, blunt-snouted and barnacle-edged
Waiting for the sweep of some invisible hand
To free them to the gravy brown of the open river
Who sits so still at the far galley window, bearded,
grey, his eye drawn by the lights on Blackheath Hill
A house he once held, a man upright and purposeful
Now hunched and mole-like, moving along the boat,
Wedging into the space between the table and bench,
Tap of spoon against saucepan’s side, stirring, staring
Fuel lamp flares and the hill recedes behind
The cool condensation of the rounded window
Now only to be seen through the binoculars formed
From cupped hands slowly sliding on the wet glass
Was it a face that held him, a face pressed
Against a casement window, straining to pick
His boat among the flotilla of forgotten, forkless fathers
At the harbour of the home broken; or do the eyes
That once sparkled and danced now narrow at
The mention of his name, a re-ringed hand drawing
The curtain across the snow dappled pane
Estuary birds ruffle and puff their feathers, balanced
On an upturned broken crate, becalmed as a thin
Toffee-crisp frost blotches the water’s skin
Winter bites the houseboats and socked feet protrude
From under too short a blanket, half a fathom
Above the still, chilled surface of the Thames
Andrew and his wife were both born in England but emigrated to Australia in the 1960s and 1970s. Andrew was bought up in Beccles, Suffolk but his wife Emma has local connections with East and South London.
Her father was a boat and barge builder on the Thames in the late 1950s, and despite spending most of his life in Australia retains his London accent and his affinity for the river and its history.