True Gripes: Sold down the river: The Thames has been priced out of reach

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The Independent Online
I must go down to the Thames again. . . I dream of a home overlooking the Thames. This Silk Road of rivers, this golden hamster of highways, courses through my veins like unabused blood. But the price of waking each morning to the inhalation of its dark opiate is outrageously high. What are we looking at here? A quarter, half a million pounds?

Developments at Docklands, the heart and gut and spleen of the river, have done less than nothing to improve my prospects. Prices remain arrogantly inflated, the outlook as bleak as its dust-blown streets. Elsewhere on the river, chances of a bankside billet are diminished by piecemeal development for the nouveaux: the Michael Caine tower at Chelsea, for instance, has replaced matey houseboat flophouses for late-night revellers, Australians and others dispossessed.

Killjoy planners, meanwhile, turn down visionary projects to return the embankment to the people. These are the same faceless landlubbers, one supposes, who aided and abetted the Government's hush-hush attempt to hide the new Secret Service headquarters by siting it right beside the river. Is there no one who remembers that we live in a maritime town?

I come from a seafaring Wimbledon family, and London is full of reminders of my relatives' voyages through life. An uncle of some degree of greatness was cook on the Cutty Sark. Dry-docked in that creakingly naval corner of Greenwich, this tall ship is still as seductive as the garment which gave it its name. Just stand on its teak boards and raise your eyes to the yardarm: those annual China tea clipper races on which fortunes were gambled give the Beaujolais Nouveau sprint the significance of one Lima bean.

My sister was a ship's cook, too, on a handsome Thames barge named Ironsides, which sailed from St Katherine's Dock. From the bargeman's banter she introduced words such as 'Faversham' and 'Whitstable' into the family vocabulary, and by and large, we remain grateful for that.

Our father was a sailor in more exotic parts. Every year or two he sailed up the Thames and parked his ship where Murdoch has put his barbed-wire plant. First we knew, he would phone from Waterloo to say he'd be home in ten minutes: it kept Mother on her toes. I'd go on board to see his shipshape cabin. 'All paperwork now, old man,' he'd grumble through his clenched pipe, adding the warning, 'seventy per cent of any job is routine.'

Once he produced a revolver which he had just used to put down a mutiny in the Indian Ocean. Another time, 24 hours after the company had flown him home from Saigon, his ship was shelled by the US Navy. In those days, losses at Lloyd's meant something different. A cold wind blew down our street when the Lutine Bell rang.

My inheritance is a yearning for a riverside berth. But the way London has been developing, I see my dream floating further down the estuary every day. It doesn't seem much to ask: a modestly priced few rooms with a view of this great amber avenue, this brown source of all life.

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