Travels of a Journalist—1 JOGGING ALONG LONDON’S CANALS: GLIMPSES OF DICKENS
Posted on December 6th, 2009

By Shelton A. GunaratneƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚©2009ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Professor of mass communications emeritus Minnesota State University Moorhead

When I was a child, my father and I had a lot of fun conversing with each other in lyrical ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-freeƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ verse to bemuse ourselves during walks to the Mullewatte well for bathing or on other occasions when our minds turned to leisurely pursuits. ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Although my father had never visited England, his ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-colonialƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ education at Mahinda College had fostered in his mind a picture of London as the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-greatestƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ city in the world. So, he would often tease me with the following question:

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Loken itha uttama nagaran-vitayaƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  [The greatest city in the world–

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Kima dai kiyapan mage run-putayaƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  whatƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s it, my dear son?]

He had taught me to respond with the following couplet:

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Dannay nedda piyatuma London-vitayaƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  [Father, donƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t you know that London

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Loken itha uttama nagaran-vitayaƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  is the greatest city in the world]

I was determined to explore London, the city my father held in high esteem, for another reason. I had developed ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-nostalgiaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ for experiencing the ethos of London described in the classical literary works of Charles Dickens, all of which I had read avidly in my undergraduate days at Peradeniya. ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

Although I first visited London in 1966, the circumstances for exploring the Dickensian ethos of London did not come about until the summer of 1990, when I accepted an internship at the then headquarters of the World Association for Christian Communication on Kennington Lane, Vauxhall. The late Michael Traber, the research director of WACC, was aware of my Buddhist credentials. He and I saw no conflict of interest because my internship involved no religious propaganda.

In 1966, a representative of the British Information Service took me to see the 16th-century Tudor building that bears the name of DickensƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ 1840 novel The Old Curiosity Shop. ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ This creaking, half-timbered building (at 13 Portsmouth St., Westminster) is believed to have inspired Dickens to construct the details of the place where the principal characters of the novel, Nell Trent and her grandfather, lived. ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ But my stopover in London was too short to absorb and analyze the smells, tastes, sights, feelings and perceptions related to England that I had stored in my stream of consciousness as a scholar of Dickensian literature.

In 1990, I was able to enjoy the late 20th century remains of the English ethos portrayed in DickensƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s novels and mull over his social criticism while exploring the backyards of London and its surroundings along the RegentƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Canal, which links the Paddington Arm of the 137-mile (220 km) Grand Union Canal (from Birmingham) at Little Venice (just to the north-west of central London) and flows east into the Thames at Limehouse in Docklands.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Over its 8.5-mile (13.5 km) length, the RegentƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Canal drops 86 feet (26 meters) through 12 locks followed by a ship lock. Those who like walking can use the canal paths to access a variety of London attractions, such as RegentƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Park, London Zoo (both south of Camden Town), and Charles Dickens Museum (48 Doughty Street, a block behind GrayƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Inn Road). The only guide needed is a good map of London.

In my view, a visit to London without walking, jogging or cycling along the pathways on the canal is to deprive oneself of the idyllic and the Arcadian dimensions of London, as well as the Dickensian ethos still lingering in the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-greatestƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ city of the world. The one who takes the tube or the bus to Limehouse and engage in self-propulsion all the way to Little Venice will enjoy the scenes (landscapes, architecture, and buildings), smells (peculiar to English countryside), sounds (of wildlife) and feelings (roused by Dickensian fiction) that others miss through their supreme ignorance.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ If one wants to enjoy the natureƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s bounty in the English countryside, one could continue further along the Paddington Arm of Grand Union Canal. The terminus of GUCƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚a canal with 166 locksƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚is the River Thames at Brentford wherefrom the mainline canal climbs over 50 locks up into the Chiltern Hills. It descends, and then climbs again to a new summit in Birmingham. What is called Brentford Arm of GUC runs southeastwards along River Brent, a tributary of Thames, from Bulls Ridge Junction to Brentford.

In August 1990, I jogged on the walking trail along the RegentƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Canal and the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal covering the area from Limehouse Basin in the east to Southall in the west.

I spent the summer of 1990 with my youngest sister, Nayana, who lived in ShepherdƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Bush, just outside Hammersmith Park. After work, I would return home, don my jogging gear, and take public transportation to a spot where I could jog for an hour or more. I also took public transportation to return home from the spot I finished jogging. Thus, it took me several days to explore and enjoy the canals from Limehouse to Southall.

My diary entries show that I covered segments of the canal in no particular order. My canal exploration commenced on August 2, 1990, when I entered the Paddington Arm of GUC from Scrubs Lane (north of Wormwood Scrubs) and headed west all the way to Victoria Road in North Acton.

August 10, 1990: I again entered the Paddington Arm from Scrubs Lane. This time, I headed east all the way to Little Venice, where the RegentƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Canal begins. Along the way, I passed the huge Kensal Green cemetery with its monuments. I jogged parallel to Harrow Road up to Westbourne Green. The barge dwellers of Little Venice reminded me of Dickensian characters like Uriah Heep (a devious hypocrite), Bill Sikes (a thief), Krook (an alcoholic landlord), and Fagin (leader of a team of pickpockets) The picturesque narrow boats with all of their flowers provided a contrast to the open basin at Little Venice, where I tarried to enjoy the Rembrandt GardensƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚a little island.

August 14, 1990: I turned my attention to exploring RegentƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Canal. Starting from Little Venice, I headed east all the way to York Way. Along the way, I stopped to see Camden Lock (in Camden Town) and observed how the scenery changed from residential apartments to commercial developments. The stretch parallel to Prince Albert Road appeared to me as the most scenic area of the canal. I got off the towpath at Maiden Lane Bridge (two bridges ahead of Islington Tunnel), close to KingƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Cross.

August 15, 1990: I completed my exploration of RegentƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Canal. In spite of a slight downpour, I started from Limehouse Basin, where I had a good look at the canal flowing into River Thames. I jogged northwards along the towpath until I reached Copperfield Road at King GeorgeƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Fields. Then past Mile End and Globe Town, I deviated northeast to jog along Bow Canal on the eastern boundary of Victoria Park. I got into the park at Three Colt Bridge to admire its lakes and flower gardens. Back on RegentƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Canal, I jogged westward past Cat and Mutton Bridge to Kingsland Basin, where I stopped at a pub for beer. I used the energy input so gained to propel myself all the way to the Islington canal tunnel, which is at least half a mile long. Two hours of exercise exhausted me so much that I paid scant attention to the townhouses and barge homes along the canal in East London.

I resumed my passion for canal exploration when I returned to London two years later. I was determined to complete some unfinished business, viz., exploring the western end of Paddington Arm of GUC:

July 17, 1992: I resumed my exploration of the western section of Paddington Arm from the Victoria Road access to the canal in North Acton (where I stopped two years ago). I jogged westward past Lower Place and Alperton, all the way to Horsenden Lane North, savoring the Arcadian charm of the area. Then I left the canal and walked south to Perivale station to return home.

July 30, 1992: I entered the canal at Horsenden Farm, and jogged from Perivale (northwest of North Acton) to Southall (for a taste and smell of ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Little IndiaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚), a distance of about six miles. On my way, I headed south from Greenford Green, crossed Western Avenue, and left the Paddington Arm at Uxbridge Road. ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ (Brentford, the southern terminus of the mainline Grand Union Canal, lies to the southeast of Southall. Paddington Arm stretches 12 miles from BullƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Bridge Junction, northwest of Brentford, to its terminus at Little Venice.) This is a picturesque area abounding with birds and rustic greenery that makes the explorer feel he/she was in the Midlands. However, the towpaths could confuse the explorer without a map between the GUC and River Brent to the south. My diary entry says, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-I really enjoyed the bucolic aspect of the environment along the canal.ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚

In 1992, I retraced segments of my 1990 canal explorations but paid special attention to enjoying the recreational potential of the Brentford Arm (or the stretch of River Brent from the Hanwell locks to Brentford) and the lower reaches of River Thames.

Walking and jogging allows you to fall in love with the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-greatestƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ city in the world. The next installment will describe my exploits on Brentford Arm and the lower Thames, as well as one of the strangest things that happened to me on my travels.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

(The writer is a professor of mass communications emeritus, Minnesota State University Moorhead.)

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

 

 


Copyright © 2023 LankaWeb.com. All Rights Reserved. Powered by Wordpress