London, by and large, has a mild climate. The weather is what the British call, with euphemistic understatement, “changeable”. Most of us wouldn’t have it any other way, and we love our four distinct seasons and the absence of dramatic happenings.
So the current cold spell is a topic of conversation. With temperatures plunging below zero (Celsius) and a very frosty chill factor, this is as near as we get to extreme. Throughout the UK, temperatures have dropped this week, and Braemar, in Scotland, recorded -23 Celsius, the coldest reading in 25 years. Here in milder London, we’ve even had a dusting of snow, something that doesn’t happen every year, probably because of a big city’s natural warming effect.
According to reports, even the River Thames has frozen in places, but certainly not in the dramatic way it did in the 16th and 17th centuries when markets and fairs could be supported on the ice. Instead, though, we’ve had some severe high tides to contend with.
All this freezing mullarkey doesn’t seem to put off the green parakeets, though. Only yesterday I was watching the flurries of snow from the Macfilos desk when this Pretty Polly landed on the tree outside my office window. Parakeets have infested London and the Thames Valley over the past thirty years.
These feral birds may look pretty, but they take no prisoners. They breed rapidly, and it is all the odder that they are said to be the descendants of one or two escaped pets, the Adam the Pretty Boy and Eve the Pretty Polly. However, some blame Jimmy Hendrix or Katherine Hepburn and the African Queen for the pollies’ initial introduction.
The cold snap has coincided with a plague of super-high tides on the Thames here in West London. Yesterday the flood tide reached a height of 7.1m, enough to trickle on to some local roads, especially on Chiswick Mall which gets a regular bath throughout the year. Though, none of this is a patch on what would happen if we didn’t have the Thames Barrier to keep down the levels. It has been said that, without the barrier which was opened in 1982, some sections of the Underground railway could be in danger of flooding.
I braved the elements, Leica Q2 in hand, so check out our very own bit of extreme weather. However, I’m aware that by world standards this is very small beer. Might as well enjoy it because next week we’ll be back up to 12 or 15 degrees C.
Modest flooding is a commonplace event on parts of the riverbank that are not protected with embankments, but some streets are always vulnerable, as I found out…
Click to enlarge
A curiosity of this stretch of the Thames is the very desirable Chiswick Mall which suffers regular flooding without complaint from the well-heeled inhabitants. Considering the inflated value of these properties, ranging from a million or two to near 20 million pounds, the owners seem to grin and bear it.
This is the erstwhile heart of the old Chiswick fishing village, now preserved in aspic since the hoi polloi decamped a couple of hundred years ago after Thames pollution put paid to their livelihood. They moved a mile or so inland to develop the village of Turnham Green, which is now better known as Chiswick. Instead of fish, they found richer pickings from travellers on the Great West Road out of London.
Chiswick Mall remains one of the gems of West London. It was the home of Miss Pinkerton’s Academy featured in Thackeray’s novel, Vanity Fair. But in those days the flooding must have been a much more significant threat. Becky Sharp, Miss P’s wayward pupil, probably possessed a pair of those new-fangled Wellingtons.
Even today, the expensive houses on Chiswick Mall have extensive flood protection, up to some five feet above road level. But, thanks to the Thames Barrier, it never gets that high these days. Just enough to wet the wheels of the Rolls Royce…