Saturday, 17 September 2011

Going Underground

Last Saturday we whizzed into Manchester on the Metro and became tourists for the afternoon, joining a guided stroll through Manchester city centre. Except the main attraction of this tour wasn't the opportunity to appreciate amazing architecture and anecdotes about the city's history. Well, not history experienced at street level, at least. 
This tour, Underground Manchester, examines what's occurring below the city streets - the defunct canals, the re-routed rivers: the Tib, Irk, Cornbrook, the £4 million atomic bunker (sadly, you don't get to visit). It concludes with a wander in the dark through the caverns that provided wartime shelter to Manchester's citizens. 
Our guide turned out to be Ed Glinert, an old friend I've not seen for years. Ed has an incredible memory for quirky local history knowledge (of London as well as Manchester) which makes for a very entertaining couple of hours. 
No swimming allowed in the stagnant stretch of canal under Granada Studios - such a disappointment.....(But if, like me, you like (the thought of) that kind of thing, see what you make of Silent UK ..... what a website...)
Down there in the dark you get a sense of the dire misery of air raids and how hellish life during the war must have been.
And this poem by UA Fanthorpe came to my mind.....the secret life of repressed rivers.....

Rising Damp
‘A river can sometimes be diverted but is a very hard thing to lose altogether.’
                                                                    Paper to the Auctioneers’ Institute, 1907
At our feet they lie low,
The little fervent underground
Rivers of London
Effra, Graveney, Falcon, Quaggy,
Wandle, Walbrook, Tyburn, Fleet
Whose names are disfigured,
Frayed, effaced.
These are the Magogs that chewed the clay
To the basin that London nestles in.
These are the currents that chiselled the city,
That washed the clothes and turned the mills,
Where children drank and salmon swam
And wells were holy.
They have gone under.
Boxed, like the magician’s assistant.
Buried alive in earth.
Forgotten, like the dead.
They return spectrally after heavy rain,
Confounding suburban gardens. They infiltrate
Chronic bronchitis statistics. A silken 
Slur haunts dwellings by shrouded
Watercourses, and is taken
For the footing of the dead.
Being of our world, they will return
(Westbourne, caged at Sloane Square,
will jack from his box),
Will deluge cellars, detonate manholes,
Plant effluent on our faces,
Sink the city.
Effra, Graveney, Falcon, Quaggy,
Wandle, Walbrook, Tyburn, Fleet
It is the other rivers that lie
Lower, that touch us only in dreams
That never surface.We feel their tug
As a dowser’s rod bends to the surface below
Phlegethon, Acheron, Lethe, Styx.
U. A. Fanthorpe

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