Estuary: Out from London to the Sea
Part urban-industrial sprawl, part wild marshland, the Thames estuary is a place of subversive cultural energy, home to Dickens’s Magwitch and the band Dr Feelgood. Through her travels, interviews and researches, Lichtenstein restores its edgy pride and celebrates its muddy beauty. She talks to tugmen, dock workers, ornithologists and mudlarkers; takes part in a Thames barge race; walks the Broomway on Foulness, “Britain’s most dangerous path”; gets tossed around in a cockleboat; and samples mud cola, a drink made from estuary slime. She is a generous listener – a diligent reader, too. Rather than impose herself on the landscape, she lets it seep into her psyche. Within the Thames estuary, there’s a history of lawlessness. It’s inscribed in local place names (Dead Man’s Island, Bedlams Bottom, Horrid Hill, Slaughterhouse Point) and persists in smuggling, whether of drugs or asylum seekers. Lichtenstein’s prose reads flatly at times, but she’s an appealing guide: rather than come with prior knowledge, she learns as she goes along, and we learn with her.