Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Buddleia and the Limehouse Cut

Today, Wednesday 27th February is one I have been uneasy about for a couple of months. I was approached pre-Christmas by some of the more enthusiastic members of my team and asked about supporting a 'volunteering day.' My employers (BT) are very keen to promote BT in the communities in which we work, and employees are actively encouraged to volunteer in many ways, be it the Territorial Army, JP service or straightforward volunteering days.

My immediate personal reaction was to laugh out aloud and then say that we were all far too busy. However, the company does support this and who really can't afford to spare a day if your employer gives you the nod? I didn't want to deal with the sulkers and with one eye on the employee attitude survey, I decided this was a wonderful idea. Indeed, I would participate myself as long as it didn't involve any expensive travel or overnight stays etc as it would be counter-productive to spend more money than it would cost to employ someone else to do the work. 

The immediate plan was for something a bit further up north that would be drivable for those outside London and that would excuse me nicely. This quickly fell through and I was invited to a London day (there will be a separate one for the northerners), hence my uneasiness. I was told that we needed to be at Bromley-by-Bow at 9am this morning and dressed in warm, old clothing. On arrival the fifteen of us were lead down to Bow Locks (honestly), a stones throw from the Blackwall Tunnel approach. We were lead to a working canal barge and given a safety brief and kitted out for clearing the tow-path and canal walls of the Limehouse Cut. 

Before we set-off we were visited by a member of the river constabulary who wanted to know in what direction we would be heading. A suicide note had been found on the banks of the canals which was being taken seriously and officers were busy scouring the waterways for a body. Looking north we spotted  them hard at work but we were headed west and given a number to call in the event we had anything to tell them.

Quickly to work then from the tow-path and the barge we cut back vegetation, mostly the dreaded bomb-crater weed or butterfly bush as we called it as kids - Buddleia. Our barge driver told us that a single Buddleia tree can produce 3,000,000 seeds a year and that they can germinate and grow from just about anywhere which accounts for their abundance. 

As we progressed along the Cut, I was surprised at how many of the roads we went under were known to me as I had never before seen this straight, two mile canal. Where fully established, the Buddleia root could only be removed by hacking it out and we were told not to do this as it invariably brought large chunks of masonry down with it and left big holes in the tow-path wall and sides of the canal. It was also obvious that big Buddleia roots had broken walls and moved railings above and our knowledgeable driver told us that during the war, the RAF dropped Buddleia seeds on German airfields precisely because of it's ability to grow on next to nothing and it's destructive root base. This was a fascinating idea but I couldn't help wondering why the RAF hadn't just dropped bombs on the runways instead of seeds?

Six hours later, we finished up at the Limehouse basin, a marina I am familiar with (you see it from the DLR at Limehouse station), which connects via a lock to the mighty Thames. A barge full of vegetation and no corpses. Home now, face glowing from the cold wind and back reminding me that I will be 50 this year. Now, where's the Voltarol?


ChicagoAddick said...

Funny isn't it. We do an annual 'Give back to the Community Day' and I am embarrassed to say that I will find any excuse not to go, yet at the end of it I always feel very rewarded and humbled by knowing that something little in the scheme of things has helped people less fortunate in some way. Plus is a great way to team build.

pete said...

so my volunteering day involved proper backbreaking work, weeding, digging raking and some decorating. You get a boat trip! Gissa job.

BFD said...

As another BT Addick I too are lined up for a days volunteering in the near future. Done a day last year on a desolate East Anglian beach clear last as most of my BT team are at Adastral. At the end we were frozen and the fish & shop closed early so hungry as well