‘The plastic swan refused to launch into the surf until Iain poured wine over her’
Sam Taylor discovers a superstar bobbing around at the boating lake
There are some things in life that make little sense. Like the way the moon controls the tide. Or the way some people insist on climbing aboard the Octopus ride down on the seafront after several pints of strong bitter. If being turned upside down at breakneck speed to nasty synthesised music is your idea of fun, then look no further. I can see (and hear) the terrified customers being whipped around on the 80ft-tall mechanical beast from my sitting-room window. It is not a pretty sight (or sound).
Next to it sits a charming old 1960s boating lake with a gaggle of swan-shaped pedalos patiently waiting for some less energetic customers – children and grannies, mostly. Recently, the boating lake operator received a visit from the author, Iain Sinclair, and the filmmaker, Andrew Kötting.
For reasons I suspect he has yet to fully comprehend, they wanted to liberate one of his inanimate birds (nicknamed Edith) and sail it out to sea, then down the inland waterways to Hackney.
In essence, it seems to have been a protest against the Olympics. For the boating lake operator, it was the booking of a lifetime; two weeks in total. Nobody can really tell what Edith felt about her high-seas adventure, but the trio’s crazy journey has been made into a film called Swandown.
Sailing a plastic pedalo into the open sea is not without its complications and wearing a suit while you are doing so is probably not ideal. By the time they had reached their destination, Andrew’s trousers had shrunk four sizes. And then there was the small issue of Edith’s resistance. Despite being named after the plucky surrealist poet Edith Sitwell, the plastic swan refused to launch into the surf and was only persuaded when Iain poured wine over her bow.
Even for the hard core Octopus fans, the escapade has achieved mythical status and sparked copycats. Within a day, two more of the fibreglass beauties were ‘liberated’ – one in a post-pub attempt to pedal over the channel in search of duty free.
Edith is now back and available for tours on the lake, where she plans to stay. The journey was tough and involved being thrown around by waves and having her underside bitten by water rats. Despite this, her paintwork looks remarkably intact. I can admire it from my (would be) bathroom window.
Iain Sinclair has admitted that he occasionally went home for a hot shower and a night in his own bed, but Andrew was made of sterner stuff and seems to have forgone all creature comforts, sleeping on beaches or towpaths along the way. I have considered asking him for tips on how to cope without proper washing facilities but somehow it seems a little wet.
Next week: The gas man cometh…
Daily tip from the lady archive
“HEAVEN forbid that we should go back to the days when beauty was under suspicion and plain girls were assumed to have angelic natures.”The Lady. With Prejudice. 28th April 1938