Normal – A Moveable Feast?

Another week and another set of announcements for the ‘new normal’. Last Friday it was the beginning of compulsory face coverings in shops, then earlier this week it was the abrupt announcement of 14 days quarantine on returning to UK from Spain and then this morning I heard the seven-day self-isolation for suspected Covid is to be increased to 10 days.

Many people find change difficult, but if you take a moment and glance across the last century for example, you see it is normal for humans to live with a constantly changing world. It is the pace of change, when it is fast and furious, that unnerves us. And, global crises, such as world wars or infectious pandemics or even the invention of the Internet bring with them discernible change. Of course, most change is slower and continuous, we probably don’t notice it, but it is nevertheless happening.

Last week a couple of the old Thames barges turned up and tied up on the Ipswich Waterfront. They were from Maldon, just down the coast in Essex, and they have been the first and only old barge visitors to dock at Ipswich since the lockdown. They are a beautiful example of how we adapt and change and then accept a new normal.

A hundred years ago there were many of them sailing up and down the coast moving the grain grown in East Anglia, the country’s bread basket, down to London. They were an everyday sight for the folk of Ipswich. Nowadays, only a few are still seaworthy, some have been converted to fixed ‘dwellings’, but many have or are rotting away abandoned in the marsh creeks of Essex and Suffolk.

Pin Mill is a picturesque village on the River Orwell and it is also a boat graveyard. A variety of wooden-hulled vessels are slowly disintegrating on the riverbank including several old barges.

Adaptation is a key mechanism of evolution and survival, and so it has been for the Thames barges. They have adapted from transporting grain to hosting curious visitors and have gained a new lease of life as tourist attractions. Yes, the Coronavirus crisis has brought many changes, but taking people on trips down the river, outside on deck, is still possible although with fewer people on board – it’s the new normal.

Old Thames Barge ‘Will’ with, in the background, the Salthouse Harbour Hotel and Neptune Square apartments built on the site of the old dock warehouses.