Waders on, hands in gloves, litter-picker ready – today we’re cleaning up the Wandle.
I slide down the muddy banks into the river. It's fucking freezing.
Feel the riverbed, says a man who seems to be in the know.
Feel for things that shouldn't be there.
How do I know what shouldn't be there?
Look for bubbles.
I pat the riverbed with my foot.
Is that something? No, no bubbles.
What about this? Not this time either.
The men bob to and fro, big and burly, dragging out cables and bits of old rope.
They're wearing waterproof tops, I probably should've thought of that.
I clasp something with my aluminum fingers. It's smooth and slightly stretchy. Plastic, I think.
It pulls free, a shred of black bin bag. Then I find another and another and...
today could be a long one.
With each haul of litter booty, my gloves fill up with icy water.
It tips down my coat and waders. I'm soaked.
We're gonna need help over here, shout the men. Fetch the grappling hook, it's a big one.
Someone arrives with a thing, like a giant four-pronged fishhook.
They cast it in and everyone holds on.
Hea... and out comes another cable.
It's getting colder, my hands and feet won't do what I tell them anymore. The others are looking at the cable.
No, probably just an accident.
While they’re distracted I throw myself at the mud bank. I flap and flap until my body’s wiggled back onto dry(ish) land.
Waders off, gloves in the 'wet box’, litter-picker on the grass - I'm going home to warm up.
I hobble through the park, make a cup of tea and look in the mirror. My lips are fucking blue.
Hot bath. Clean clothes.
What time is it now?
Helpers gather, saintly grins, and I join the queue for the signing out sheet.
Good one, wasn't it?
What about that thing they pulled out?
I’m sure there are more egrets of late.
Well, we're already doing lunch next Tuesday.
I sign out, breath a huge sigh of relief and think about what a good job we've done.
Liz Cookman is a London-based writer, pub quiz champion and nature lover/novice. She has written articles and non-fiction pieces for all sorts of places, but is currently working on her first book which creatively explores our relationship with nature. She holds an MA in Travel and Nature Writing and a BA in Creative Writing.
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