I have a part-time job in a bronze casting foundry housed in the railway arches that line one side of Limehouse Basin. All day long, as I work on the wax-casts of heads, and cats and ballerinas, I stare out of the window at the water. The empty, windswept basin where the Regent’s Canal meets the river Thames. All the old warehouses and wharfs have been pulled down but the luxury lofts that were planned have failed to appear. The ground is thick with brambles and at the edge of the water there are now accidental beds of bulrushes – populated by moorhens and ducks.
There is some activity on the banks opposite me. A collection of men are looking at the dark water. A diver in his wet-suit emerges from their ranks, enters the water and disappears from view beneath the surface. All day I watch as his bubbles move up and down the stretch of open water – slowly covering the basin with carefully coordinated sweeps. The diver re-emerges. A lorry parks next to the water and the arm of a small crane swings out over the basin. The diver attaches a blue rope and the driver lifts the arm. At the end of the rope a shape breaks the surface. A man’s head and shoulders appear and then a whole naked body swings in the air, dripping canal-water. The skin of the body is as grey as Plasticine. His arms are held out in front him by rigor mortis and they bounce slightly as the rope is jolted.