No-one quite knows what The Folly was.
We know it floated on the Thames at Twickenham, and was a voluminous barge. I surmise it had to be voluminous, because the activities purported to take place involved lots of people and bawdy raucous carryings-on. I defy lots of people to carry on bawdily on a standard barge of the type to be seen these days cruising the Thames.
Like all good bordellos, we know The Folly was there because the Greats And The Good complained about it. It spoiled their peaceful evening walks in this sweetest of locations.
The Lord Mayor of the City of London, indeed, received several letters around 1743 .
They alleged “there is lately fixed near the Shore of Twickenham on the River Thames a Vessell made like a Barge and called the Folly wherein divers loose and disorderly persons are frequently entertained who have behaved in a very indecent Manner and do frequently afront divers persons of Fashion and Distinction who often in an Evening Walk near that place, and desired so great a Nuisance might be removed,….”
The divers persons must have got their way, for the riverbank is eminently respectable these days.
There is, of course, Eel Pie Island, the former site of the rock and R&B venue which hosted The Stones and the Who among myriad other stars.
But generally, now that is long closed and gone, the route between Twickenham and Richmond is studded with great historic mansions of grace and eminence, and a walk affords nothing more disreputable than an upmarket riverside pub or two and the instructional bawling from canoe lessons. Barges are often elite residences here, though one chap lived self sufficient on one I hear, and worked in close partnership with a shag which dived and caught fish for his daily meal.
We walked hand in hand along the Thames Path for the first time almost a year ago now. It was a crisp november day and our noses were red and our hearts were full, though not, I will own, a tenth as full as they are today. We walked to smart Richmond with its designer establishments, and went to the station to take a train back home.
Outside the station was a flower stall. The Celt stopped, and picked up a pretty little cyclamen with small scarlet petals, wrapped in tissue paper, and I was enchanted. To be bought not just flowers but something living was a new experience for me.
I bought the little cyclamen home and she (I cannot help but think of her as such) flowered prolifically and diminutively. She has lived on my window sill flowerless since summer began.
The Celt is very firm on the subject of plants, and talks to them and even, I would venture, listens to them. The little cyclamen has been given the very best attention possible for almost a year.
And about a month ago she began to grow little buds and flower once more.
But when the flowers came: oh, my. The little cyclamen was no longer a tiny dwarf plant. She has blossomed and grown, and her flowers are tall and statuesque. No longer a little thing, she has become a beautiful, confident woman: she has absorbed all the love and the care of eleven months’ careful attention and become everything she is capable of being.
Somehow, she reminds me of someone.