A strange life on London's River Thames
I arrived at a pea-green footbridge to nowhere. From my vantage point on the towpath, the bridge’s brushed-steel curves rose and dipped over the river before disappearing into a thick cluster of privet. I watched passersby stroll over. Most peeped and retreated. The more brazen continued, swallowed by the hedges into one of London’s most fascinating enclaves.
This is Eel Pie Island, one of around 180 river islets – known as ‘eyots’ or ‘aits’ – on the Thames, born of the river’s meandering, 184-mile path from the Cotswold hills to the North Sea.
Mudbanks like Chiswick Eyot, a thickly-wooded nature reserve populated by herons and Canada geese, were sculpted on the river’s route. At high tide the tiny piece of land is swallowed whole, just a few lone branches eerily piercing the surface.
Eel Pie Island, near Twickenham, was carved as the river took a detour and forged a parallel path, slicing it from the mainland. Since the 17th Century, when according to a 1635 map there was a bowling alley on the island, it has been a haven for hedonists, music lovers and philanderers.
Eel Pie島位于特威克納姆（Twickenham）附近，因河流繞道形成兩道平行支流，將這塊地方與其他陸地分離開來，由此誕生河心島。十七世紀的地圖就記載了Eel Pie島的位置，后來發展成為享樂主義者、音樂愛好者和慈善家的天堂。
Its seclusion – it could only be reached by boat until the footbridge was erected in 1957 – made it a dream for extra-marital affairs. Local stories say that wealthy men would bribe the ferryman not to let their wives across so they could canoodle with their mistresses undisturbed.
The island is named for the eel pies sold at its 19th-Century hotel; rarely spotted now, the slippery, snake-like fish were once abundant in this part of the Thames. The inn burned down in a mysterious 1971 fire, but the decades of entertainment, from ballroom dancing and beatnik jazz to early performances by the Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart, are still spoken about in reverential tones.
Trevor Baylis frequented the hotel as a teenager, lured from his home in Kilburn in north-west London by “pretty girls and jazz music”. Smitten by the spit of land, the inventor built a home here in 1971.
The community grew from “just a few huts” to around 50 homes with old hippies, young families and people “with a special kind of spirit”.
“We were a family then, and we’re a family now,” Baylis said.
The footbridge led onto a narrow, shaded footpath, marked by a ‘Private Island’ sign. I followed it past tumbledown cottages to a screeching, spitting, working boatyard, emerging among a cluster of ramshackle artists’ studios. The walkways were cluttered with pots, wrought-iron tables and empty Champagne bottles stuffed with candles. A skeleton’s spindly legs dangled from a birdcage overheard; dressmakers’ dummies were topped with plant-pot heads.
This avant-garde display is the work of island gardener ‘Twig’, Lee Campbell explained, as we sat in the forest-green, corrugated-tin shed she shares with elderly lurcher Holly. Campbell, a landscape painter from New Zealand, has rented the studio for 17 years, but lives “on the mainland”.
“Now and then a bunch of old hippies come staggering over, asking if the hotel is still here,” she said. “They’re looking for the party.”
For Campbell, the island’s appeal is a tranquil space to paint. She also likes walking back over the bridge each afternoon, to “dry land”.
For those who live, work or accidentally visit here, Eel Pie is endlessly enthralling.
Like many of the other eyots that loop along the Thames like the eyes of needles, it’s a time capsule of land, memories and tall tales.
Before ship-shape Ravens Ait became a luxury wedding venue, a dozen squatters took over for several months in 2009, claiming it should be common land. They argued that it was on this tiny islet that King John signed documents leading to the ratification of the Magna Carta. (It was actually the Treaty of Kingston, a 1217 peace treaty with France, that was signed here.)
渡鴉島（Ravens Ait）形如船只，在演變成豪華婚禮場地之前，十幾個擅自占地者在2009年接管了幾個月，聲稱這里應該是公共用地。他們爭辯說，約翰國王正是在這個小島上，簽署了批準"大憲章"的文件。（實際上，在這里簽訂的是1217年與法國達成和平的金斯敦條約，Treaty of Kingston）
Further west, as the river flows through Berkshire, the boldly named Magna Carta Island also contends to be where the king sealed the charter. It’s yet to be proven.
再往西，河水流經伯克郡（Berkshire），這里的大憲章島（Magna Carta Island）取名大膽，也聲稱國王是在這里簽署了大憲章。然而真相還有待證明。
Oliver’s Island, near Kew, is named after claims that Oliver Cromwell took refuge here and built a tunnel connecting the eyot to the Bull’s Head pub on the opposite bank. The story has been widely discredited (and no amount of digging has unearthed the tunnel).
位于邱園（Kew）附近的奧利弗島（Oliver's Island）以奧利弗·克倫威爾（Oliver Cromwell）命名，據說他曾來此避難，建造了一條連接該島和對岸牛頭酒吧（Bull's Head）的隧道。這一說法已經廣受質疑（不管怎么挖，也無法找到隧道）。
On nearby Taggs Island, a dusty path loops past gardens rambling with roses, lavender and bamboo canes. A sun-dappled footbridge spans the central lagoon, circled by floating homes. Boatbuilder Thomas George Tagg leased the island in the 1850s, crafting a reputation for vessels painted in bold colours and adorned with balustrades, elaborate carvings and striped awnings. Artists, writers and those with money to spare flocked to the island.
附近的塔格斯島（Taggs Island）上有一條塵土飛揚的小路環繞經過種滿玫瑰、薰衣草和竹子的花園。陽光斑駁的人行步橋跨過河水，水上房屋環繞四周。造船商托馬斯·喬治·塔格（Thomas George Tagg）在1850年代租用了這座島嶼，其所造船只用色大膽，裝飾著欄桿、精美雕刻和條紋遮蓬，一時名聲大噪。藝術家、作家和有錢人紛紛涌入島上。
Fred Westcott watched with envy. Busking near Hampton Court lock, he dreamed of living by the teardrop-shaped island.
弗雷德·威斯克（Fred Westcott）的眼中滿是羨慕。在漢普頓宮（Hampton Court）的門前賣藝之時，他曾夢想著有朝一日能在這個淚滴狀的小島上安居樂業。
Changing his surname to Karno, he launched a circus with a troupe of then-unknown performers including Charlie Chaplin and Max Miller, and invented the custard-pie-in-face gag. Fortune made, he moved to Taggs in 1903, ensuring his was the biggest and most luxurious boat circling the land.
后來，他改姓卡爾諾（Karno），與查理·卓別林（Charlie Chaplin）和馬克斯·米勒（Max Miller）等一群當時名不見經傳的演員成立了一個馬戲團，并發明了蛋奶餡餅擲臉的笑話。賺到錢之后，他于1903年搬到了塔格斯島，擁有的船只在這一帶最大、最豪華。
The richly-textured tapestry of history and culture on these 180 isles, of which 30 are inhabited, deserves to be preserved and shared. Michele Whitby, who rents a houseboat moored to Eel Pie Island, is working on doing just that.
泰晤士河中有180個小島，其中30個有人居住，泰晤士河中島的歷史和文化理應保護與傳承。在Eel Pie島租住的船屋居住的米歇爾·惠特比（Michele Whitby）做的就是這件事。
Whitby has been gathering oral histories from the island’s residents for her Eel Pie Museum, set to open in Twickenham by early 2018.
惠特比一直在收集島上居民的口述歷史，她創辦的的Eel Pie博物館（Eel Pie Museum）將于2018年初在特威克納姆對外開放。
“The first buildings were beach huts,” she said. “There are stories of rich businessmen spending weekends there with their mistresses.”
For Eel Pie residents, who are aged 17 to 70, the common thread that binds them is an "adventurous spirit".
“This life isn’t for everyone. Sometimes you have to wade through water to get home because the tide has risen across the bottom of the bridge,” Whitby said. “But our world is the real world. People either leave within a year, or leave in a wooden box.”
Baylis won’t leave any other way. At 80, the bachelor still has a spring in his shuffle. His house and studio, The Haven, is tucked down a dusty track off the main path. Entering is like diving into Mary Poppins’ carpet bag.
I was greeted by a tiny, white, stuffed cat, curled in permanent sleep on a drawing board. Beyond were higgledy-piggledy racks of tools, plastic trays overflowing with nuts and bolts and steering wheels hooked to the wall. Baylis invented the wind-up radio, and a dozen early models were dotted around the workshop.
“I built the house of my dreams,” he said, escorting me past his swimming pool to his living area. The walls were a collage of photos – a gaggle of girlfriends, posters of Audrey Hepburn (Baylis’ all-time favourite actress) and a picture of Nelson Mandela with the inventor, proudly holding the radio that helped educate people about the spread of HIV and Aids in Africa. The pair became “good pals,” Baylis told me.
Bookshelves buckled under encyclopedias. A wine rack made with leftover piping was built into the wall. Smudged glass doors led out to the turfed terrace overlooking the river. Upstairs, Baylis sleeps surrounded by more books and under a huge poster of Audrey.
Trevor’s CV (he gave me a copy) reads like the achievements of an entire alumni. There’s his OBE in recognition of his inventions; his career as a stunt double for Peter Cook and Dudley Moore; the fact he swam for the British National team when he was 15.
特雷弗給了我一份他的簡歷，簡歷讀來就像所有校友的成就的總集合。因為發明被授予大英帝國勛章（OBE），做彼得·庫克（Peter Cook）和達德利·摩爾（Dudley Moore）的特技替身，15歲時為英國國家游泳隊效力。
He even built a car, designed and cobbled together by hand, despite the island having no roads.
“She has about 5m on the clock,” Baylis chuckled, sweeping a hand towards the lipstick-red motor that’s permanently parked on his lower terrace.
Blondie, a Hokkaido dog, lolled by the counter as Baylis brewed tea in his tiny kitchen. Back on the terrace, we listened to one of his wind-up radios.
On the opposite bank, a jogger appeared intermittently through the trees. A lone kayaker paddled by. Occasionally, large tourist boats pass by and guides point Baylis out as a local attraction.
A raven squawked above our heads, hopping from side to side on a branch. “There’s my neighbour,” Baylis joked. Reclining and puffing on his pipe, he heaved a contented sigh.
“I’ve been a lucky guy,” he said, eyes crinkling in a smile. “What more could I want?”