National Geographic : 1972 Jan
three-room furnished flat on Sloane Street, with two large penthouse balconies, a bargain. When I reflected what comparable accommodations would cost in other great cities, I feared the rent of $60 a week was a mis take. I inquired of Mrs. Lolita Lumb, a director of Universal Aunts, Ltd., our rental agents, and she said, "Well, in season we would ask $72 to $84, but $60 is right for spring." To escape such "high" rents, about 50 households have moved out into the Thames. The houseboat colony anchored at Whistler's Reach since the end of World War II has achieved not only low-cost housing but also the mixed society (below). At one extreme, I met a young man who described himself as a mystic of minimal income, an Oxford graduate in physics, and a guest of the boat's owner. He told me he had legally changed his name to just plain MEKEM ("because it fits in with the numbers theory of Pythagoras, a very groovy cat"). At the other extreme, my wife and I visited the prosperous family of Geoffrey C. Chapman, a chartered accountant and publisher. Mr. and Mrs. Chapman invited us to dinner aboard their bright-blue Trafalgar.A converted Thames barge, 90 feet long, with a 20-foot beam, it has as much room and style as a five-bedroom house that might cost $50,000 in the Washington area. When the Chapmans built it in 1964, their costs were considerably less than the $24,000 Trafalgar would bring today. For $720 annually they rent their piece of foreshore, get postal service and trash disposal, and hook into water, electric, and sewage facilities. Mr. Chapman said: "Our maneuverability is another advantage. The Greater London Council is threaten ing to put a motorway feeder road right through our foreshore. If the council succeeds in overcoming opposi tion to the noise and congestion the road will cause, well, we'll just up-anchor and move upstream."