This morning, after a most enjoyable Full English (exquisite black pudding, sorry veggies), I left the Aged Relatives at the station and wondered what to do with the rest of a beautifully sunny Sunday on which I had no further plans for the day. Deciding upon a big long walk along the Thames was the easy option, especially as it might be my last chance for a while. A quick look at Google Maps on the phone and I was off as quickly as my hungover legs could carry me.
I’m leaving because the weather is too good. I hate London when it’s not raining
Although London does get a special shine and have a suitable air of melancholy in the drizzle, luckily for my stroll it was nice and sunny. It wasn’t long before I stumbled across blogging gold, in the form of probably the most inappropriately named block of flats in the universe. If you can’t quite read the names, this is Noel Coward House and Aubrey Beardsley House:
Aesthete and purveyor of fine wit, Noel Coward, numbers among his many triumphs a note-perfect performance in The Italian Job as the patriotic gang boss Mr. Bridger. Aesthete and purveyor of fine drawings, Aubrey Beardsley, created beautifully erotic illustrations for a number of the most notorious publications of the Art Nouveau period, including Oscar Wilde’s Salome. That noise you can hear as you gaze at the signs affixed to these particular examples of concrete brutalism is the sound of two meticulous men spinning like turbines in their respective graves. At least, I think that and I like brutalist architecture.
Wandering on I came across this scene:
… containing plenty for me to muse upon, the odd but strangely mesmirising MI6 building – star of nearly as many Bond films as Judi Dench – it appears to be the kind of Art Deco palace a 30s Hollywood mogul would have had built, but is really an 80s pastiche. It is just possible to see the exposed remains of the huge mudflats which Charles Dickens would have known before the Embankment was built to reclaim some of the riverside. That provided extra space for the new-build flats seen in the background, with the cranes suggesting yet more are being added, because London has next to no yuppie flats, of course.
There were parts of this walk along the Thames which were very familiar, both from pictures and previous wanderings, but next up was a part of town which was a beautiful surprise even for a cynical and embittered Londoner like myself. Victoria Tower Gardens has it all: plenty of space for reclining on the lawn, river views and fresh air, as well as interesting sculptures and statues to break up the sense of monotony that a town-dweller can feel on looking at a wide expanse of grass. First up was an elaborate bit of Gothic masonry – which on closer inspection turned out to be the Buxton Memorial Fountain – built to commemorate the abolition of the slave trade. One of the original castings of Rodin’s sculpture of The Burghers of Calais is also located in the park, having been bought for us by the British Government. See, they don’t always spend our money on tat!
This stroll through the park brought me somewhere I hadn’t visited since a distant school trip, or walked to since the ill-fated 2003 Iraq War protest march: my Nation’s Parliament. Naturally no troughing MPs in view, as it was a Sunday and they are also on recess for a little while longer. Perhaps taking inspiration from this statue of Richard I, who spent less than six months of his ten-year reign in England?
And then we come to my favourite view of London, the dome of St Paul’s as seen from the South Bank:
Here it is looking picture-postcard perfect, glinting in the sunshine as if impersonating Wren’s source of inspiration, St Peter’s in Rome. There are more stunning images here, including another of my favourites (if you scroll down a bit): the dome enveloped in cloud and lit up by searchlights during the blitz of 1941.
By now the urge to sleep off my breakfast was winning out over any desire for further wanderings, so it was time to hop onto the bus for home. Things learnt were many and it was heart-warming to act like a new arrival to this city I have called home for most of the last decade. All for the price of two bus fares and a bottle of water. Sometimes the best holidays are those spent on familiar territory.
So now off to snooze while agreeing with that other cheerleader for the old metropolis, Samuel Johnson:
By seeing London, I have seen as much of life as the world can show