Friday, 11 April 2014
Passport to Pimlico
Central London is not for the faint hearted, especially during school hols. The streets of suburbia might be silenced - school runs suspended - but Oxford Street and all points north, south, east and west heave with mums, dads and kids. Don't go to Covent Garden if you like quiet. Seven Dials, so hipsterish, is so cool you freeze. Don't go to the theatre unless you love milling with the masses.
Last week, a mate and I went to the National to see a revival of "A Taste of Honey". A Wednesday matinee - the place was packed. We sat in the first row surrounded by OAPs and students. The other week the missus and I saw "The Duck House" with Ben Miller. Packed out - midweek matinee.
I daren't shop at John Lewis in Oxford Street, I fear being crushed. The M&S Food Store on Piccadilly is overwhelmed at 5 pm. You can however find some quiet and space to breathe at Fortum and Mason, it's all extremely pleasant and not at all vulgar: unlike Harrod's.
Today, it was the turn of London Bridge to entertain me. It's extremely easy to get to from Walthamstow. On the Victoria Line to Green Park, change to the Jubilee Line and 4 stops you're there.
Like much of London there is so much to explore and enjoy. Borough Market, Southwark Cathedral, Guy's hospital, ancient pubs and a history of church endorsed prostitution. Chaucer's pilgrims started they journey at Southwark, at the time full of brothels, ale houses and much nefarious deeds.
Until quite recently it used to be run down, dirty and cheap. No longer. The Shard has changed all that. London Bridge station has been transformed, although the Underground is still a mess, but hosting a 5 star hotel, 3 top rated restaurants the Shard casts an improving shadow over the whole area. And if you thought house prices in London had gone through the roof, just check out the prices at the Borough Market. Once cheap and cheerful - you'll happily pay £6 for a loaf or a fiver for a small bunch of asparagus.
Today, my mate and I went up the Shard - right to the top. Together we've been to the top of the Eiffel Tower, the Empire States Building, the World Trade Centre and the Golden Arch of St Louis - all, in their way thrilling. But the Shard knocks spots off them. It is tall, it is very tall, it is cloud scraping.
The trouble is from the top the view of London is almost exactly what you'd expect from Google Maps. There's telescopes which provide a virtual view of London, with descriptions of sights you're looking at virtually, through a lens - it's spooky. Using my phone I was able to tweet views from the Shard, and my phone gave me a detailed run down of all I was viewing. A mash up of heightened reality and the virtual. Quite unnerving.
London from that height is a mess, yet as you focus in on specific areas or buildings you appreciate its complexity and its organic nature. The Thames is reinforced as the vital thread running through the city. The Tower of London, Saint Paul's and the many Wren churches if anything are extenuated against the backdrop of post modern building riot. You see how thoughtful the old LCC planners were in laying out the inter war and post war estates and you fume at much that has been allowed to scar the face of London.
Two hours is all we could manage. The visual overload is physically painful. Down to ground level and then into the hotel housed in the Shard and up to the bar on the 31st floor for a drink. We felt we were just above street level.
As we left to go our separate ways I looked up at the building. Somehow the experience of standing on the top of the Shard and looking down changed how I saw it from the ground. Now from the ground I could experience its great height. It was not just a very tall building. It was a dynamic presence, changing forever the feel of London.