Up in the Big Smoke

by Suw on September 17, 2003

Having a digital camera is really bad for me. Makes me even more snap-happy than I usually am. Thus it’s taken me a while to wade through the 147 pictures I took yesterday and pick out the best of them for your delectation.

First up, as it was near to Waterloo where our train comes in, was the London Eye. I’ve been meaning to go on it ever since it was built and have walked past it on more than one occasion thinking to myself ?I must go on that one day?. Of course, I didn’t until yesterday.

The weird thing about the London Eye is that you look at it and think ?Hm, big wheel. Big deal.?

But then, when you’re on it, you realise it’s not just a big wheel. It’s a very, very big wheel. Actually, it’s a bloody enormous wheel.

And it’s one hell of a piece of engineering. Unlike the Wobbly Bridge, er, I mean, the Millennium Bridge, which is no fun now that it’s been fixed and doesn’t wobble any more, the London Eye is imposingly graceful, an impressive addition to London’s better attractions, not to mention its skyline.

Grossly overpriced, but then, that’s London for you.

Although it’s not somewhere that you really want to go if you suffer from vertigo.

It takes half an hour or so for the wheel to complete one revolution and it only stops for people in wheelchairs. It moves so slowly, though, that you have no problem getting on and off, even Melissa, my three year old niece, wasn’t worried by it.

Each capsule takes about 25 people, I think. They’re much bigger than they look.

The strange thing is that the wheel moves so slowly that it’s almost imperceptible. You are so engrossed with the views that you almost don’t think about how high up you are, or what would happen if something happened. Unless you’re a sick bastard like I am, of course.

Wheeeeeeeeee? splash.

It’s quite tricky to take photos through the capsule windows as they’re all kinda curved and not only do they make every photo fuzzy and a little distorted, they also manage to reflect everything inside the capsule. But still? a few views:

And when you’re reaching the top?

?you suddenly realise how high up you are. And wish that you could just step out onto an observation platform just for a while so you stand there and point out ?I used to work near there? and oh, I used to live there? and I used to work there too??

I tried to point a few landmarks out to Tony but not sure if I was successful. I mean, you’re ok with the big things – St Paul’s Cathedral is pretty difficult to miss, for example. But ?Oh, see that tower, see that building to the left of it, well, at the bottom of that was a really good sandwich shop??

We took the obligatory picture, saving ourselves the bother of the ?official? one that they take through the plexiglass and try to flog to you for ?7. I feel like such a shortarse standing next to my brother.

Then, before you know it, the capsule’s coming back down and it’s time to get off on to solid land again, from whence you can stare back upwards and say ?I was just up there?.

After the London Eye, or the Big Wheel as I keep wanting to call it, I parted company from my brother and his family. They wanted to go on some open topped tour bus, but I thought that ?15 was a bit too bloody pricey. I have no money coming in, and I wanted to spend my precious money on something solid and lasting.

So I scooted over to Oxford Street, where I located the DVD of The Shawshank Redemption which I’ve been wanting for a while. Then I popped into Forbidden Planet and got myself Issue 2 of Neil Gaiman’s 1602.

That’s twice in a little over a month that I’ve been into that shop and not succumbed to all the copies of Hellblazer that lurk on the shelves calling to me, or classics like V for Vendetta (which for a while I thought was ?Viva Vendetta?) or Watchmen, which I read a long time ago but have always wanted to own. I was very proud of my restraint. (See, I am capable of restraint, honest.)

Arranged to meet up with Tony et al outside the Tower of London, so pootled on that way by tube. It seemed that every station had at least two posters for Once Upon A Time In Mexico up, so I repeatedly enjoyed a quick drool over the beautiful perfection of Mr Depp’s visage. See, you just don’t get that sort of thing in Dorset.

Sat for a while waiting for the right tourist-laden bus to turn up and read my copy of 1602. Just as good, in my opinion, as the first. Ends with a great cliffhanger. Must look up the annotations that are springing up on the web about it though, as I’m not particularly familiar with the Marvel Universe, and I’m sure I’m missing out on some in jokes there.

Then I had a mull over SP2, made some notes about the holes in it and how to best fill them. Have myself now some sort of plan, some sort of time-line for events, so it should be easier to bang out the rest of it, soon as I get round to it.

Eventually Brov turned up with wiff and sproglet and we got ourselves some lunch. They were getting a boat back to the London Eye, so I wandered across Tower Bridge with the intent of catching a bus back that way.

Now, I have had an ongoing love for Tower Bridge. When I first moved to London I lived in Rotherhithe and instead of getting the tube from there I would walk up through Butlers Wharf, across Tower Bridge and thence into Zone 1, thus saving myself a whole 70p. Partly I did it for the money. Partly I did it because once I was out of Rotherhithe, I was in a world of Dickensian warehouse conversions with faux gas lamps, little bridges between the buildings above your head and cobbled streets beneath your feet.

That, to me, was real London. That was why I had moved there. That sense of history, soaking up through your heels and permeating your body. One day, it snowed and as I walked along Shad Thames, I half expected Jack The Ripper to pop out from a darkened doorway. Scared the crap out of myself on more than one occasion with my fertile imagination and overactive peripheral vision.

Anyway, Tower Bridge has a special place in my heart. Particularly when it raises to let through a boat or two.

Of course, the landscape has changed a little. We have the Mayor’s new digs, the Beehive (or whatever it's called):

And of course, the ?Erotic Gherkin?:

Across Tower Bridge, then, and a chance to have a bit of a laugh at the Dope On A Rope, David Blaine. I have read some people saying that it might all be an illusion, but the idiot really is in a small box hanging from a crane. It’s really quite bizarre. He’s hanging just to the left of the Beehive in this pic.

Apparently, he chose to do this ?stunt? in the UK because the weather would be better for him – not too hot, not too cold, and no hurricanes. Of course, yesterday was one of the hottest days in weeks, positively boiling, so David was in his keks. Hm, nice? not.

He just kinda laid there, waving occasionally and setting the young, stupid girlies off screaming. I was surprised at how many people were there, actually. Not just passing by as I was, but just sitting about watching him sitting about watching them. Very bizarre.

It’s a shame, but unsurprising, that in the end the barbecue idea went for a burton. Apparently someone’s already flown a model helicopter carrying a hamburger round his box, in an attempt to make him hungry. The best idea that I've heard to date is to get a model plane to dump a load of bird seed on the top of his box and then just sit back and watch the pigeons?

I bet, though, that Blaine’s glad that he’s not attempting this in NY right now, not with ol? Isabel getting her fairly violent act together.

I decided then not to catch the RV1 back to the Big Wheel, where I’d agreed to meet Tony, but thought that instead I’d walk. This used to be my old stomping ground and I have walked many, many times from Tower Bridge to Waterloo. I just like the area. Borough in particular. Walking along Borough High Street is like taking a bath in history.

As I cut back to Tooley Street, I was stopped by a man who asked a question.

“Excuse me,” he said, very politely and with not a little hint of embarrassment, “but where is David Blaine?”

I think this could quite possibly be the only time that one person could ask another person where a third person that neither of them have met is at that exact point in time and expect to get a reasonably accurate answer.

“See the top of that crane there?” I said, grinning. “He’s hanging from that.”

So, down past the London Dungeon, almost past the London Bridge Hotel, where I spent many a night at the expense of PwC (just so I could work longer hours, you understand), then through to Southwark Cathedral.

From there it was down past where the Golden Hind used to be, (no idea where she is now, but it doesn’t really look like she’ll be docking there anymore), and through to Winchester Palace.

Now, Winchester Palace was built by the Bishop of Winchester, oddly enough. And how did the good Bishop raise the money for his nice swanky palace? Oh, yes, that’s right, it was by pimping the Winchester Geese, a bunch of prostitutes who plied their trade on the top gallery of the Globe theatre.

See, religion and moral standards always have gone hand in hand.

Clink Street, then.

When I lived at Rotherhithe I would walk to Clink Street as regularly as I could, or catch the bus if I was feeling rich or it was raining. There I would soak up the atmosphere conveniently provided by the Clink Prison Museum (?the prison that gave all others their name?) which used to pipe Gregorian chanting into the narrow, cobbled lane.

Then I would enter one of the buildings on the right and I would go floating. It was fantastic. As someone who’s had a bad back since she can remember going floating was bliss.

Just to lay there, in the darkness, in a tub of Epsom-salted waters, never quite knowing which bit of you was in the water and which was out because everything was body temperature, just to relax and unwind. I would leave the floatation centre feeling two inches taller. Possibly because my back had unknotted and I actually was two inches taller.

It was wonderful and not just for the surcease from nagging aches, but the state of mind it would put me in. Add together the cobbles, the chanting, the slightly spacey feeling I’d get post-float, and then the walk back home past the London Dungeon, through Butlers Wharf and along Shad Thames? Well, it’s a wonder I didn’t write some major Dickensian work right there and then. (Although I suspect the reason for that was that I can’t stand Dickens. What a miserable shite he was? Anyway, moving on?)

There’s no Gregorian chanting on Clink Street now. The quiet little lane I knew ten years ago (yes, it really is that long) has gone, replaced by a Starbucks piping jazz on to a street busy with tourists. Once, only I and a select few knew about Clink Street. At least, that’s how it felt. Yesterday I realised that now only I, (and you, gentle reader), know about that particular Clink Street. And only I remember.

So, from there it was on to the Globe. There are buildings now on the South Bank that once weren’t there. The Globe always has been crowded in, suffocated and smothered by the surrounding architecture (although at times, 'architecture' would be an overstatement). Now it seems worse, or maybe it just seemed worse because of the disappointment of Clink Street.

However, I don’t remember it leaning quite this much? maybe it’s the camera.

If you’ve never been to the Globe, you have to go. Beautifully recreated not far from its original site, it is a superb building. The craftsmanship is astounding, the materials and methods all as they originally would have been. And to see a play there is a great experience, although it’s been a long time since I last did.

Of course, these days the squawking of the Winchester Geese is not to be heard from the upper floors, such are the times we live in that they have to keep their heads down. Although that’s kind of in their job spec anyway.

The Founders Arms, just upstream and outside the new Tate Riverside, used to close at 3pm. I remember walking there with my friend Sam, my new clogs rapidly stripping the skin from my feet. We were both desperate for a drink and couldn’t believe that the damn place shut at 3pm. Now it’s not the half-empty, slightly dodgy place that it was before. Now it’s full of tourists and art-lovers (if what is shown at the Tate is actually art, of course. I think much of it is simply opportunism).

From there I decided that time was getting on, and I’d have to miss the rest of the walk back to Waterloo and catch a bus. Or a taxi, whichever I saw first. Taxi won.

So, down Stamford Street, past Kings Reach Tower where once the Melody Maker and NME occupied space and now only the NME survives to crow its hollow victory. Past then Gabrielle’s Wharf. Past the National. Back to the Really Very Big Wheel and to meet up with my family and catch the train home.

A strange day, surprisingly full of some very old memories. It made me want to move back there, as all visits to London do, but the London I wanted to move back to was one that doesn’t exist. It’s the one in my head, from when I was newly graduated and had all the city at my feet. I was eager to explore, eager to discover as many of the city’s nooks and crannies as I could, eager to find out what I was going to make of my life.

If only I could go back and catch myself leaning on the wall on Jubilee Walk, staring out over the Thames across to St Paul’s. The things I would tell myself. The advice I would give.

Of course, knowing me, I wouldn’t have listened to a bloody word.

Sam Kuntz September 17, 2003 at 8:16 pm



Ember September 17, 2003 at 8:49 pm

wow… what a fabulous post…. I've always wanted to go to London…

If you have no objections, I'd like to link this entry to my site , so that my readers can read your story… I want to share this with everyone…. It's great!

Visit me @ http://fallenember.blog-city.com

A visitor September 17, 2003 at 8:54 pm

Loved this tour. Made me want to revisit the changed London that you describe.

We can't go home again, that's for sure. But we can go there and recognize the place for the first time.

Pascale Soleil [ps@pascalesoleil.com]

Suw September 17, 2003 at 9:10 pm

Thanks for the comments everyone! 🙂

Ember, and anyone else for that matter, you are more than welcome to link to this post if you wish. I'm just happy you've enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it.

Ron September 18, 2003 at 2:16 am

Ember sent me this post, since I've done my own modest little Toronto tours on my blog. My brother was in London this year and rode the wheel as well. It amazed me at the time how many people you could fit in there.

It's funny, on a lot of his videos of London, you can see the wheel in the background. I don't know if you consider it an eyesore or not. I've always wanted to take the plane over the big pond and hit London for a week, great little tour you just gave.

Suw September 18, 2003 at 6:53 am

Ron, thanks for visiting and for your comment.

No, I don't consider the London Eye to be an, ahem, eyesore at all. I think it's really quite beautiful in all its clean, white glory. A great addition to the skyline, rather than a unfortunate one. Unlike the Barbican centre of course, which is a horrible thing and should be ripped down immediately.

Jury's out so far on the Erotic Gherkin, or whatever its real name is. It just kinda looks too phallic. Makes me wince ever time I see it. I quite like the new Beehive though – it's a bit kookie and I like that in a building.

A visitor September 18, 2003 at 8:02 pm

Waw, lluinau gret Suw. Dwi'n bystio i gael camera bach digidol rwan, wedi gweld un Olympus a ?200 a ma'n 4 (neu3!) megapixel. Not bad rili.

Dwinna'n meddwl fod y London 'Aye yn hyfryd. O'n i ddim yn meddwl baswn i ond ar ol bod am dro lawr y South Bank o fan'no, i'r Tate Modern a wedyn at Tower Bridge ar bnawn dydd Sul braf gychwyn yr haf o'n i'n converted. Ma'r Tate yn ffantastic ddo, rioed wedi bod i modern art gallery ym Mhrydain o'r blaen (does na'm llawer o gwmpas Dolgellau na Splott funnily enough er ma'r bus stops smashed yn Splott yn gelfyddyd yn eu hunain!).

Diolch am y pics, dwi am drio cael rhai ar fy blog i cyn bo hir, am newid i Moveable Type ar awgrymiad Nic. Trrra. Mynd i weld y GLC rwan (http://www.youknowsit.co.uk/) safe bra!


Suw September 19, 2003 at 9:40 am

Diolch Nwdls! Rhaid iti brynu'r Canon Ixus V3 (neu V4 os mae o ar gael) achos fod o'n ffantastig. 3.2 megapixels ac mae'n jyst bendigedig. A dydy o ddim yn gostus iawn.

Ti'n symud i MT? Dw i'm yn gwybod unrhywbeth am MT, ond dw i'n hoffi Blog-City – cwmni Prydeinig ydyn nhw, felly dw i'n teimlo tipyn bach yn patriotic yn cadw fy mlog yma. LOL.

A visitor June 3, 2004 at 1:17 pm

wow, it looks as if you had a lot of fun, ipasted a couple of your photos for my home work, they were really good thank you, from olivia age 11


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