Wednesday, February 15, 2006

"On a return to Waterloo..."

Is there a finer vantage point in, and over, London than the dead-centre of Waterloo Bridge, as the sun slowly sets and the sky seeps through various shades of blue, grey, bluer then finally black, the only illumination from sparkling dots of tacky lights along the Charing Cross Pier or the twinkling crown of Canary Wharf, as stern black taxis rumble along behind - occasionally pausing a moment for a gleeful camera-toting to hop out, flash a few snaps, then bound back in and back home again, while more leisurely strollers lean over the edge into the middle distance and just absorb it all in, stretching east and west along the river, along both banks, amid wintry drizzle or summer's evening breezes, eyes peering over those scurring minutely over Hungerford Bridge, then eyes wide-opening over the awesome architecture dipping all the way from Westminster to Wapping, then eyes shuttering softly in calm contemplation...?

Well, I don't think there can be, anyway...

As a teenager, I used to spend an unusual number of school-break days simply arming myself with a good book, a camera and a one-day travelcard, and simply wandering around London for the duration... Catching the train from Finchley Central to Camden Town, as a rule, then pounding the pavements from there and then onwards.

Regents Park, St James's Park and Hyde Park would be the most regular haunts, allocating a certain amount of time - and number of almost-random photos - to each one, before bustling along the likes of Whitehall, Fleet Street, the London Wall, Cheapside (fairly mainstream and obvious locations all, I now realise, as I try to head a little more intriguingly off the beaten track), all the while dipping into oddball reference books such as Benedict le Vay's Eccentric London or another called London's Ghosts, all the better to try to summon up mysterious memories I can never really have known, spirits of shared city-zen-ship...

And while I would occasionally venture as far afield as, ooh, Richmond Hill, I always, but always homed back in on Cleopatra's Needle as dusk began to fell, trying to memories the inscriptions on all four sides, and taking turns with the canoodling couples to nab the best shore's-edge vantage point and simply ponder...

Then, a few steps around the twisting staircase up onto the bridge, and I would spend at least an hour, often much longer, simply pacing from one end to the other, from one side to the next, guilelessly marvelling at this London, this sophistication and this simplicity, and somehow, just now, just here, no other care mattered...

Of course, it could never last. Neither the night nor the feeling. The too-chill wind of approaching midnight, approaching maturity, tends to start sweeping such blithely-for-the-moment moments away pretty sharpish...

But, but, but... Like Proust chomping on his tea-dipped cake (Pseuds Corner here I come...), I was there again suddenly, briefly, last night - both on the bridge, and back in time - while harrying, hurrying across on the way to wine and cheese off the Embankment, hastily-bought bunch of tulips in hand, and tightened tie, collar and suit where baggy jeans and Modern Life Is Rubbish sweatshirt used to be - and, despite running behind time, had to stop and simply stare.

And, gently, joyously, lose all thoughts all together - for just a few easy minutes, anyway, before snapping back into action and life and the crowd once more...


Oh, as long as I gaze on...

1 comment:

Rachel said...

That's my favourite view. I used ot walk over Blackfriars bridge to work. Bloody cold wind though.