Find a bridge & get over it

When I arrived in London I was disappointed by the sky line. Brought up on a diet of American TV I surmised that every impressive city would have tall and imposing buildings, but I soon realised that London had only a handful of lonely skyscrapers. Individually the cloud busters didn’t stand up to much (the Canary Wharf building for example, is stuck way out on… the Canary Wharf. Centrepoint, though very central, is hardly very imposing at, yawn, 117 metres tall) so I resigned myself to the fact that however impressive London seemed both in finance & culturally it was much too flat and uninteresting. And I’m not alone. Research published by the London School of Economics argues that tall buildings are desperately needed, even if it’s for the much more secondary function of coping with a rapidly growing population.

However my opinion, like so many things in this great complex city, was quick to change. I had just moved south of the river into my first flat and after a big night drinking I was hurtling home in a Danger Cab. Now, most of my travel had been underground on the Tube so you will have to forgive my ignorance; I was yet to cross a bridge in London. Note: the accompanying soundtrack to this particular epiphany is an angelic choir of children possibly singing something by Handel. The minicab hurried onto Waterloo Bridge. The choir begins with gusto. There is little to prepare you for the panoramic feast of crossing the Thames for the first time, especially when drunk. Big Ben’s clock tower and the ominously Gothic Houses of Parliament loomed to my right, instantly recognizable yet somehow strange and alien, like a half remembered dream. St Paul’s Cathedral, a giddy 360 degree to my left, sat smugly with a halo of cranes surrounding its bald dome. An abnormally large Ferris Wheel lit up bright across the river seemed to churn the dark syrupy water. And my instant favourite, The Tate Modern Gallery, looked every bit the film extra from Metropolis.

And then, much too quickly, it was over.

I was so moved (and still quite drunk) that I actually asked my cabby if we could turn around and go back (he declined). Instead the blurry image of bright lights on black river traveled with me all the way home and through the next day, and the next. Indeed each time I crossed the river; over the London, Vauxhall or Tower Bridges, I was struck with my sense of place in the City, of its rich past and our mutual future. London was a place of Kings and Queens and water and stone and life.

As the saying goes, to pontificate about a view is like “dancing about architecture” so thankfully modern technology and the BBC are here to help me out. The Beeb have a nifty device that allows you stand, virtually, in the middle of the Millennium Bridge (Click here to launch it) and survey the scene yourself. That’s probably the best way to approach the Millennium Bridge, the newest link over the River Thames, infamous for being the worst designed (it was discovered on the day of its grand unveiling, that people walking across bridge caused it to swing side to side in a very unfriendly manner). Don’t be put off by the dark London sky either; however intimidating those grey clouds appear they will not rain on you.

So that taxi journey sold me on London and, not to overstate the point, is one of the reasons I’ve stayed. London may not have the climate of a Barcelona, the grand phallic skyline of say a New York or a Hong Kong but it won me over with it’s convergence of river and land, bridges acting like tiny stitches between North & South. As David Blain explained before he climbed into his Perspex box that just happened to be set on the bank of the Thames, the fact that he would have “no food, no sex, no phones, no books, no music, no television, no privacy and no other stimulus” did not perturb him. Well of course not David. Not with such a lovely view.

Written by Andrew Davies

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