Posts Tagged ‘Bucket Lists’

I don’t have an official bucket list, do you? I have a few items that would be on such a list, should I choose to write one, but the trouble with lists is:

a) They get lost.

b) There is pressure to tick things off.

c) You feel obliged to keep adding to them.

There was something I’d wanted to do for ages, and had never got around to organising which, I’m pleased to report, is now mentally ticked off that imaginary list: a trip, by boat down the river Thames, as far as the Thames Flood Barrier.

I mentioned this to a friend who was keen to join me in spite of having to dose herself with sea-sickness pills beforehand.

So it was that recently one morning, we were standing on a bracing Festival Pier, waiting for our launch and feeling like tourists. We even had our cameras. Festival Pier is adjacent to the South Bank Centre  which includes the Hayward Gallery and Festival Hall, opened in 1951 for the Festival of Britain. The whole complex has been tagged the ugliest set of buildings in London, which I think is a bit harsh. Over time they have become part of our capital’s ever changing landscape and represent a particular style of post war modern architecture.

Once on the water, the boat’s captain kept up an entertaining and opinionated running commentary of the sites as we sailed by.

The first thing I learned was that there is no advertising of any description allowed along the Thames. I’d never thought about this before, but imagine how awful the riverside would look if it was covered with advertising hoardings. However, one ingenious company managed to get around this law. (There’s always one, isn’t there?).  Around 1928, the Oxo Company took over a building originally built as a power station for the Post Office and rebuilt it in art deco style, for use as a cold store. A tower was constructed with four sets of three vertically-aligned windows, in the shapes of a circle, a cross and a circle. Co-incidence? I don’t think so.

London skyline , Oxo Tower  to the right

London skyline , Oxo Tower to the right

Now called the Oxo Tower, the building houses galleries, shops and a restaurant (which does have fabulous views if you manage to book well ahead and get a window or balcony table but don’t expect fabulous food – admittedly it was a few years ago that we had lunch there but found it disappointingly underwhelming).

As we sailed eastwards down the Thames we passed places that I’d never viewed from the water; Somerset House, Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe. This reconstruction of the original theatre was founded by film director Sam Wanamaker. The guided tours on offer there are well worth taking, as are the plays which are performed during the summertime only, due to the open roof. You need stamina for these, too – seats are as the originals (hard), or you may stand (for up to four hours) in the audience pit, where you’ll get an authentic Shakespearean experience.

Just beyond the Tower of London, (London’s busiest tourist attraction),

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge with The Shard, London’s newest landmark in the distance

we had to change boats at St Katharine’s Dock which gave us time to admire Tower Bridge.

These boats do have a schedule, but like all transport in London, timetables are open to interpretation. As we stood on the swaying pontoon for longer than necessary I was conscious that my friend’s seasickness pills might be wearing off but she remained stoic as we boarded our next craft which took us past all the old docks (now renovated into expensive apartments), down to Greenwich where we were able to get back on land, walk past the newly restored Cutty Sark and refuel with caffeine (me) and mineral water (friend).

Equilibrium restored, we boarded the next boat eastwards which took us past the shimmering skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, London’s new business centre and the O2 Arena (formerly the Millennium Dome). There was no commentary on this boat and our journey was eerily quiet. On both banks are vast areas of old dockland in various stages of redevelopment although no sign of life is apparent.

The Thames Barrier

The Thames Barrier

The Thames Barrier looms out of the water like a pod of majestic synchronised whales. Finished in 1982 as London’s principal defence against flood tides it has only been needed once so far (in 1983 – so that was well timed). The boat trip turns around here, giving all passengers a good opportunity to view the Barrier. There is a visitor’s centre but strangely, this has to be accessed from terra firma. I can’t help thinking that their marketing strategy needs an overhaul.

We returned to Greenwich where there are two other places which should be on my bucket list: The aforementioned Cutty Sark and the Royal Observatory: but they will have to wait. With the weather closing in on us, we decided to take the Docklands Light Railway back to Waterloo. This was another first for me, the route taking in Canary Wharf. This is the hub of London’s banking empires where deals are won and lost, where people spend all their working days in boardroom meetings or, by the looks of it, enjoying corporate lunches. The place oozes perceived wealth; it is pristine with avenues of perfectly trimmed trees in pots; restaurants, cafes and bistros shelter beneath towering structures of steel and glass alongside man-made canals.

Canary Wharf

Canary Wharf

Here we had to change trains, and as we walked to the underground station my friend said, “Can you smell that?”

“What?” I asked.

“Money,” she replied.

The whole place is like a scene from a computer game; the people there are the players. I’m glad I’ve seen it but it’s not my London. My London is a mish-mash of old and new buildings, a little worn around the edges, a little grubby, if I’m honest. There’s a smell to my London and I was relieved to sniff its reassuring aroma when we emerged from the tube station at Waterloo.

What would be on your bucket list?

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