This morning Jackie drove me to Southampton Parkway railway station where I boarded a train to Waterloo for lunch with Norman and late afternoon coffee with Carol. From Waterloo I walked along the Embankment to Westminster Bridge which I crossed, continuing into Birdcage Walk, and taking the route to Green Park underground station detailed on 25th September.
Passing The London Eye on the Embankment I thought of my trip on this modern landmark, erected to celebrate the second millennium. I gazed on it from Westminster Bridge, on which a bagpiper was in full flow.
Ten years ago, after a river trip celebrating Norman’s 70th birthday, Jessica and I took a flight on the Eye, for which numerous people were queueing today. It was a very cold, cloudless day in March, and the view, for those who could look at it, of the serpentine River Thames and its world-famous cityscape, would have been stupendous. It was with much trepidation that I bought the tickets along with more film for my camera so I could photograph the scene from a great height. This was one of my many unsuccessful attempts to cure my acrophobia. At that time I had not yet conquered my fear of flying either.
The Eye is a vast wheel on the circumference of which, at regular intervals, are fixed ovoid glass people-containers. This construction rotates excruciatingly slowly transporting passengers from ground level to the skies and back down the other side. I understand that most people subject themselves to this ‘flight’ for fun.
Entering the transparent pod in which I was to endure the next forty five minutes of my life, I made an immediate beeline for the central seat and remained there throughout the ordeal. So paralysed was I that I was unable even to load the camera, let alone look at the view. What made the experience even more terrifying was the two small children clambering on and swinging precariously from the handrail which circled the glass walls of the capsule. My brain simply computed an unprotected rail suspended in mid-air, from which they were bound to fall. As with all phobias, there was no point in applying logical thought to the situation. When perched at the very top of the wheel you are looking down on the Shell building, which is pretty tall itself, and it takes ten minutes even to start the descent. Not an experience I have any intention of repeating.
There was a film crew on Westminster Bridge, their equipment trained on a group of Japanese. The forceful wind tearing along the Thames was so strong as to blow a very slight young woman off balance and into my arms.
St. James’ Park was still full of tourists with their cameras. Squirrels were queueing up to have their photographs taken, especially if the photographers’ assistants held tasty morsels of food in their outstretched fingers. Later, I was to read in A.L.Rowse’s history of Elizabethan England that John Norden’s map of Westminster in his book ‘Middlesex’, published in the 1590s, contains illustrations of ‘deer leaping in’ this very park.
As I walked along Piccadilly I became aware that I was approaching the source of a repetitive chant which turned out to be a chorus of ‘Barclay Brothers, pay your taxes’ outside the side entrance of the Ritz, one of London’s most salubrious hotels. Presumably these two men, residents of Sark, are having a holiday in London and someone has got wind of it. They have been accused of forging a fortune and ferreting it away in offshore accounts to avoid paying their dues.
I took the Jubilee Line to Neasden and walked to Norman’s where I was fed on lamb shank followed by jam rolypoly accompanied by a very good red Bordeaux. Norman gave us a housewarming present of a dish made for him by Alvin Betteridge at Chandlers Ford in the late 1960s. Alvin turns out to be a friend of our friend Margery Clarke.
After this it was by tube to Carol’s, then to Waterloo where I caught a commuter train back to Southampton to be collected by Jackie. Looking around me on board this transport in which I had been fortunate to find a seat, I was relieved that my commuting years are over.
As I felt Jackie struggling to keep her steering level whilst being buffeted by winds on the M27 I had some idea of what that slender young woman on Westminster Bridge had been up against.