“Let’s promise ourselves we won’t walk our feet off this time,” says Michael as we pack our cases. I happily agree, knowing we will blissfully abandon our promise as soon as we hit the city. It happens every time: Paris, Barcelona, Granada; every city looks small on the map, but turns out to be much larger in reality.
This time it’s London – and we have the added advantage of knowing it well from our thirty-five years plus living in the South East – so we know the short cuts; can judge when a taxi is a better bet; will be sensible about the journeys we attempt on foot. Well, maybe…
Getting off the train at Paddington, pausing to pay homage to a literary bear of the same name, we are momentarily overwhelmed by the huge numbers of people scurrying around. Then we remember the London way: head down, move at speed and stop for no-one. There is a slight hiatus while Michael pauses to apologise for running his case over someone’s toe, then we are off – striding through the concourse like we’ve never been away.
As the taxi drives down Edgware Road, we are reminded once more of the multicultural nature of our capital city. Exeter High Street it ain’t!
Later we stroll along the South Bank, taking in the sights: Living Statues; a Yoga aficionado screaming out his frustrations at passers-by who don’t pause to admire his contortions; a troupe of African gymnasts performing limbo and other tricks for an admiring crowd – which melts away as they pass around the hat; a bleak empty space under a roadway, reclaimed by youths with vibrant graffiti and echoing with the grating sound of skateboard wheels on concrete; an Indian company setting up for a film shoot; and Gabriel’s Wharf with tiny artisan shops and a cafe selling fish and chips – the first sign on native food among a plethora for pizza, sushi and fajitas.
We pause, lean on the balustrade and absorb the magnificent background to all these activities: Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye, the National Theatre, the Gherkin and the Cheese Grater; and dominating it all, the dome of St Paul’s – as iconic of London now as it must have been when Wren designed it more than three hundred years ago!
Elizabeth Ducie was a successful international manufacturing consultant, when she decided to give it all up and start telling lies for a living instead.
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