A most wordy man, from near the A-von
With style and flair, he was so Write On
His phrases that move
Your life to improve
Well done Will, let the music play on
William Shakespeare, Bard of Avon (died 23 April 1616)
A most wordy man, from near the A-von
With style and flair, he was so Write On
His phrases that move
Your life to improve
Well done Will, let the music play on
William Shakespeare, Bard of Avon (died 23 April 1616)
He was the Happy Prince, from Westland Row
A writer of words, that continue to glow
From Earnest to Gray
To another great play
No better person, to put on a fine show
A man of Importance, and wonderful wit
The Ideal partner, with whom to sit
Of art a Fan
What a clever man
His piece on the Husband, a joyous skit
From the peak of success, to a soulless Gaol
His spirits burned bright, they did not fail
With absinthe of hate
He beat the dire fate
In De Profundis he penned, a heartfelt tale
After years in Reading, to beaux France exiled
Where on his last work, he painfully toiled
‘Dying beyond my means’
One clearly gleans
A star to the end, the one-and-only Oscar Wilde
This is my poetic, birthday tribute to Oscar Wilde who was born at 21 Westland Row, Dublin on 16th October 1854.
In celebrating George Bernard Shaw’s (164th) birthday (b. Dublin 26th July 1856) I’ve penned this limerick in his honour.
The great man’s plays, often led to guffaw
On social criticism, with a dodgy in-law
With such clever wit
His words so well fit
Oh what a man, was George Bernard Shaw
Doolittle and Barbara, he did draw
And Pygmalion too, without a flaw
You Never Can Tell
How he casts a spell
Oh what a man, was George Bernard Shaw
He held the Oscar, tight in his claw
And Nobel Prize, with a smiling jaw
A king of the stage
His work’s all the rage
Oh what a man, was George Bernard Shaw
Don Cameron 2020
As I neared Holyhead the weather improved. Soft, white clouds that had been travelling with me for the previous couple of hours silently disappeared, leaving a brilliant, blue sky. The sunlight reflected off the chrome of oncoming traffic making me squint and smile at the same time. It was a glorious day and a great start to my summer holidays.
Driving down to the sea the reception on the car radio was sporadic, and picking up RTE was a real hit and miss affair. Not having listened in since Christmas I was eagerly looking forward to it, when Larry Gogan’s dulcet tones suddenly filled the car. As I drove slowly around a steep bend he said ‘And now Mary, what is a gelding?’ There was a momentary pause as the Just a Minute Quiz contestant gathered herself, and answered. ‘It’s a horse with no pe..’ she answered, as the radio reception disappeared into a haze of loud, electronic crackling. I had to grin, and thought ‘Yes, almost home’.
Holyhead, never the most attractive of towns, was looking fine, bathed as it was in the strong sunshine. Flowerpots overflowed with blooming plants and freshly painted railings stood out against grey walls. Lines of paintings hung from the railings where artists and enquiring tourists chatted and haggled over prices.
The ‘art fair’ was a pretty addition to the town’s image and, although there were not as much on show as could be seen on a Sunday morning at Merrion Square, it was busy and drawing keen attention.
The town was alive, with tourists dressed in brightly coloured clothes, strolling easily.
There was a fair amount of sunburnt skin on view, indicating the glorious weather that had been hanging around North Wales for the last few days. There had been no such sunshine in smoky, old London which had, as usual, managed to act like a sweat box making travel on the underground unpleasant, while the sun fought hopelessly to escape from behind a thick covering of greyness. No sunburn there, just frayed nerves and short tempers.
I drove slowly towards the docks, passing the Cead Mile Failte pub on my left, outside of which a small crowd of happy revellers were enjoying a ‘last drink’ before boarding the ferry. One man was playing a guitar, another was tooting on a tin whistle, while the others around the table sang, and cheered when I honked my horn. ‘Nice one,’ I heard somebody shout in a familiar accent, as I slowed and waved over.
A couple of hundred yards further on I joined the end of a long, crawling queue that was working its way towards the magnificent ferry that awaited. ‘Here we go,’ I thought and rolled the window down.
Living in North London I hadn’t been to the coast in months, and when I closed my eyes I soon imagined walking on the quiet expanse of the strand at Brittas Bay where the fresh air could purge even the most blocked and needy spirit.
A friend at home had rented a small house there for a month and he had invited me to stay over for a few days. I was looking forward to spending some time there as it would be a perfect way of relaxing and unwinding from the stress of living in crowded London. Also, taking a walk on the East Pier in Dun Laoghaire was always therapeutic and an absolute must for all returnees. I would do that with Mum and Aunt Liz, that would be fun and, of course, there were always calorie-laden ice creams to consume.
This was going to be my first visit home on holidays since my dad had passed away, and I felt that it was going to painful. He had been one of three fatalities when, out of the blue, a drunk driver crashed his skidding car into a bus shelter. It happened so quickly that there was no chance for any of the victims, who were all killed immediately. It was a tiny crumb of comfort that he had not suffered, but beyond that it meant little to any family members. Anyway, my mother, although hurt beyond words managed, as I knew she would, and when her sister, Liz, moved back to Dublin to be with my mother and I could hear the improvement in her voice when we spoke on the telephone.
This was great news, and now I was looking to seeing both her and Aunt Liz, whose farm in Roscommon I had often visited on school holidays. Playing there was always a novelty and my young imagination was let loose as I chased Indians, rounded up stray cattle and built campfires where I sat at the end of a tough day with John and Peter, two local boys who had joined my crew as we drove herds of cattle to the great, dusty market in Abilene. They were wonderful days and thinking about them brought a smile.
I was lost in daydreaming about another roundup when the sharp blast of the following car’s horn made me sit up and hurriedly join the now slow moving line of cars.
The new ferry seemed a mile high and was truly impressive. I’d heard about it from friends who had been on it recently, but I was taken aback when I was up close. The thought occurred that Noah would have got some serious amount of animals on board if he’d had the chance, and boy where would we be now. Interesting….and already I liked the idea of travelling on this new star of the sea. The ferry swallowed the seemingly endless amount of cars and trucks like a giant, gorging whale as I parked and made my way upstairs and joined the growing crowd of travellers.
The smell of fresh paint and newness was strong and the main area was as hectic and noisy as Moore Street on Christmas Eve. The place was bright and airy, the floors spotless, unlike those on many of the old ferries when I first travelled across the Irish Sea.
Children screamed at each other and their parents, as they dashed about like headless chickens, dodging baggage and jumping on seats. At least they had seats to sit on I thought, as I tried to find a place that was relatively quiet.
I travelled the length of the ferry and marvelled at the amount of people aboard, and the shops and restaurants that were doing business. I passed a cinema that was showing the latest summer blockbuster, and I thought that maybe I’ll come back later and watch it. Must get a seat, I told myself again, and spotted one against a far wall. I flopped down heavily, put my head back and sighed in relief. ‘Almost there,’ I said quietly and closed my eyes.
I drifted off to the rhythm of the ferry and seemed to have dozed for ages before a familiar voice made me open my eyes.
‘Howya, Chris,’ said a grinning Paul Kavanagh, a friend who I used to play football with in Dublin. I had almost slipped off the seat and was only stopped from hitting the floor by my knee wedging itself against my neighbour’s haversack. I straightened up and shook hands while he crouched down and started to chatter at a mile a minute as only Paul could. ‘Knackered, eh?’
‘You’re not joking,’ I replied, rubbing my eyes before running my fingers through my hair in the faint hope of waking up. I yawned, loudly. ‘No offence, Paul, I just needed 40 winks. You know yourself’.
‘More like 140,’ he laughed, as did the others sitting around me.
‘Jeez, I thought he was dead,’ sniggered a big bloke as he elbowed his friend. ‘Hey, your man’s actually alive,’ he added, sending his friend in to a fit of giggles.
‘Yeah, and at least he’s stopped bloody snoring,’ chirped somebody else as Paul suggested a pint.
‘It’s a miracle,’ the big bloke added, as he cracked open a can and passed it to his friend.
The bar was packed and difficult to stand at as the ferry moved up and down in the uneven sea. We also moved from side to side while people staggered about with great difficulty. The only person making easy progress was a guy who was obviously drunk and unconcerned with the staccato movement of the ferry. He moved freely while those around him clung onto banisters and tables in a desperate effort to remain upright.
They say that every cloud has a silver lining, and here in the middle of the Irish Sea, I was witnessing one, as homo drunkus moved with ease in a straight line from his seat to the toilets. It was a stunning insight, and made me think of astronauts careening about on the space station – and they were sober!
‘Welcome home…nearly,’ said Paul, handing me a pint. ‘And here’s to both of us having a good time.’
‘Absolutely…and it’s really good to see you, Kav. Slainte,’ I said, and we hooked our elbows onto the bar and hung on. Drinking on a rolling ferry was not for the faint hearted, and we had to try and anticipate each rise and fall of the ferry and before taking a sip. It led to some funny moments, but it did the trick as it took our minds off the rest of journey that passed quickly.
We discussed holidays and Dublin’s chances in the All-Ireland championship before swapping phone numbers. Without realising it we found out about mutual friends back in London, and we arranged to meet up for a few less buoyant beers in the Princess Louise pub in Holborn, a pub we both knew and which was close to where we worked. Things were looking good, and we were now only 30 minutes from home.
I went out on deck and the stiff breeze was invigorating. The loud cawing of dozens of seagulls overhead made me look up as they swooped and played in the clear air. They looked and sounded like they were having fun, maybe even welcoming me home, and I hoped that some of their excitement would be coming my way.
As we approached the coast the waves lessened, and the spray was refreshing after the stuffy atmosphere of the bar.
A few lungfuls of fresh air made me feel light-headed, but it was a million times better than being just another poor, sweaty commuter on the hot and fetid underground.
I made my way to the front of the ferry, gripped the railings and enjoyed its rise and fall. ‘Dublin, you’re looking good,’ I said into the breeze, where only the seagulls heard my words. The twin towers at the Poolbeg Power Station, with their red and white painted hoops, were getting bigger and clearer with every forward movement of the ferry. To the left, a fleet of small yachts off Dun Laoghaire harbour, their sails flickering in the sunshine, were enjoying a perfect day for racing. Beyond the city I could see the Dublin Mountains, their outline a jagged edge against the blue canvas of the western sky.
I stayed where I was for a few minutes, smiling as the salty air tugged at my shirt and tickled my nose. Now, only the sound of a flapping flag intruded, and I closed my eyes in blissful anticipation and said once more ‘Yes, almost home.’
It started off as nothing more than a spin around South London, but by the time we were finished it seemed as though we had been on a pilgrimage. The heavy, slow-moving traffic didn’t intrude, giving us more time to talk about our musical hero whose untimely death had left his millions of fans stunned and heartbroken. David Bowie may have gone to the great gig in the sky and, as we sang along to yet another of his songs, it was with a mixture of pleasure and pain that was both equally uplifting and sad.
The day was bright and cold and it was my first time in London since Bowie’s passing. My cousin, who lives in Dulwich, had sketched out a route that would take us to some of Bowie’s haunts from his early years. It was a plan that would allow us time to listen to his music and discuss his unique cultural contribution. We had often done this, usually late into the night, but with the great man’s passing it seemed more like a duty and something we just had to do. As he started the car and we moved off he clicked on the music player and the sound of Station To Station. ‘You drive like a demon,’ I said, getting the first laugh of a memorable day.
David Jones was born on 8th January 1947 at 40 Stansfield Road in Brixton where he lived until he was seven when his family moved to Bromley. He went to a local junior school before arriving at Bromley Technical High School for Boys (now Ravens Wood School) in 1958. And it was her under the guidance of teacher Owen Frampton, the Head of the Art Department and father of guitarist Peter, that Bowie’s creative side began. He was a superb dancer and played saxophone with Peter Frampton in a school band called The Little Ravens.
And it was here in 1962 that he received a punch in the eye from his friend George Underwood, that left him with a frozen pupil. Bowie had taken George’s girlfriend Carol and the unfortunate result gave Bowie a unique look that fitted perfectly with his soon-to-be-famous image. George went on to become very successful in the art trade and was involved in designing the album covers for Hunky Dory and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. My cousin turned up the volume on John, I’m Only Dancing as we passed the old school where rock legends once learned to play.
After leaving school Bowie worked for a time as a commercial artist and continued his musical journey by playing in different bands. One was a group from Margate and they performed as Davy Jones & the Lower Third, but he left after recording a few singles that failed to make an impression. Later he made the first of the many changes that he became famous for when he dropped Jones for Bowie. This was because another Davy Jones, from Manchester, was becoming famous as the lead singer with The Monkess and Bowie did not want to be confused with him.
Soon we were near Beckenham where Bowie moved to after he left school. And that was when we had to stop because of major roadworks. I would normally be unhappy at sitting in traffic but now was fine as we listened to, in particular order that I remember, Space Oddity, Let’s Dance, The Jean Genie, Suffragette City, Life on Mars, Oh! You Pretty Things, Changes, Starman, Rock n’ Roll Suicide, Rebel Rebel and Diamond Dogs. ‘It’s a magnificent collection of songs,’ I commented, realising that there so many more to follow.
‘I’ve always loved Queen Bitch,’ my cousin said ‘Mick Ronson’s guitar playing was a thing of beauty.’
And who was I to argue!
In October 1969 Bowie moved into Haddon Hall on Southend Road. He lived in the ground floor apartment and painted the ceiling silver to remind him of the night sky. He married Angie Barnett on the 19th March and the large house (now sadly demolished) soon became home to his band The Spiders from Mars. Bowie loved parties and over the next three years while they lived there it was one of the most popular ‘party houses’ in London. And it was here that most of the Ziggy Stardust music was first heard before it was taken into the recording studio.
Close by is The Three Tuns pub on Beckenham High Street where he had played his first gigs in 1969, and there is a red plaque on the front of the building (it is now a Zizzi restaurant) in his honour. ‘And, a lady called Suzi Fussey, who worked in a hairdressers across the road from the pub, gave him the haircut that was associated with all things Ziggy Stardust,’ my cousin added, slowing the car before briefly heading off to Brixton and the end of our trip.
We walked to the memorial on Tunstall Road, opposite Brixton Underground Station, where a small group of Spanish fans were taking photographs. I took their camera and happily snapped off a few photographs before taking my own shots. The memorial was a spontaneous reaction to Bowie’s death and the local council has now protected the painting and comments behind a sheet of heavy, clear plastic. It works, and as my cousin and I stood there in quiet contemplation one of the Spaniards turned up the sound on his mini player and we smiled and sang together, each one of us knowing that as long as we believe ‘We can be heroes, just for one day’.
Lavery was born in Belfast on 20th March 1856. His father was an unsuccessful publican who was drowned when his son was only three years old; and not too long afterwards he also lost his mother. Orphaned at such an early age he was raised on a farm north of the city by an uncle, until he was ten years old when he travelled to Scotland where he was cared for by other relatives.
He went to the Haldane Academy in Glasgow and was later apprenticed to a photographer/painter where his love of art was fired. From this time on it was his singular ambition to become a painter and he studied at the Glasgow School of Art. By the time he was twenty-three he had set-up as an independent artist. In 1879, in order to improve his technique and find out what was going on in the art world, he went to London where he studied at Heatherley’s School of Art for six months.
Hungry for knowledge he travelled to Paris in 1881, where he studied drawing and fine art at the Academie Julian. In 1883, he visited the artists’ colony of Grez-sur-Loing (which is about 70km south of Paris) and got to know the Irish artist Frank O’Meara, who was from Carlow, and the French painter Jules Bastien-Lepage, both of whom influenced his painting style. Among the many artists that he met there were the American painter John Singer Sergeant, writers Robert Louis Stevenson and August Strindberg and the English composer Frederick Delius.
While at the artists’ colony he became absorbed with landscape painting in the open air (en plein-air), which was very much in fashion due to the influence and growing interest in Impressionism. It was the ‘in thing’ and Lavery wanted to know all about it. His painting The Bridge at Grez (sold by Christie’s in 1998 for £1.3m) clearly shows how he had taken on board the influences that surrounded him. Later in the year he exhibited his first French landscape, Les Deux Pecheurs.
O’Meara’s grandfather, Barry Edward O’Meara, was a surgeon in the Royal Navy and sailed on board the HMS Northumberland with Napoleon Bonaparte, as his physician on St Helena. Later he wrote about his experience in Napoleon in Exile, or A Voice From St. Helena (1822). Among the mementoes that O’Meara brought back from St Helena is Napoleon’s toothbrush with N stamped on its silver handle. He gave it to O’Meara, and years later it made its way to the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland on Kildare Street.
In 1885 Lavery he returned to Scotland and became one of the leading lights in the Glasgow Boys group of painters that included, among others, James Guthrie, James Paterson, and David Gauld. These painters were at the forefront of introducing modern art into Scotland, and many often painted outdoors, preferring the immediacy of the light and atmosphere to the sterility of the studio. The following year brought him his first significant recognition when his painting The Tennis Party (1885) was shown at the Royal Academy, London where it was widely admired and later purchased by the great German gallery Neue Pinakothek in Munich.
In 1888 he won the commission to paint Queen Victoria’s State Visit to the Glasgow International Exhibition. He was subsequently granted a sitting by the Queen and from then on his position as a much sought-after painter was assured. After that he could afford to move to London where he set-up his studio in Cromwell Road, Kensington. His portraits of the rich and famous made him a wealthy and busy man, and one who liked to travel. This lust for new places took him across Europe where his works featured in exhibitions in Paris, Berlin and Rome. His paintings were popular on the Continent, so much so that two of them, Father & Daughter and Spring, were acquired by the Louvre. Also, he was given the rare honour of having a one-man show at the Venice Biennale of 1910. And for a time he had a studio in Tangiers where he liked to paint outdoors in the brilliant light.
Lavery was first married to Kathleen MacDermott in 1889, but she tragically died of tuberculosis in 1891 after the birth of their daughter Eileen (later Lady Sempill 1890-1935). In 1904, while on holidays in Brittany, Lavery first met Hazel Martyn who was then engaged to a Canadian doctor, Edward Trudeau, who died five months after their marriage. Lavery met Hazel again, and in 1909 he married the beautiful Irish-American who was almost thirty years his junior. They had a step-daughter, Alice Trudeau. During the First World War he, like William Orpen (from Stillorgan, Dublin) was appointed as a war artist by the British Government and he was knighted in 1918, with Hazel becoming Lady Lavery.
They lived at 5 Cromwell Place, South Kensington, a palatial residence where they entertained the great-and-the-good of British society, with Winston Churchill, Hilaire Belloc, George Bernard Shaw, Lytton Strachey and WB Yeats being regular guests. With her undoubted beauty and poise Hazel was known as the foremost hostess in London. During the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations the Laverys lent their home to the Irish delegation who they often met. To this day there are rumours of an affair between Hazel and Michael Collins but these remain unproven.
Due to his assistance and hospitality during the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations the Irish Free State, in 1928, commissioned Lavery to design the artwork for the new banknotes. He painted Hazel as Caithlin ni Houlihan, the female personification of Ireland, and her image was on all notes issued until 1977.
Lavery eventually returned to Ireland and lived in Rossenarra House, Kilmoganny, Co. Kilkenny where he died on 10 January 1941, aged 84. He was later interred in Putney Vale Cemetery, London where Hazel had been buried six years earlier.
Jonathan Swift, considered one of the greatest of all satirists, and whose literary legacy is still vital, was born on 30th November 1667 at 9 Hoey’s Court (beside St Werburgh’s Church, Dublin) in the home of his uncle Godwin Swift. His father, Jonathan, had died when his wife Abigail was only two months pregnant, and the infant was raised in his uncle’s household.
After schooling in Kilkenny College he entered Trinity College and graduated with a BA in 1686. One of his friends there was William Congrieve who was writing satire and it impressed the young Swift. One of Swift’s many quotes shows his clear and acerbic observation:
Satire is a sort of glass, where beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own.
After college he went to London and worked as Secretary to Sir William Temple, a high-ranking diplomat. As part of his work he often met King William III who visited Temple seeking his advice. It was a meteoric rise for the young man who wanted more. And it was there that he met Esther Johnson ‘Stella’ with whom he was friendly until her death, in Dublin. Although there has been much conjecture about their relationship there is no proof of marriage. She is, however, buried beside him although in St Patrick’s Cathedral.
After no significant advancement he left Temple and became a Church of Ireland priest in 1694. And after an initial, unhappy posting to a parish near Carrickfergus he returned to Temple, until he died in 1699. He then moved to London and secured a similar position with Robert Harley, the Lord Treasurer. And, he also met some of the country’s greatest writers, including, Alexander Pope, John Gay and John Arbuthnot, Queen Anne’s physician. Together they formed the Scriblerus Club where they and other like-minded men discussed the issues of the day.
In 1704 his first book A Tale of a Tub was published and it got a hostile reception, especially from the Queen. The satire highlighted corruption in churches and schools and it had a negative effect on his future advancement in the Church. And in 1713, after petitioning for years, he accepted the offer to be Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, something that was way down on his list. But there he had time to write and that is what he did with the greatest distinction, not only for its sharpness but for the passion he brought to it. His take on writing is as resonant today as it was then:
The proper words in the proper places are the true definition of style.
During his early years as Dean he wrote and published many pamphlets anonymously (so as to avoid retribution), that addressed various social issues. His Drapier’s Letters (1724-25) tackled the planned imposition of privately minted copper coinage. Swift saw that this would devalue the local economy and it was just another injustice being piled on Ireland. The plan was soon withdrawn and Swift’s contribution quietly acknowledged. Other works in this style are his Modest Proposal, that suggests the poor Irish should, to improve their economic situation, sell their children as food to the rich, and the wonderfully titled An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity. In 1726 his Gulliver’s Travels, another satire that is still popular and relevant, was published to great acclaim.
Now approaching his sixties the vertigo that had plagued him for years became more pronounced and it had a most debilitating effect. It was discovered, almost a century after his death, by the renowned Dublin physician Sir William Wilde (Oscar’s father) that Swift had suffered from Meniere’s disease that was not diagnosed during his life time.
In 1742 when GF Handel planned to have the debut of Messiah performed in Dublin he went to speak with Swift about hiring some of his singers. Handel, who had already acquired the services of singers from Christ Church Cathedral, found Swift obstructive. He did not like the idea of such sacred music being played in a music hall but, thankfully, he relented and agreed to let the King’s Composer have his wish. He attended the performance and enjoyed it immensely. By now he was in great distress, his black future having finally arrived. Later that year he was committed to a home, and one visitor who knew him well was upset to note that ‘the man of words had not spoken one word for a year’. In his will he left £12,000 (over £3m today) for the building of a hospital for those with mental health issues. As he observed:
Power is no blessing in itself, except when it is used to protect the innocent.
And that hospital, St Patrick’s, still continues his altruistic legacy in offering assistance to those in need. He died on the 19th October 1745, a few weeks short of his 78th birthday, and is buried in his beloved St Patrick’s Cathedral.
A few days ago I was delighted to be a guest on The History Show on Limerick City Community Radio, hosted by John O’Carroll. The two subjects who I talked about were:
Both of these men made immense and unique contributions to Ireland that we still enjoy and, no doubt, will the generations to follow.
‘Are we there yet?’ cried a voice for the umpteenth time, kicking off another out of laughter.
This was the fun memory of our journey from the hotel to the church in an old, London bus that, at times, seemed to be about to give up the ghost. It was a close run thing that made the swing through north Wicklow memorable, if not a little nervy.
‘All aboard,’ called the conductor when the last passenger climbed on and took a seat. The atmosphere was akin to that of going on a school outing and there was much joking about Back To The Future comments. Or was it Back To The Past?
We set off for St Patrick’s Church and after a short drive we arrived, only to find out that we were at the wrong St Patrick’s Church. This was one time when our patron saint’s fame wasn’t helping matters. Confusion reigned until our true destination was established and we headed off, again. And now that we were on ‘the right road’ the noise levels increased as we went down the motorway, where cars sounded their horns as they passed. Seeing a red London bus is a novelty at the best of times, but one with stuffed with weddinggoers on the road was a rare sight.
The old bus twisted and turned as it made its made along the winding road into Enniskerry where the fun was about to begin.
‘Are we there yet?’ shouted someone and a chorus of imitators followed.
We were already late and furious phone calls went back and forth relaying our position. Our expected time of arrival, however, wasn’t quite so certain.
The bus drove into Enniskerry drawing much attention from onlookers. The journey up to that point had been mostly on the flat and, as the bus began its climb up the hill that it had to take, a silence descended on the passengers. The hill is incredibly steep and as the bus moved forward we were all holding our breath. The sound of the gears grinding as the driver switched was painful, and outside I could see onlookers shaking their heads. It was a nervy few minutes but finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we crested the hill and a roar of relief filled the bus.
The rest of the journey was uneventful, and if the Beatles had their Magical Mystery Tour then we certainly had ours. It had been an unforgettable experience and ‘Get me to the church…sometime,’ was about right!
Thankfully the weather forecaster had got it right and the day was bright and sunny as my cousin and I walked towards Blackfriars Bridge. It was early afternoon and the breeze blowing down the Thames was warm and steady. London in early summer, especially along the river, can be very pleasant and I knew that I had timed my visit just right.
I was in London for a few days and one of the things that I wanted to do was visit the recently opened Tate Modern Extension on the South Bank. There had been much in the news about it and, after a look around some of the exhibitions on the lower floors, we took the lift to the top of the building from where the views were fantastic. The outdoor gallery that surrounds the top floor offers unique views across the city, with those looking at the City and the Thames favourites with snappers. I took a few photographs, stepped back and panned from the London Eye, the Palace of Westminster to St Paul’s Cathedral and the sparkling skyscrapers to the east. They were enticing and we agreed it was time to get walking again.
The Millennium Bridge that looks directly across the river to St Paul’s Cathedral was once known as the ‘bouncy bridge’. On the day of its opening the bridge started to move about as people crossed it, and it had to be, rather embarrassingly, closed. After much head scratching and technical work giant dampers were added, and now the bridge is steady and a great place to view the river from.
St Paul’s is impressive, and I wondered how magnificent it must have appeared when it was completed in 1697, a little over thirty years since its predecessor had been consumed in the Great Fire of London. It is Sir Christopher Wren’s greatest achievement, and now more than three centuries later and surrounded by taller buildings it still casts a shadow of classic permanence.
We headed east along the wonderfully named Cheapside, onto Poultry, where the buildings really began to climb into the clouds. This was The City, the driver of so much of the British economy, where skyscrapers owned by international corporations sparkled in the afternoon sunshine. ‘That’s the Cheesegrater,’ my cousin said ‘and that, of course, is the Gherkin,’ he added pointing at the magically shaped, green-glassed tower. I clicked off a few shots, straining my neck as I tried to frame the uniquely shaped building that made me smile.
‘And this is the Walkie-Talkie,’ he commented as we stood below the curving, five-hundred foot tall wall of glass. My neck was hurting now, but gazing up at what looked like a gigantic, frozen wave I wondered what Wren would have thought. No doubt he would have been impressed with the design and construction, but as to whether the glass on view will be in place in three hundred years is, I suspect, unlikely. This does not take from the beauty of the building that is appreciated from both close-up and the other side of the river where the tallest of all the skyscrapers, the Shard, looks down. The ninety-five storey giant climbs to 1,016 feet making it the tallest building in the UK and the fourth tallest in Europe. There is a 360 degree viewing gallery on Level 69 where, on a clear day, the viewer can see up to 40 miles. That is definitely on my ‘To do’ list.
The skyscrapers are a barometer of economic activity of London, and their humorous nicknames (soon they will be joined by the Scalpel and the Stanley Knife!) makes them engaging and less threatening than tall buildings are often viewed. All in all, these peaks in the veritable range of glass mountains, gave the place a fantasy feel as they sparkled and shimmered in the sunshine.