20 June, 2006

Glazed view

I managed to get down by the river this lunchtime, anxious to give my eyes something to look at that wasn't flickering twelve inches in front of my face.

Despite the best efforts of London's numerous tourist authorities and PR agencies, the Thames is really just as shit brown a colour as it has always been. The tide was coming in and as I watched from Charing Cross footbridge all sorts of flotsam, not to say jetsam, wound its way upstream. Bubblewrap, a doughnut, seaweed, pigeon feathers, a packet of biros and a giant plank of wood all passed in front of me in the space of a minute, bobbing nonchalently atop a murky soup of meandering grime.

On the bridge itself were arrayed an assortment of hawkers and chancers, including a bloke selling sunglasses "for five pounds a pop", someone playing a mournful saxophone, a man flogging those ubiquitous line drawings of famous people resembling cheaply-drawn caricatures of barely recognisable personalities, and someone else disconsolately playing a steel drum with one hand while eating a sandwich in the other.

He was attempting to play the chorus from 'Stand By Me', but getting every other note wrong. Still, some kind soul had given him 20p for his troubles, which was more than the saxophonist, ten times as talented, had picked up.

Tourists and gangs of schoolchildren roamed everywhere, as did businessmen in alarming pink shirts smoking cigarettes. A steady stream of joggers made their way along the riverbank, including one elderly gentleman in a hopelessly unflattering pair of tiny shorts.

An evil looking man in a suit fired me a withering glance when I happened to briefly get in his way. Two teenagers were holding an unlikely conversation about how musicals were wonderful and how "they should bring back Starlight Express". And lots of people munched through lots of processed foods discarding lots of packaging in their wake.

Of course all of this was going on against the backdrop of the yawning skyline, which for once wasn't covered in low cloud and threatened to look a little beautiful. A breeze helped to take the edge off the temperature, and there was even the trace of fresh air.

Maybe it was my relief at being properly out of the office and away from desks, chairs and computer screens which transformed this lunchtime stroll into more than the sum of its parts. Maybe it was the sound of the saxophone, de rigeur for establishing evocative city scapes. Whatever, it was a welcome interval in the drudgery of the day.

A shame about that doughnut, though.


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