Wednesday, July 4, 2018

XX-rated

Not many women today, it seemed. That's a comment, not necessarily a complaint: it's a fact of history (but, hopefully, not of the future). From lovely Luke in the breakfast room of the Holiday Inn Express in Wandsworth to the unusually silent young Uber guy who drove us home, there was scarcely a Y chromosome to be seen.

It was another warm, sunny day - after an astonishingly long sequence of them, with the end not yet in sight - and we decided to take a cruise with Thames River Services from Westminster Pier down past Greenwich and out through the Thames Barrier, and back again. The man doing the commentary - which he claimed was on his own initiative and not part of the service, though there was a recording on the boat we came back on. It was all about the tips, of course - was quite informative about all the splendid buildings we went past, and a number of more overlookable ones that had interesting stories. All of them were linked to famous men: Charles Dickens, Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake, Lord Nelson, Brunel, Captain Kidd (who was executed for piracy, hanged (twice - the rope broke) at Execution Dock, which we went past, and then gibbeted by the river, just for good measure), and the owner of some football club whose name I forget, who owns the ridiculously huge private boat blocking the views of a considerable number of riverside apartments.

There were many more men but only one woman mentioned, and she only because she gave birth to Thomas Jefferson. Never mind. Everything looked splendid: the bridges including of course Tower Bridge, the stately official buildings, the back of the Savoy, where I nearly got to stay this visit, St Paul's, the brick warehouses converted into apartments, the little old pubs, the shapely new buildings, the O2 arena with its spikes - and also its hole, because they found they'd built it over the ventilation shaft of the tube. How on earth does that happen? There was the Emirates' high and elegant new gondola over the river, which goes from nowhere to nowhere and isn't very busy apparently. There were several ships, like the Belfast, the Golden Hind replica, and the Cutty Sark at Greenwich, now floating in a sea of glass. The tide was low and there were sandy beaches that were, surprisingly, relatively free of plastic from a distance; though the water was brown and who knows what was going on beneath its surface.

We eventually got to the Barrier, one of which was up so we could see it and study its construction; and the commentary man claimed that it has saved London from floods hundreds of times since it was built. We circled slowly through it, hearing that the 22 miles of flood wall that extends downstream actually cost more than the barrier, and then chugged back upstream to Greenwich. There's lots to do there, but not much we hadn't already done, and it was well after lunchtime, so it seemed meet and right to go to the Trafalgar (passing a couple of Chelsea Pensioners in their long red coats and chestfuls of medals on the way) for a plate of English whitebait (nothing like the NZ variety). Even better than that was the discovery that they have Blue Moon on tap there! Yay! Though Boo, hiss to the guy next to me who ordered his as a shandy. Philistine.

Ubering in London's rush hour is interesting, especially when you get yelled at by a driver for not getting to the pick-up in time, despite having to walk three sides of the block to get to it; but his replacement was nice, declaring that driving a taxi is much less stressful than being a dry cleaner, as he used to be. And the day finished with a lovely domestic evening with one of the best Y chromosomes I know, plus a tortoise, so that was all good.

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