Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Brr 2: A walk through snowy London

I know this blog is supposed to be about India, but I had such a great walk through London on Sunday morning that I couldn't not share it. And since my readers in India now outnumber my readers in the UK by quite some way, I figure there may be at least some interest.

I have jetlag to thank for the experience, since my body woke me up just before 6 am convinced that I had overslept into the middle of the day. And found that London was waking up to a fairly heavy (for London) snowfall. Since I was staying near the centre of the city, and since sleep obviously wasn't happening again for a while, I grabbed my camera and headed outside.

Why does snow excite us so much? Many of our most profound experiences of beauty are tied up with impermanence, and snow is just one example. But it's also unique in that it goes beyond the visual. The muffling of the world into a near-silence, punctuated only by crunching footsteps; the raw feeling of the cold; the sharp smell in the air, the pinching taste of snowflakes on the tongue: our whole sensory world participates in a fleeting transformation. Maybe in countries like Canada or Finland, where it's an everyday occurrence, snow is more prosaic. But for those of us for whom it's a relatively rare phenomenon it has a unique power to make us fascinated and enthralled by the world. It's like being a child again. I love it.

I started off at the Tower of London, still emerging from the last of the night, its filled moat affording some of the few stretches of snow in the city that had survived the night undisturbed by footprints.

As the light grew, I headed down to London Bridge, where I came across this chap busily building a snow arch on the side of the bridge with his bare hands. As I watched, the arch collapsed. Undeterred, he set about building it again. He was still at it, blowing intermittently on his frozen hands, when I left. I admired his determination, if I was a bit puzzled at his motivation.

On the other side of the bridge, a line of buoys nestled under the shadow of Tower Bridge and HMS Belfast, topped with snow with one mysterious exception. They reminded me of a procession of ducklings.

Next to the bridge was a small car park. One of the things I love about snow is the way it can transform the most mundane things. The movement of a car is temporarily recorded as a series of swooping ribbons on the ground...

...while a little further on, a flight of steps down to the river magically becomes the keys of a piano.

Under London Bridge itself there is a secret place. You can walk down under the walkways (where hardy joggers whizzed by me) to the very edge of the river, and stand by the muddy brown waters nudging the slime-covered stone steps. The traffic noise fades to a far-off hum and the dominant sound is the dripping of water, amplified on this occasion by the melting snow falling from the walkway. Not many people know this place exists and even fewer bother to come here. It reminds me that although the Thames is still the heart of London, the city doesn't have the intimate relationship with the river that it once had, and that still exists in places like Varanasi where human contact with the waters is part and parcel of life in the city. Londoners are divided from their river by embankments and walls, and see it almost exclusively from a distance. A place where you can actually touch the river feels abandoned and almost alien.

From the bridge I took the Thames riverside path, walking the reverse of a route I used to take regularly on the way home from play rehearsals. A little bit further on and I got another view of that line of buoys (they kind of fascinated me).

Having time to amble meant I was able to appreciate some of the things I'd rushed past before, like the brilliant sculpture on the lamp posts along the riverside path:

...and yet more evidence of snow's capacity to bring out our inner child (I'm assuming here that Tom is not, in fact, a child, which would kind of spoil my point):

I carried on along the river as far as the Millennium bridge...

...and turned north through a set of empty office buildings, most of which, at one point or another, I have done play rehearsals in (including a memorable set of rehearsals for The Libertine, in temperatures similar to what  was now experiencing). This one, with its curious blue metallic windows, had caught my eye before for its strange, dilapidated beauty:

From there, I passed by one of the loveliest of London's small gardens, Cleary Gardens, just off the brilliantly named Huggin Hill which still feels vaguely mediaeval despite the modern architecture.

Which brought me to one of London's best known landmarks, looming grandiosely out of the morning fog.

A short detour to enjoy possibly the best view in London, of St Paul's from the Millennium Bridge:

And then, just to jolt me out of any feelings of cosy familiarity, I came across something that certainly wasn't there last time I was here: the Occupy protesters camped outside the cathedral. I can safely say I don't envy them.

Lots of admirable, if slightly simplistic, sentiment on display. Plus some that I have to admit went right over my head:

And some that had sought to make a virtue of the weather (it spells "courage", though I've no idea why the "O" is in such deeper relief than the rest, or why the person who wrote it designed it such that the only person who could easily read the word would be hovering about 20 feet in the air):

I was more moved by this - some poor individual who had scrawled an appeal for help on one of the portaloos. I wonder who they were and if anyone helped them.

Moving on further North I reached Smithfield market, where I photographed a photographer (very Po-Mo):

...and enjoyed the window display of a local nursery whose brilliant colours stood out against the whitewashed cityscape.

As a final stop, I visited the churchyard of the lovely St Bartholomew's Church which was as peaceful as ever, and an accidental fogging up of my lens produced a rather pleasing effect:

By now even I was starting to feel the chill, and I took myself off to have London's best coffee at St Ali in the company of my dear friend Kate and her rather lovely boyfriend Richard. I felt like a very lucky person. Although the travel I have to do for my job can sometimes feel like a pain, this reminded me of the opportunities it gives me. It was a magical morning and a real chance to "stand and stare" as the poem has it. London has rarely shown me a more beautiful face. 


KATEDJAY said...

Thanks for this snow album. even I'm also have lot of snow in geneva it's nice to see London with snow. :)
I go soon to delhi and I'm very enjoy.
see one very good things to see delhi with people who love delhi :


have a look on this link.
1100 Walks is an exploration and celebration of Delhi, one of the most historic living cities of the world. Many cities, centuries and cultures come together to create the dynamic city of contemporary Delhi, and 1100 Walks takes you on a discovery of this multi-layered fabric. Our walks are conceptual, experiential and take you to the heart of Delhi; Innovatively, Intimately, Passionately

See you soon from my lovely Delhi :)

Anonymous said...

I LOVE London and I LOVE your photos!

Chris said...

Thanks for the link Kate! I will definitely check it out - so much of the city I have yet to explore...

Chris said...

Thanks for the link Kate! I will definitely check it out - so much of the city I have yet to explore...