Off-message – but on top of the world

On a trip into London and an unexpected high.

River Thames from Millbank TowerOkay, so this is off-message, I know – but WordPress tells me it’s my 100th post, so I hope you’ll indulge me.

I live to the west of London. If anyone except another Londoner asks, I say I live in London because that’s specific enough. But there’s Central London and then there’s the wide band of suburb stretching out in a radius of perhaps 10-12 miles from the centre before you get to the M25, the motorway that encircles the city. And I’m at the far edge.

Mostly I stay away from the centre of the city. It’s crowded, noisy, stinky and dirty like any large city, and in the summer it’s overrun with tourists shouldering hazardous backpacks and stopping without warning every few feet to take pictures of each other. For years I commuted daily to areas in the West End (shopping district), City of London (old financial district before Canary Wharf came along) and Westminster (the seat of power). But as a home-based worker now, my trips into London are rare, perhaps five or six times a year, no more.

Yesterday I was to be in London on behalf of a client, attending and doing the write-up on a seminar at Millbank Tower by the River Thames. As usual I grizzled to myself about the journey; whichever way I try, it never has less than three legs and never takes less than 90 minutes. Choking on the fumes I abandoned a walk from Victoria and took a taxi – the lazy approach, but I didn’t want to arrive unable to breathe. I knew Millbank Tower was tall – the clue is in the name – but I hadn’t realised I was headed up on one of those lifts that zips past the first 15 floors, ultimately to the 29th floor. The venue was called Altitude – I should have realised.

The view that greets you from the 29th floor of Millbank Tower all but takes your breath away. My last trip ‘up’ in London was to escort a friend from the USA on The London Eye (see it in the photos), but on the day in question it had drizzled solidly and the clouds tickled the capsules as they rounded the top of the wheel, smothering the view.

London from Millbank TowerYesterday was different, so I took some photos – of the city I simultaneously hate and love. Down on the ground, it’s an assault on the senses – and not in a nice way. Up there it was magic, insulated from the noise and dirt; an urban panorama harking back centuries and stretching forward – and upward – into the future. The skyline changes year by year as old buildings are dwarfed by structures reaching ever higher. (Can you spot St Paul’s Cathedral? It’s just to the right of the tallest crane.) Individual towers, striking when they were built, become swamped by their neighbours within a year or two. Look closely and you’ll see the scene is cluttered with cranes, as old real estate is levelled and spires of steel and glass take root. It’s a constantly changing skyline. In a weird way it’s not unlike a forest, with its natural balance of decay and renewal.

Anyhow, it fair took my breath away, so I thought I’d share one or two photos I managed to snap before the business of the day got underway. Enjoy.

Author: Jools

Abundant, Bold, Confident, Determined, Empathetic, Forthright, Grumpy, Healthier, Individual, Just me, Kind, Loving, Mellifluous, Natural, Optimistic, imPatient, Quirky, Real-world, Single-minded, unTreatable, Unwound, Verbal, Wilful, eXtraordinary, Young and old, Zero-tolerance.

18 thoughts on “Off-message – but on top of the world”

  1. I know what you mean about London, but I – despite being an introvert – have always felt to get a hit of that capital “buzz”. Just a few hours, nothing more, and when I lived closer I liked going every few months to visit somewhere new. I haven’t been for a couple of years now and live a little farther away but still feel the pull sometimes.

    1. I used to go for the theatre, until it became absurdly expensive. Now it’s either for work commitments or to meet up with friends from further afield. It’s been some while since I was a regular commuter and it amazes me how much – and how fast – the city changes.

  2. I know what you mean about the grime, but there are some lovely lanes in the city. For various reasons I had to walk from London Bridge to Blackfriars the other day, and discovered an old prison, part of the city wall, as well as the Millennium Bridge (which is beautiful). There were tourists, of course – but it was lovely to remind myself why they come here – because it is, after all, a great city.

    1. You’re right about the hidden gems, lanes and other secrets. And London is without a doubt, a great city. For a while I worked around Farringdon/Hatton Garden, which has wonderful history which can still be seen if you know where to look, along with being the fictional setting for some of Charles Dickens’ slum dwellings. On the day I got soggy visiting The London Eye, we also crossed the Millennium Bridge, had a poke around the Tate Modern and tiptoed around a service in St Paul’s – I don’t like the grime and noise, but there is plenty to celebrate about London. One of my favourite spots is the legal district, packed with quaint yards and garden squares, off Chancery Lane.

  3. I’ve never lived in London proper I was a West London girl until I was 4 when we moved to Middlesex but in my heart I’ll always be a Londoner. As soon as I step off the Train into London it feels like coming home. I love all the dirt, people and noise. I like in a small rural village now where I’m lucky if I see someone walk past the window even a couple of times a day.

    I love the old buildings, we are losing so many to those steel and glass high rise structures which I admire but where is the craftsmanship? I worked in Engineering for 10 years so I understand the technical aspects of those high rise buildings but compared to the craftsmanship of buildings like St Paul’s Cathedral they will never fully inspire me.

    I love seeing the stone carvings and sculptures made in a time when there was no technology other than a man with a mallet and chisel, a rough drawing and some rudimentary measuring devices and still looking good today.

    For my 30th birthday I climbed to the very top of St Paul’s to look out onto the city. I took panoramic photos of the view and I made a promise to come back at every milestone birthday after that to take photo’s again. I think it will be interesting to see how the skyline changes in the interim periods.

    I never go into London without my camera and even now I take photo’s of everything. Every time I go I see something I never noticed before. My tip, always remember to look up, there are some really interesting things to see in London if you look up!

    1. What a wonderful testimonial for London! Thanks so much for sharing it. I agree entirely re the old buildings and I wonder just how many of those new age utilitarian structures of steel and glass will still be being admired in 300 or 400 years time. Today seems to be all about being the biggest/tallest (no need to speculate on where that’s come from), not about being inspirational; they’re about scale, not fine detail. And yet… London thrives as it does because it’s a centre of commerce as much as it is a magnet for tourism. So it would be wrong to be too scathing.

      I must admit, I like the sound (or lack of sound) of your rural idyll.

  4. First of all, congratulations on the 100 posts!
    I love London, probably because I’ve never lived there. For me it has always been a day trip (or something to skirt around on my many trips between Suffolk and Slough). While I enjoy doing the tourist thing, most of my visits to London have been to see friends, and they have tended to live in the less salubrious parts of the capital – Vauxhall, Elephant and Castle, the outskirts of Greenwich. I think it’s in these areas you get to see the ‘true’ London, the miss-mash of cultures, the vibrant street-life.
    This isn’t to disagree with anything you’ve written, more as an addendum that there is more than culture and cuisine to our capital.

    1. First of all, thank you!

      I agree. London has so much to offer the visitor/tourist – not only in its heritage, contemporary culture and cuisine, but in all it stands for in the modern world. What’s fun about London is that whatever your interest – cultural, architectural, historical, culinary, financial, commercial, musical, theatrical, sporting and more – London has something for you, and something for you to discover.

  5. Hey, what better way to celebrate your 100th post by posting pics of one of the greatest cities of the world? I’ve visited London several times and enjoyed the mishmash of old and new. Always something interesting to see.

    1. I hoped everyone would let me get away with it – and it seems they (you) have! It’s easy, as a resident, to forget what an amazing place London is, to bypass its heritage, become annoyed by its vibrancy. But one thing always gets me, when I get the chance to see the city spread out like this from on high, a sprawling, magnificent panorama.

  6. I so enjoyed your post on London. You of all people know how much I enjoyed my stay in England and especially London. I spent a great deal of time in that wonderful city and enjoyed all that was offered. The food, music, theater, the people walking around looking at everything and taking photos and yes getting in the way all too often. And how many times was I asked for directions some of which I could help with others I might as well tried to send them to Texas. Of all the big cities I have been in London excited me the most. Nothing and I mean nothing was more beautiful to me. San Francisco most likely second place. Thanks for the mental trip I loved it as I always love what you write. And congrats on your 100th post.

    1. Thank you BillP! I have a love/hate relationship with London. I know I’m very fortunate to live a stone’s throw from one of the world’s greatest cities, and yet I dread having to make my way into the dirt and noise, or traipse its streets on whatever mission I happen to be on. But London is indeed exciting, and generally welcoming, reasonably safe (if you’re sensible) and culturally utterly engaging. I’m glad you enjoyed your time in the UK and have such warm memories of ‘my home’.

  7. You’ve confused me now. St Pauls is on the other side of the river to the London Eye, isn’t it? Unless there’s a particularly wiggly bit of river there that just makes it look like its on the same side.
    Yes, congratulations! I think we must have started following each other right when we both started, and I’ve always really enjoyed your posts. Keep them coming!

    1. I know. It’s very confusing, but it’s the wiggle in the river that does that. The view from Millbank Tower is sort of north-north-west, which is the direction of the river at that point. So you’re looking past the London Eye and back across to the north side of the river again. I hope I’m right!!

      1. I think you must be. I can’t think of any other building that looks like that, apart maybe from the Free Mason’s headquarters and that’s on the same side as St Pauls, but further away from the river.

        1. You made me think. I’ve printed a bit of Google Maps and drawn a line, and I’m certain it’s St Paul’s. But you had me worried for a moment! The shame of being ‘a Londoner’ and getting something like that wrong… 😦

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