Wednesday, 2 September 2009

London Revisited

The Thames, London, looking East

First of all apologies for the poor quality of the photo showing the River thames towards East. It was early evening and I was also probably shaking with a little bit of anger. As most know I was a week in London visiting my father. I was staying with a good friend of mine and in the evening I was lucky enough to be taken out for a look around. One of the trips we did, by car, was to central London. I was living a little bit on the East side. Now this was the centre of London where all the tourists go, the things to see; but I was not so happy. Prince Charles is not my favourite (none of them really) but I must agree when he complains about the way the City of London has been ruined by the modern buildings. If you look at this photo, you can see the higher more modern office buildings in the background, even the so-called Gherkin which was built by the Swiss Re Insurance company. Yes, even the Swiss are to blame. Basically the youngsters growing up today know nothing different, so that is their London of course.

If you look at the front of the photo, the buildings on the bank of the River Thames, they are a bit smaller, neater and a bit more individual. Now if you imagine the tall buildings not being their and just the lower buildings, then you have a bit of an idea of the London I grew up in. Red brick buildings, smaller, but with character. Even the bridge on the right is not the original. London Bridge was rebuilt and the old one sold to one of our colonies and now stands at Lake Havasu City in Arizona in the States. The bridge with so much London history attached to it, even Charles Dickens uses it in his book, Oliver Twist. Now and again I saw some old familiar buildings, but somehow pushed into a corner between the modern glass giants.

I was taken on a drive through to Westminster, passing roads that I knew in my memory, but now hardly recognisable. On every corner a new glass windowed temple of business, two new footbridges and something known as the London eye. The South bank of the Thames has been redeveloped and I found they had done a good job. A couple of years ago I visited the modern Tate Art Gallery, a new gallery rebuilt from an old power station and keeping most of the original architecture. There is now a footbridge over to St. Pauls cathedral from the South bank. I did venture on this bridge half way, but did not feel so secure, although I am sure it is. I just prefer a bit more solid brickwork under my feet and not so much steel skeletons that look like a puff of wind might blow them down. When the bridge was originally built it was a bit unstable and it tended to sway from side to side. It was then closed and stabilised. Now it is firm, but I only went half way across and was glad to feel solid ground under my feet again.

We went for a walk down Regents street and through some of the back turnings, which eventually brought us to Leicester Square. I remember Leicester Square in my teenager years. There was a so-called Mecca Dance Hall there, and I met many young men there on my Saturday night excursions with my friends. They were the days. The afternoon was spent at the hairdressers having a "balloon" hairstyle made and when you were ready with the war paint and the mini you boarded the underground train that took you to the dance hall. Today the only music is on the street - drums, rappers, you name it it is there, but very noisy. I must be getting old. and what do the youngsters do today.

Scene outside a pub in the West End, London, Saturday Evening

This seems to be the usual Friday evening entertainment on the streets of London today. Pubs on every corner and the youngsters drinking their beer/alcopops or whatever outside on the street. In every side street (I think this was somewhere near Regents street) the pubs are crowded. Where have my teenager days gone?

On the way back we drove through the bank area of London. There I saw a familiar building. I thought it was, as it seemed to be threatened by much taller buildings in the background. It was the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street, as it is known by Londoners, The Bank of England. Still the same old architecture, the large pillars surrounded by concrete and no windows, but you had to search to find it. We drove through Holborn, which had also been slightly changed, but it seemed to be one of the last bastions of old London. Eventually we turned into the part of London where I grew up, East End, Bethnal Green. At least I think it was, I did not recognise one single building in the road.

For those of you that go to London today, I know it is impressive, a wonderful town, but I suppose I am just a little bit nostalgic. I would love to take you to the London I knew, but it no longer exists. If only we had had digital cameras at that time.

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