London: Len’s 52nd Birthday

Saturday 8th September, 2012.

It was that time of the year again, when Len, myself and whoever else is free head off to London. Unfortunately, Steve B was at a wedding and Jason had no baby sitter, so it was just Len and myself. We took our normal train to London but alighted at Green Park, for a change. Our first port-of-call was the newly erected Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park. The Memorial recognises the 55,573, airmen from all corners of the Commonwealth, who gave their lives to free Europe from Nazi rule, between 1943-45. Although they are remembered at the memorial at Runnymede and also at St. Clement Dane’s church, on the Strand, they had never had a dedicated memorial… Until now. And what a memorial! Architect Liam O’Connor has created a masterpiece out of Portland Stone, befitting these heroic airmen. The memorial is open to the sky in a symbolic gesture, so that the sun can shine down on the statues of the seven nine-foot bronze airmen, crafted by Philip Jackson. Around the roof of the memorial are sections of aluminium, salvaged from a Handley Page Halifax bomber that crashed in Belgium. There is also an inscription, on the memorial, that says “also commemorates those of all nations who lost their lives in the bombing of 1939-1945.” Both myself and Len were completely gobsmacked by the size and presence of the memorial, so much so that it was a subject that kept coming up in conversation throughout the day. I was so affected by the memorial that, as we walked around London, I began to write a poemabout it in my head.

From here we headed down Constitution Hill towards Buckingham Palace, where the crowds were gathered for the changing of the guard. So, with many of the normal routes sealed off for the Paralympics marathon, we made a detour on to Pall Mall, then Waterloo Place and on to Horse Guards Road. We walked by the memorial to the Great War and the memorial to the 202 victims of the Bali bombing in 2002, before heading into Parliament Square. As we approached Westminster Abbey, we found all the tourists. The queue to get into Westminster Abbey were some of the longest lines of people that I have witnessed, for anything. Bypassing the crowds we crossed St. Margaret Street and headed into the Victoria Tower Gardens. We stopped in the shade of the trees overlooking the River Thames, before continuing our jaunt. We exited the gardens and crossed Lambeth Bridge and headed along the South Bank. The temperature was still climbing into the high 20s, with barely a breeze in the air, so we slowed our pace slightly. As we reached the old County Hall, we decided to grab a bite to eat, which we ate outside before continuing Eastward. Dodging the milling masses, who were there for the Thames Festival as well as the Paralympics, we walked passed the Jubilee Gardens, where a 1000 strong group of children were playing steel drums. It was an awesome sight and the crowds were really enjoying it. We then passed the Royal Festival Hall before going under Waterloo Bridge. With the tide out on the River Thames, children and adults, were walking and playing on the Thames foreshore, as we approached Gabriel’s Wharf. With the sun beating down we both decided it might be an idea to get a cold drink and find some shade. And, wouldn’t you know it, we were by Doggett’s pub. The inside of the pub was cool and remarkably quiet, as many of the patrons were using the various terraces on the upper floors, or sitting outside in the sun. This gave us a chance to sit down and watch a bit of Parallympic wheelchair fencing. Sadly the British man lost to the Chinese guy, but it was still fascinating to watch. We sipped our drinks, to make them last, before heading back out onto the South Bank.

With Blackfriar’s Bridge Station still awaiting completion, walking below the bridge was congested with the extra visitors, so we took our second detour of the day by heading along Blackfriar’s Road and onto Southwark Street, where we then turned on to Hopton Street and then back onto the South Bank. It was at this point I phoned my friend Pav, whho said that he would be in the area to get some photos of the Thames Festival. As it turns out we had passed each other, so he said to stay where we were and he would doubleback and join us. So, Len and I headed into the Founders Arms to seek out refreshments while we awaited Pav. Within minutes Pav joined us and, after introductions, we all headed to the Tate Modern. There was a Brazilian dance troupe performing on a stage. Peregrine Falcons, from the RSPB, flying through the air and landing on the Tate Modern. Various craft stalls and food outlets and the obligatory bars. Pav bought a round of beers, to help celebrate Len’s birthday, before we looked at a few of Pav’s photos. After a half hour or so, Pav bade us farewell and headed off Westward, leaving us to continue our journey Eastward. As we approached The Anchor pub, we noticed that the queues at the bars were perfectly straight and reminiscent of bus queues. Having never seen people queue like this in a pub before, we laughed as we continued on our merry way. Our next stop was the Thameside Inn, where there is a lot morre shade and tables outside. After another beer, we headed into Borough Market, where more food was purchased, before continuing our journey onto Tooley Street, where we stopped for further libation at the Platform bar. It was in this bar that I found the BIGGEST mirror ball that I have ever seen in my life! Why it is there, I never asked, but it is certainly a conversation starter. With time ticking on, we headed back towards Borough Market and our final stop, The Globe. Not to be confused with Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. This ‘Globe’ is a pub in the heart of Borough Market and has unique circular structure and an old world style to it. As a side note, parts of ‘Bridget Jones Diary’ were filmed here. Once we were finished, we headed to London Bridge Station and caught a Jubilee Line train towards Baker Street. Arriving at Baker Street nine minutes earlier than our connecting train, I had time to go to the snack bar to get a soft drink and some more food. Len had a short doze on the return trip, but awoke saying that he fancied another drink so, after leaving the train at Watford, we headed to the Horns pub for one last drink. We arrived at the Horns and sat outside with our drinks, where we got to say ‘hello’ to members of Fiive Fold Kiss, before they went on stage. We then finished our drinks and went to get a taxi. Len got the driver to drop me home, before getting the driver to take him back to Kings Langley.

Once again another great day out in London with some great friends.

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