Sunday, September 12, 2010

Yesterday in London

The BBC weather forecast predicted rain on London Bridge today, so I left my umbrella at home and set off for the Mayor's Thames Festival, looking forward to an afternoon of al fresco drinking with some old friends from university.

Although I generally prefer peace and quiet when travelling by train, there's something infectious about the excitement of people travelling up to London on a Saturday. Everyone seems to be in a good mood, unlike the funereal atmosphere of a weekday commuter train, where the only sounds are the clicking of laptop keypads and the chimes of incoming text messages.

After finding a seat, I looked at my fellow passengers. In the seats in front of mine, two young men were playing a game of poker, with their cards spread out across the four-seater table. At Haywards Heath the carriage suddenly filled and an old couple asked the young men to make room. I thought I felt I felt a slight frisson of tension, but five minutes later the old man had joined in the game (which he won) and the woman was talking about going to rock concerts. By the time the train had reached Clapham Junction, they all were on first-name terms.

I never really pay much attention to Victoria, but today I noticed how clean it was compared to the shabby, depressed railway stations of my childhood. Now that we're living in "austerity Britain", will we enter a new era of flaking paintwork and broken vending machines?

I met my friends on Southwark Bridge, which had been closed to traffic and filled with long tables, stalls selling organic food and - at the far end - some bales of hay and two cows. Having just spent a week surrounded by dairy cattle, it was weird seeing people making such a fuss of the cows, as if they were exotic beasts being presented to a medieval court.

Southwark Bridge was packed and at first glance, there seemed to be a cosmopolitan crowd from all over the world. However, it was an illusion. No matter where people had come from, they all appeared to be from the liberal, left-of-centre middle classes. As I walked through the crowds I heard the same words over an over, like an incantation:

"Organic...natural...chorizo...vegetarian...authentic... unpasteurised...vegan...Fairtrade..."

Rural Britain had apparently come to London, but there were no ruddy-faced men in Barbours or women in tweed skirts with wicker baskets, let alone machines spraying pesticides on the stalls of vegetables. I'm not complaining. As a closet hippie with more than one Pentangle track on my MP3 player, I loved it. The Mayor's Thames Festival gave us a brief glimpse of how London could be if we swapped cars for cows.

I found my friends sitting in the middle of the bridge, drinking perry. Within minutes, we had reverted to the highly intellectual level of debate that we enjoyed at university and the topics covered included the following: ELO vs Sailor, what percentage of the population were sexually arousing (as opposed to just attractive), the South West music scene (Portishead vs The Wurzels), the XX, which countries had the ugliest people and whether William Hague really was gay. We had been drinking.

In between talking nonsense, I managed to film a few clips on Southwark Bridge. You can briefly hear my friends discussing the pressing issues of the day:

These days I spend most of my time pretending to be grown-up and sensible, so it is a welcome relief to have absurd conversations with people I've know since my teens. I shall be back there in 2011.


Martin H. said...

You had a great day out and, the video clip gave a flavour of that. I can't provide an answer to the 'reader's wives' question but, John Cooper Clark vividly describes the situation as he sees it.

Steerforth said...

Ah, the joys of the internet - I successfully Googled Readers' Wives in seconds and love it. Many thanks:

make a date with the brassy brides of britain
the altogether ruder readers' wives
who put down their needles and their knitting
at the doorway to our dismal daily lives

the fablon top scenarios of passion
nipples peep through holes in leatherette
they seem to be saying in their fashion
'I'm freezing charlie - haven't ya finished yet?'

The Poet Laura-eate said...

What a wonderful event! I accidentally came upon a huge farmer's market and organic fayre in the middle of Leamington Spa yesterday, with a live singer and a great atmosphere of people enjoying themselves, though sadly I wasn't with a fellow group of reveller friends. I did stock up on quality veggie food though.

C.B. James said...

Loved the video. Looks like it was lots of fun for all those city fold to play in the hay.

And, I'd just like to say that I think it's closer to 3 out of every 100.

Caroline said...

Looks like you had a great time. It's good to see things like this can happen without any problems or people spoiling the fun.

Zach Maher said...

In a week, I'm going to be in London for the first time. I'm bummed that I've just barely missed something so neat.

Hannah Stoneham said...

Sounds quite fun, I will have to go along next year!

Lucille said...

I must check to see whether I have you in one of my photos. I didn't see myself in your video thank goodness, but oddly enough remarked to my companion that it reminded me of a busy Saturday in Lewes.

torileighb said...

You've made me angrier than ever that I'm not in London, damn you.

George H. said...

I'm sorry, I have to go with 15 out of 100. Lower standards? Wishful thinking? Dunno.