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:
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.