March 27, 2023

London Strolls: Tower Pier to St Paul’s #walk #flaneur #art

Tower Pier, amongst gaggles of school children waiting to go on a river cruise. One boy hasn’t brought his money. Strike out west along the river but soon that’s boarded off so have to head back and swing left along the faded blue fence of Lower Thames Street. A large bouncer makes a hotel looks unwelcoming. On the other side of the road tourists peer at maps, their wheeled suitcases parked up along side, waiting to go.

The top of a Wren church sticks up over the traffic. Leg it across the road and up St Dunstan’s Hill. It’s no longer a church but The Wren, a healing centre, but it was St Dunstan in the East. All that’s left now is the tower and some walls with pointless windows. It’s become a (very) mini Tintern abbey, though destroyed by German bombs rather than a king’s greed. Trees grow in the nave, there’s a fountain in the crossing. People eat pasta salad and sarnies, check their phones.

A man leans against the Flaky brown paint of Idol Street smoking an electronic cigarette. He doesn’t seem to be enjoying it. The street is narrow, cobbled, with unnecessary Do not park yellow lines down both sides.

It leads to the much less friendly Great Tower Street where the traffic doesn’t move. Past Couch and Hoskin where the window price list advertises sock suspenders for £19.50. I’m not even wearing socks, which is probably called a dreadful faux pas in the £4.50 Etiquette book for gentlemen that is also for sale.

Cross over between the taxis – forgetting sneaky mopeds – and head north up Rood Lane. The courtyard of The Guild Church of St Margaret Pattens is a cafe. Inside are two canopied church warden stalls slightly higher than the other pews. At the back, so that the church-wardens could keep an eye on their congregation, and tap rowdy heads with their staves. Both are originals from Wren’s reconsruction of the church after the Fire.

Outside a tree has a slow watering system, unstolen and unvandalised, to help it grow in the concrete outside the Talkie-Walkie. Its Fenchurch Street entrance has wooden chairs outside but these are bolted to the ground. Its competitor The Shard pops up to the left down Philpot Lane. Concrete pillars have been left unadorned and brutally pock-marked amongst the wrapping paper and cards of a branch of Paperchase. Men on phones loiter outside. A woman in lime trousers marches down street staring at her phone. She hasn’t perfected the necessary peripheral vision for actual mobile use of a mobile. People move out of her way to avoid collision.

Across Gracechurch Street. People must be healthier than the council think. On a Gum and Butts receptacle someone has left the ends of a carrot.  A cycle courier rides past with amazing mohican dreads.

Past the Monument to the Great Fire. Or rather the Monument in commemoration to the Great Fire. Exactly 202ft high, for the peculiar reason that that is the distance to the Pudding Lane bakehouse where the fire is said to have started. An odd link. For obvious reasons it is a way of deciding the height of monuments that has rarely been used since. After all on that basis Nelson’s column should be almost 1500 miles high.

Would like to cross King William street. There’s no traffic but a fence down the middle of the street. Instead up to Cannon street. City workers are out in force looking for lunch. Orange Sainsbury’s bags compete with Subway, Itsu and one very big hat box.

Follow a tourist with an SLR slung under his arm like a gun and a man with faded England sweatbands. Unnecessarily high bollards stand outside Cannon Street Sation. Past Walbrook several concrete towers stick up into the sky. There are simple blue numbers (1 to 8) on the levels – like a child’s building kit.  Are we back to Brutalist ugliness or are they unfinished? Save water and drink champagne advises a pink advert before a man in a very blue suit gets out of a cab in front of me. Lunchtime drinkers have found The Sugarloaf on the north side. An advert for Itsu’s 7 vegetable drink makes it look unappetising.

Towards St Paul’s and the racket of building works. Walk, then speed up, then run across Friday Street to avoid death by bus. Take a photo of an American and her mother who hand me an iPhone and order a picture with the Dome in the background. North past a little hideaway where people eat lunch on the grass, past carnations being watered and lots of jackets in a shoe repair shop. A Big Issue salesman in a dirty red tabard stands by the steps down to St Paul’s tube station where a sign tells me a little courtesy won’t harm me. Not that I’ve ever really thought it would.

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