Underground, the dragon’s blinding eyes appear around the bend, wider and wider as the beast exits the tunnel with a frightening screech and intense roaring at such velocity to make it impossible to believe it will ever stop……………..which it does SUDDENLY
And we rocked on to Electric Avenue not knowing that it really existed and was where all life passes amongst stalls flowing with exotic dresses and robes and accessories for the voluminous hair which can be purchased in the hair shop next door to those that compete to see which can provide the strangest looking fish and the freshest meat in the world and who can pile the highest pyramid of colourful fruits and vegetables accompanied by the loudest reggae music for those wearing the most outrageous costumes and the biggest hats to protect the widest hairstyles and the longest dreadlocks whilst dancing the oddest dance on the corner of other worlds
I go to the loo in the Morpeth Arms at Millbank and, despite having yet to take the first alcohol of this day, find myself all at sea. Inside, the wooden floorboards become decking planks as I sway with the movement of the boat. I exit the loo, looking over my shoulder at the trick I might have missed. Back in the bar, I enquire whether the place is haunted and am pointed in the direction of a large television screen on the wall. It shows a picture of an empty stone cellar below my feet where, back in the day, chained convicts were housed whilst awaiting deportation to Australia. Today and every day the cellar is locked for safety. It houses a permanent live webcam to record the comings and goings of waterlogged ghosts.
The shudder was gone, and his gaze, which had come back to the boat for a moment, travelled away again. Wheresoever the strong tide met with an impediment, his gaze paused for an instant. At every mooring-chain and rope, at every stationery boat or barge that split the current into a broad-arrowhead, at the offsets from the piers of Southwark Bridge, at the paddles of the river steamboats as they beat the filthy water, at the floating logs of timber lashed together lying off certain wharves, his shining eyes darted a hungry look. After a darkening hour or so, suddenly the rudder-lines tightened in his hold, and he steered hard towards the Surrey shore. (Dickens: Our Mutual Friend)
We take a gentle journey from Millbank to Embankment. A speeding police boat overtakes us on its way to some unknown watery crime and once the waves and stomachs have settled, we overtake Symphony – a boat replete with suited and booted business types on a leisurely cocktail cruise. They are all men with the exception of one female at the rear who Leonie says is probably the stripper. Changing vessels at Embankment, we head off, once past Traitors’ Gate, at a speed to equal the underground dragons:
WHOOSH past Butlers’ Wharf and all the other east end wharves that probably now house butlers in their expensive apartments with riverside views, salubrious shops and bijou brasseries; and WHOOSH past the never-again Dickension Limehouse now boasting a marvellous marina; and WHOOSH past the business, banking and communications centre of Canary Wharf; and WHOOSH past the places so exclusive that – only those who reside within know their names.
Until, there on the right, the palatial maritime buildings of Greenwich are heralded by the masts of the Cutty Sark rising from its glass display cabinet like a life-sized ship in a bottle.
On the over-ground train to Kingston, our cosmopolitan carriage is full of noisy international students on a day trip to see our heritage: they are visiting Primark.
And Leonie proudly takes mother to see the sights of what is now her city. There on her new doorstep are the Houses of Parliament whilst just round the corner is the Supreme Court where, fortuitously, today is a free entry open-day.
On to the grandeur of the Foreign and Commonwealth offices, a wave at Horseguards’ Parade, a ridiculously priced bottle of water in St James Park and a wander up to Buck House where news of the infant has already been removed being, as it is, old news.