A sunny Sunday on the buses
Indeed, a day to remember!
It’s such a joy to return to once-familiar places and savour the delights of yesteryear’s ‘youth’ in my thirties. Determined to break out of our usual routine, especially when the sun returned at last, we relived the delight of bus route 188 bound for Russell Square, close to where we first lived together as man and wife. Our first home was a ground floor flat in Regent Square close to my first Bloomsbury studio in a retail unit in Leigh Street.
The 188 passes by close to our present Thameside house and studio. Not being fleet of foot, this crippled couple managed to board the bus which traverses from the O2 at North Greenwich, through the crowded tourist town centre, crosses Deptford Creek and follows the incoming Thames around Surrey Docks, up to Tower Bridge, then plunges back to the Elephant and Castle, then crosses Waterloo Bridge, around Aldwych, up Kingsway to the route terminal close to the British Museum amidst the Bloomsbury campus of the University of London. We lunched at the Café in the Gardens upon the recommendation of Anthony Simmonds of Maritime Books, who attends book fairs close by.
This delightful trattoria offers all the Italian delights that a visitor could wish for – a slick, stylish, self-service in the pavilion or else at parkside tables. By coincidence (or is it?) at the other end of the route a similar smart pavilion is located in the new public area between the North Greenwich tube station and the O2, where delicious coffee and freshly-baked bread is to be had.
Braving the top deck for our return to Greenwich on the 188, we passed where we used to walk our first born. ‘Dickens’, an erratic Dalmatian that used to lead us a merry dance around Russell Square’s delightful gardens, dodging the London plane trees and the numerous exits leading into dense traffic! A little later son Ben arrived at UCH just as we moved into a shambles of a Queen Anne house in Hyde Vale, just overlooking Blackheath, shortly joined by Emma whose arrival meant another move in the Greenwich fashion – close by into Diamond Terrace where John Masefield once lived in this ‘humble house’ while he was a Fleet Street journalist. From both houses we could just glimpse the passing of a tall ship and the New Year celebrations when shipping in the river and near by greeted with alacrity by the constant sounding of ships’ horns (hooters) – an international greeting enjoyed by one and all.
Just past Kings College and grand Somerset House which once housed the Admiralty, the route crosses Father Thames over Waterloo Bridge – named after another confrontation between the nations, rebuilt by women during WW2 in 1942. Glimpses of Tower Bridge can be seen just after the massive reconstruction of the Elephant & Castle ‘park’. Cyclists now commute in their thousands along the Thames Path and other short cuts to avoid the horrendous traffic conditions around Bermondsey and Deptford. The 188 passes through the heart of the Surrey Docks, now sadly closed, where Scandinavian churches still survive, nowadays a culture centre for Finns, Danes and Swedes now that all the seamen have long gone, then passes Howland Terrace where the first great Dock was built in London by the Russell family in 1720 to shelter loaded ships from the ravages of river pirates. Somehow today’s tales of pirate ferries across the Med into Europe echo the history of unfortunate voyagers.
A glimpse of the John Evelyn memorial – a 15-foot high goose feather – marks the poet’s famous house and garden of Peter the Great’s savage residence.
Crossing the Deptford Creek once more, a sighting of his odd memorial can again be glimpsed, also the possible site for a waterside mooring of a suitable vessel as one enters the much-visited maritime attraction. Surprise surprise on this beautiful sunny evening, a ship’s siren down by the Dome alerted me to one of the most spectacular arrivals ever: Coming around Blackwall Point and the O2, a spectacular tall ship arrived with a fanfare of rumba and other South American band music.
Up aloft, the cadets manned the yards with the traditional unfurling of sails – a naval tradition. On her return from the Pool of London just after dusk, she was ablaze with white lights held by her crew aloft making a spectacular sight amongst Canary Wharf’s sparkling towers. Her tug assisted passage around the O2, emphasising the dangers of the great curves of the river which we have taken for granted.
Happy memories of lunching aboard the ‘Simon Bolivar’ in West India Docks with other naval attachés and members of Chatham House reminding me of naval traditions which are strongly held on board naval tall ships – not unlike the glorious naval functions once held in the Painted Hall at the RNC Greenwich.