Sundays are designed for a stroll up the South Bank with only a very vague plan in mind.
Our first distraction was the Ray Harryhauser exhibition at the London Film Museum. The museum feels temporary. Small rooms with high ceilings and long marble corridors. There is no cash desk – just a till placed on a side table. There isn’t even a gift shop. Unless you are an obsessive fan (Christmas doesn’t start in our house until we have watched Jason and the Argonauts followed by The Muppets’ Christmas Carol and the Bishop’s Wife), it’s difficult to justify the £12.00 entrance fee, but pick up a 2 for 1 brochure at the train station, throw in the Charlie Chaplin exhibition (try Charles Chaplin: My Autobiography published by Penguin Classics for a fascinating account of the great man’s life in his own words), plus one of the best views in London from the veranda of County Hall, and it starts to look a look a lot more reasonable.
A short walk takes us past the street performers (I have no idea why, but my favourite is the chameleon on the bicycle), to the open air book stall (it always seems hugely optimistic given that this is England, even in Summertime) and the shade of trees, which has a Parisian feel about it.
We drop in at Foyles and I pick up a strange and wonderful children’s book called Duck, Death and Tupil by Wolf Elrbruch, which is clearly designed as a gentle introduction to the subject of death, but would scare the bejesus out of several small children I know. (We kept hamsters. They taught us a lot about death in all its strange varieties). I am tempted to buy it.
The sand sculptures draw quite a gathering (they are advertising their own website now), but two children who have built an ordinary sand castle with a humble bucket and spade seem to have collected a similar sized pile of coins.
Sitting outside the Gourmet Pizza, I feel something I haven’t felt for days: cold. The breeze steals paper napkins and suddenly women in tiny sundresses look out of place.
It is time to walk again, this time through the canopy silver birches outside the Tate Modern and over the Millennium Bridge. We are accompanied by the lonely strains of Summertime played on a trumpet, and the dome of St Paul’s rises in front of us.
My favourite discovery of the day: Street Piano. Is it new? Why haven’t I seen it before? There is an impromptu sing-song on the steps outside a pub as someone strikes up the notes of Blackbird. In the grounds of St Pauls, I am tempted by the sight of an empty piano stool, but feel that my rendition of chopsticks or a catchy little number called The Hedgehog (requiring the use of only index fingers) would not capture the atmosphere. I am too slow. A young man sits down and uses the sheet music provided, and I am sad that I gave up piano lessons at the age of eleven, put off by a teacher who thought nothing of dropping the lid on small fingers as a punishment for wrong notes.
In the shadow of St Pauls, there is a different class of busker. I forgive a harp player for wasting his talents on Elaine Paige.
A few stops along the Central Line takes us to Shepherd’s Bush which has received a glass and steel face lift due to its proximity to Westfield Shopping Centre. Our destination is the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. The space feels intimate compared even with Brixton Academy. We celebrate the evening of 4th July by watching Dr John. He looks no older when I last him play Ronnie Scott’s twenty years ago (he is almost 70 now, he must have looked old at 50 then). The Health and Safety police bristle as we are asked, ‘What’s with all the chairs?’ and we are invited to get to our feet. We know we are in safe hands: it feels as if we are watching a group of old friends (albeit extremely talented friends, with a new album to sell) who have got together for a bit of a jam and decide to make a night of it.
The train on the way home is full of teenagers in shorts who have been to see Jay-Z, and are asking each other easy questions about 80’s rock and making them sound difficult. Matt and I whisper the answers to each other. Behind us is a man in a leather jacket with an excitable Jack Russell in his lap. They are old friends. He apologises, unnecessarily, everytime a wet snout appears through the gap in the seats, and a tongue licks my t-shirt. The man talks complainingly to the dog when it starts to whimper. ‘You’re making that noise again. I’m not going to have to sing to you, am I? I am, aren’t I?’ I don’t recognise the tune and it certainly isn’t a lullaby.
I feel glad to live within reach of London.