Friday, November 02, 2007

Long Haul to Tie Land

I went to meet some old friends in Greenwich today but, as I had a few hours to kill first, I decided to stall my trip on the spooky no-one-is-driving automated Docklands Light Railway and go for a mooch around the City of London.

It's a fascinating place, a city within a city, with extraordinary street names and some of the most cutting-edge architecture in the world. My good friend Joel raves about the place (he spends quite a few days per year working there) and I can see why. I don't think there's anywhere on the planet where the old rubs shoulders quite so overtly with the new. But even before I started looking at architecture, I spotted a major difference between people from the City and almost anywhere else ... everyone was wearing a tie. Oh, all right, a few ladies didn't wear ties (though one or two did) and your white van delivery guys didn't. But every business-type I passed on the streets was be-necktied. I stood out with my neck nakedness but I didn't care. I hate the things. The tyranny of ties. That's a subject for a later blog, I can assure you ...

First stop was Pudding Lane, site of the bakery fire that became the Great Fire of London in 1666. Hard to imagine the stinking wooden cottages standing there. It's all smooth marble, concrete and steel now.

Then I walked down to the Thames and along the river walk to Tower Hill. The old really stands cheek by jowl with the new here. With one slow pan of the head, you can take in two thousand years of London history: from the Roman Wall, via the Tower of London, to Tower Bridge spanning the river and finally settling upon the sight of HMS Belfast and the strangely futuristic crash helmet that houses the offices of the Mayor of London. A cormorant kindly posed for me.

Next, on to the so-called Erotic Gherkin or, to give it its proper name, the Swiss Re skyscraper at 30 St Mary Axe. It's 180 metres (590 ft) tall and has 40 floors, making it the second-tallest building in the City of London, after Tower 42 (formerly the Kings Reach Tower), and the sixth tallest in London as a whole. It is exquisite. It stands like a jewel among the blocky Bauhaus 1960s tower blocks. It was a glorious sunny day today that really showed it off at its best. I chose to post this photo as the reflections beautifully juxtaposed the old and the new.

Not far from the Gherkin in Leadenhall Street, I found one such blocky 1960s tower block in a state of partial demolition. But here's the thing ... it's being demolished upside down. Yes indeedy, they've started at the bottom and are working their way up. But that's because the building - the old P&O tower at 122 Leadenhall Street - has an unusual design. The building is supported by a single central pillar topped with beams from which the floors all hang. So it has to go up to go down. Mad. It's being demolished to make way for Richard Rogers’ new 48 storey tower - the Shard of Light (or Shard of Glass).

I then found myself, by way of brilliantly named streets like Savage Gardens and Crutched Friars, back at the Thames and boarded the DLR to Greenwich where I gazed sadly at the blackened shell of the recently burned-out Cutty Sark and then enjoyed some excellent mussels and a beer or two.

A very pleasant and photogenic day.

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