I left my old job three weeks ago. It was time for change, and so for a few weeks my time’s my own. My days are brighter now, and I feel refreshed, revitalised and renewed.
The sun shone all the way into London. I stepped out of the train into an unfamiliar crystal haze as a cool spring day stretched all along the South Bank. The river walk was empty in the early morning, and yet through the silence I could hear the echo of running shoes on tarmac, all around me. I was only walking, but I could feel that exhilaration.
It took me just a quarter of an hour from Waterloo Station to reach my meeting at Tate Modern. Fifteen minutes to gaze across the Thames, at the city shining back at me across the water. Pale blue pastel sky above the distant dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, a vision of glinting white limestone pillars growing ever nearer.
Then suddenly I was there, and facing tall brown walls rising austere and blank above me. And it’s true, that for a historic building, Tate Modern might seem somewhat disappointing.
Just a huge brick block, with a tall brick tower attached. Minimalist design. The work of a famous architect it may be (Giles Gilbert Scott), but it’s not that much to look at.
And yet, the concept it holds within is remarkable. The idea, the sheer audacity, of rescuing one of London’s redundant buildings, Bankside Power Station, and turning it into one of the greatest modern art museums in all the world.
Taking an empty, useless space, the main turbine hall, and transforming it into an exhibit in itself – a darkly yawning and cathedral-like void seven stories high which speaks of this building’s industrial past and its iconic present more volubly than any audio guide imaginable.
My meeting is in the rooftop café inside. Just another London restaurant, really, and yet – it has one of the very best views in London. Out over the Millennium Bridge and straight across the river to St Paul’s. City skyscrapers languish in the haze to the right, whilst to my left stretch Blackfriars and Cannon Street bridges with their buses and trains scurrying from the south.
An hour later, the depths of the turbine hall call me back. The current exhibition here comprises a silver stream of frighteningly steep helter-skelters twisting from the museum’s upper levels into the cavern far beneath.
Would I slide, or slink away into the daylight, turning my back on fear and an opportunity lost for ever ?
A city gent in a sharp suit, hurtling fearfully through a metal tube deep inside a redundant factory. If that is art, then I can only recommend it.
A few minutes later, I blinked my way out into my sunny stroll back towards Waterloo. On a day like this, I felt there could be no better place to feel spring burst through. And it made me ponder, just how much this city has to offer.
The people at my meeting had told me that despite all their years working in London, they’d never been to Tate Modern before today. Or even to St Paul’s. Or the London Eye.
They didn’t know that the River Fleet once flowed into the Thames just opposite here, before being diverted underground.
I smiled, and yet I wanted to stand up right there and shake them. To say, hey – just wake up and look around you.
London is a great city, and you need to feel it, to live it more.
Live it like a tourist, and make the most of it, just for once. Take a tour. You don’t have to run 26 miles around it in one day to get a sense of this city (although that surely helps). You simply need to gaze upwards, for a lunchtime or two, and glimpse beyond those mean commuter tunnels and drizzly bus stops.
This is a world city, with its history and energy right in front of you, its very vitality just waiting to be unlocked at every turn.
And the more I come here, the more I want to run.
One night along this waterfront, I resolved to run the marathon. And this morning – I was only walking, but well, you never know …
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