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Intensities: Walking sacred London

My working day begins with a passage through London, a tour through a slice of history in a city which continually rewrites itself. It is during my daily walk to my workplace that I take time to connect to my sense of the sacred – found in moments of connection; in chance encounters; in memories of my own past entwined with the histories of of the places I pass and the spaces passed through; in those instants when I am caught unawares by wonder; thoughts stilled in the swirl of the senses.

Arriving at London Bridge, I take a moment to reflect on the station as a magical place, a place where journeys begin and end (albeit with considerable waiting times occasionally). The station is a temple to that Victorian sense of triumphant progress, all the more so due to the looming presence of the Shard. Today. the station is poised for the onset of Olympic travellers, its staff eager for travellers to leave. Exiting the main forecourt, I take a moment to remember Crossbones, just down the road. Then across the road and down onto Green Dragon Court. Where did that name come from, I wonder? Did a green dragon rise to threaten the Cathedral? Probably not. On my left, Borough Market is recreating itself anew in preparation for another busy day. On my right, Southwark Cathedral’s bells toll the hour, overlaying the squawking of gulls and the clatter of the stallholders, yet at the same time, it exudes a sense of silence.

I stroll past the replica of Drake’s Golden Hind, dreaming in its berth, and into Pickford Wharf. Past the ruins of Winchester Palace, emerging seamlessly out of the car park next to it. Onto Clink Street, past London’s “most notorious prison” and a momentary shudder of sympathy for the uncounted numbers who suffered within it’s confines over the centuries. Then I’m on the Thames path and the Anchor public house. Samuel Pepys watched the Great Fire from here, but for me it invokes memories of many meetings, drunken discussions … and the time we nearly got into a fight over the offer of cigarettes.

My first glimpse of the Thames, blue-green and quiet in the morning light, sunlight sparkling from its ripples. Amidst all the clutter of the city, the Thames seems eternal. I take a brief moment to savour the quiet, and at that same moment, a military helicopter clatters overhead, prompting the dark thought that London is a city under continual surveillance.

The dome of St. Pauls peeps over the buildings on the opposite bank – it looks as though it would benefit from a bit of sponge-down. Further down the river, on the same side, that testament to the optimism of the 1960s, the BT Tower, makes its appearance, long since knocked off its position as London’s tallest building. Curiously, the BT Tower was officially a “secret” until the mid-nineties, and was not marked on ordnance survey maps. There’s something very British about that – the way we manage to maintain “secrets” by agreeing, tacitly, not to mention the blindly obvious.

The Thames path has, like many other parts of the city, been given a make-over for the Olympics. New signs, seats, and bunting. Down the Thames path then; past the obsidian-faced, orwellian collection of blocks that is home to The Financial Times. What dreams are forged and broken within that place?

Past The Globe Theatre, under the Millenium Bridge and down the side of that temple of culture, the Tate Modern (a former power station), where Edward Munch vies for attention against Damien Hirst. The Tate is frequently the spot where I encounter something unusual, even at this early hour. A camera crew; a new statue being erected. One time, a couple in full evening dress down on the riverbank.

Into Bankside, once one of the worst areas in South London, vice-ridden and dangerous day or night, now busily reshaping itself; past architect’s offices and galleries on the left, to the right the corporate headquarters of IBM and Forbidden Planet. The open loading docks and service entries hinting at the hidden mazes of tunnels and passageways behind those monolithic facades. Onto Southwark Street now, and under another bridge, booming with the traffic it carries.

My first glimpse of the towers around Blackfriars Bridge Road, and then, turning the corner, the flats and office blocks glinting in the sun, the road racing across Blackfriars Bridge, and I am drawn, inexorably, towards the nine-floored building where I must toil the day through. At this hour though, the building is quiet, the eighth floor silent apart from the almost subliminal background hum of printers in power-save mode. I know that this building also has its secret ways – conduits between walls and floors, service lifts, hidden spaces known only to the crew (“the pixies” as they sometimes, ironically, name themselves) that trace the cables, patch the phone lines, care for the servers in the comms room on the first floor. Gradually, as nine o’clock approaches, the floor fills up with people, chatting, grabbing the first coffee of the day, and so the working day begins…


  1. Julian Vayne
    Posted August 14th 2012 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    Great essay Phil, did you see The Wanton Green yet with Gordon The Toad et al?

    • Phil Hine
      Posted August 21st 2012 at 8:45 am | Permalink

      Yes – a review is in the pipeline.