The London of my imagination is a nighttime city, a city of twinkling lights reflected in the Thames, of old-fashioned lampposts, of warm windows full of laughing people glowing into dim streets. Sometimes it’s even like that in real life.
One night I walk home from seeing a show at the Globe and I feel this could easily be the manner in which I would like all days to end.
It is a warm evening and revellers are out reeling merrily from pub to pub. I walk past the Globe’s own bar, the Swan, past the Anchor, the Old Thameside Inn, the Mudlark. Under London Bridge, down Tooley Street, nip to the left and there’s the Thameside path. Across the river peeping between two buildings is St Magnus the Martyr, bells not chiming tonight but I can hear their echoes resonating, cascading changes out over the water.
The Thameside path looks festive with its fairy lights strung between lampposts by London City Pier. Everywhere are couples strolling. By the HMS Belfast one of the lamps has gone out casting deep shadows under the trees. There is a bench; people are kissing.
Now the smooth glass and steel of More London Place, but who would look to the right when on the left is the pale stone majesty of the Tower of London? Just before you reach the Scoop is a little notch in the railing caused by the curve of the river, a notch perfect for leaning against and contemplating Tower Bridge. Mugginess in the air becomes visible as a slight blurring of the illuminating beams catching every facet, every girder, every plaque.
Past the great jelly mould that is City Hall which always looks as though someone’s reached out a surreptitious finger and poked it, leaving it caught frozen mid-wobble. Now up a narrow stone staircase onto the bridge itself just as the sides begin to open.
A group forms at the pedestrian gate, some waiting impatiently, others approaching slowly, admiring the view and the uncharacteristic warm evening air. Up goes the bridge, through goes the ship, and soon enough we’re under way again.
And now I’m in the quiet of St Katharine’s Dock and Wapping. The swans are asleep in the ornamental canal. Near the end of my journey the path turns sharp to the right. I can lean against the rail and see the turrets of Tower Bridge peeping back at me over the buildings, behind it the upward rush of the Shard.
The warm weather has caused all green growing things to unfurl apace and this corner of path appears quite neglected. No, not neglected: it appears as though some other place, a woodland somewhere, is trying to creep in through the cracks. Underfoot are little growing flowers that give way to shrubs, further on are trees. The ghost of a park bench looms up, slats missing. There’s a displaced lamppost behind; I have the odd feeling I’m stepping into a cross between Narnia and the forest in Midsummer Night’s Dream.
I linger here in this dream garden for a moment or two but I’m afraid to stay too long, for I know that when daylight comes all the iridescence of imagination will fade. London in the day is still pretty wonderful, but at night–oh, at night it is enchanting.