You must be cold. Let's get moving.
Ahead of us is the secondhand book fair under Waterloo Bridge. Unfortunately I've found that, like some cakes, it looks better than it is. Only worth the delay if it's raining, which it isn't. Up the steps onto the bridge, remembering the impact of Anthony Gormley's Event Horizon in 2007 (unfortunately I didn't have a camera with me that day). I love the reminder to look around, to notice the present that surrounds me rather than march along, nose to the pavement and eyes dwelling inwardly on the past or future. Cherish the unexpected!
Looking west from the bridge there's a good view of the London Eye transfixed by a beam, er, the Clock Tower of the Palace of Westminster aka the Houses of Parliament. Past the Imax cinema, past Waterloo Station and dive into Leake St, which is now a tunnel under the train tracks running south and west from Waterloo.
(That's the other end, on Lower Marsh Street.) The last time we walked here the walls were covered with artistic, elegant, witty political and social comments. This time it's just tags – some artistic, some not – with artists still at work in an atmosphere thick with spray solvents.
Lower Marsh Street is the home of iKnit, which is why we're here, but unfortunately they're out of the Devon Cashmere. Or rather, it's just as well, because it is incredibly expensive as well as incredibly soft. Better luck next time?
Pause for thought. Where next? No idea, but perhaps it's time to head for the north bank. From Westminster Bridge there's a good view back east along the river
There's a better view of the Eye and the Greater London Council building aka County Hall, which is almost directly across the Thames from the Palace of Westminster (ideally situated for the battles that took place when Margaret Thatcher decided to take Ken Livingstone and the Labour-dominated London Council down).
We head east along the Victoria Embankment completed in 1870, part of the London sewage system by Joseph Bazalgette. Pass the Battle of Britain memorial, unveiled in 2005:
My feelings on viewing memorials are uncomfortably mixed. The sense of 'noble sacrifice' is almost perfectly countered by awareness of the suffering by all concerned and lingering despair that time and time and time again, the best and brightest of any and all nations will die for what may – or may not be – a noble cause. There must be a better way. Anyway...
This is more cheering:
That's the base of a Victoria Embankment lamp-post, just because I love grotesquely belligerent dolphins. If I were forced to coil like that I lay odds my eyes would bulge, too. Beyond it is an elegantly poised and polished sphinx's bottom defending London's Cleopatra's Needle (nothing to do with Cleopatra, it was created roughly 1000 years before her time) from all comers. Yes, the sphinxes (there's another on the other side) were installed the wrong way around: they're staring at the obelisk instead of staring at us and anyone else who threatened it. Not that their protection was much use, as evinced by the inscription commemorating those who brought the obelisk to London.
'Through the patriotic zeal of Erasmus Wilson FRS this obelisk was brought from Alexandria...'
He read that aloud as 'Through the Victorian love of stealing artefacts from ancient civilisations this obelisk was brought...', which occasioned a surprised look from the people beside us.
We sat on a bench supported by ornately wingéd sphinxes in a Victorian style and considered our options for 5 minutes before deciding to head for Covent Garden to investigate backpacks (that leather bag is incredibly uncomfortable at this point) and other outdoor gear at Ellis Brigham, with an eye open for a leather jacket for him. The Perfect Jacket has been on The List of Unattainable Objects for about four years. Dive up Savoy Street and we're there. I astonish the nice chap in Ellis Brigham by emptying my handbag into a new daypack even before I pay for it, tendering the old bag for the rubbish as I offer my card in payment. Light as a feather (alright, that's an exaggeration) we put all valuables in the front pockets of our jeans and head toward Neal Street through the crowds in Covent Garden.
Hence the cautions about pickpockets. But it was worth it, because we found THE JACKET in Neal Street. A perfect jeans jacket in every regard, made of black leather. He looked at home in it as soon as he put it on.
I was so pleased for him that I swear it had completely slipped my mind that there's a heffalump trap where Neal Street opens onto Shaftesbury Avenue.
Just as well I'd bought a proper daypack. I should specify that I only buy books, not horrendously expensive plastic models. But I do buy a lot of books.
It's getting dark when we emerge into the street again, but it's not late enough to think about eating. What next? I suggest the Apple Store in Regent Street, as I'm thinking about upgrading my work machine.
So it's west through Soho as the lights brighten against the sky. It looks tawdry in daylight and I suspect it can get downright nasty late at night, but I do like this place in the early evening as people flow along the streets to eddy and swirl in front of pubs and popular bars.
I stop briefly at the south end to take a picture, then we settle into a long covet in the Apple store. It's almost dark when I decide I cannot decide anything surrounded by white and silver sirens singing of speed and power and unbelievable (literally) increases in my creative ability.
It's too dark to take spontaneous photos. Here's the last outdoor attempt of the day; I think it's the steeple of All Souls at the head of Regent Street.
These day-long expeditions traditionally finish at Strada in Exmouth Market. The food is decent, the wine list is surprisingly varied, and the desserts are perfectly justifiable after a good walk. So we head northeast navigating by feel rather than fact. I've noticed that our companionable wrangling about which way to turn (or not) at every second street corner disconcerts anybody walking with us, but it's all good fun as far as we're concerned. It's not as though we have to take the most direct route: we do this to find the unexpected. Eventually we always end up approaching the Mount Pleasant Postal Sorting Office and from there we could (almost) walk blindfolded.
Doesn't it feel good to sit down?
Two or so hours later it's time to walk north to King's Cross where we catch the Tube north, remembering one particularly memorable day a year or so ago, when this last stage of the journey was an adventure all by itself. We now check for engineering works on the Underground before we travel, lest we once more end up walking from Golders Green to Finchley, then from Woodside Green to Totteridge & Whetstone.
I'd have had a second dessert if I'd known...