It's London, the weather is November and not nice. We've taken the Cockney -narrated ferry (again, same Michael Caine jokes) downriver from the Embankment to St. Katherine's Pier . The gray clouds are still high enough to be hopeful. Hungry, we're heading over London Bridge for walkabout food.
The press of Saturday people at Borough Market make strolling impossible and at times simply breathing is alarmingly at risk. Visitors are generally like us; in search of immediately consumable food rather than dinner fixings. The handsome displays of peppers and wine and bread and pheasant go undisturbed. We wait in a long queue for sausages grilled by Aussie twenty-somethings, purchase an armful of fragrant heather sprays and spend time hanging around the Wensleydale Cheese because no one else is.
A South Bank River Walk on a gloomy day calls for a Thames side drink on the deck of the Thames-side Inn. Leaning over the rail watching the Thames police launch shuttle its crew of seriously yellow suited div ers on their way to a mysterious something, holds our attention until they get swallowed by larger craft. It's not that this pub is any great shakes, but it juts right out into the Thames in a pleasing, under- the- falls kind of way. The Founders' Arms down the walk has a terrific multi- directional river webcam, and maybe we're on it, viewers in Tokyo watching our tiny selves watch the great gray river.
Strolling down Gabriel's Wharf past the book stalls, maps, and prints, the weather closes in and paperbacks are resignedly covere d by tarps. This part of the South Bank teems with walkers, diners, skateboarders and legions of Maclaren double baby strollers whose prisoners are encased in waterproof plastic shields. Carved out of old riverside garages, chic shops and businesses line the walk between the London Eye, which currently stares at dismal skies, and the power plant -turned-Tate Modern. The drama of the rain-fed Thames gives new mea ning to the word roil.
We join the river rubberneckers witnessing a drowning. Thames- bank sand sculptors create exotic installations in the hours between tides. One combo street theater group, who call themselves Dirty Beach, regularly carve elaborately sandy living rooms complete with sofa and tv from the gritty river bank.
Today's sculptor is into big heads. A glum woman with sharp cheekbones, pouty mouth and flowing sand locks looks resigned to meeting her maker; her eyes closed against her tidal fate. The artist's tip bucket is handsomely full but I toss in another pound coin. A cigarette dangling from his mouth in either a purposefully rakish bohemian artist kind of look, or simply as a way to keep it sand-free, he grins a thanks, but while his back is turned the Thames tosses a wave over the sand head.
The artist banks a channel to temporarily divert the breach against the inevitable, but the tide has turned. His woman is a goner. The water flirts with her hair, stealing strands and toying with her head and ears. The channel floods and smooths her chin and cheeks. I can't watch the inevitable and we walk on, leaving the rest of the ghoulish voyeurs to see her out to sea.
A perfect day, we lose ourselves in early dark to the crush of pre-Christmas Oxford Street, shop for but do not buy a new duvet cover, ride the steamy number 137 bus back to Sloane Square and share a drink by the warm fire at the Cooper's Arms. Looking deeply at the fire over my glass, I ask Tom if he can't just make out a sort of head shape right there in the glowing embers. Tom says I am being macabre and we sit in the quiet pub thinking about the weight of water.