Friday, 10 June 2011

South of the River

To many people living in London, the River Thames is a frontier between north London and south London.  Paris might have ‘rive gauche’ (left bank and right bank); in London, however, the River is treated as a straight east-west axis, though of course it meanders through the city with some parts of south London being further north than parts of north London.  Many people who live in London describe crossing the river as a visit to another world and it’s almost like crossing the River Styx.  Luckily the modern day Charons offer return trips, so it’s not all a case of Orpheus and Eurydice.

I referred in a previous post to a trip on the River on Thames Clippers.  If you have a Freedom Pass, check for discounts.  Crossing the river by bridge is also interesting as there are several road and rail bridges across it and you can get a good idea of the Thames as an artery when the tide is in and a bit of a mess when the tide is out.  If you have a hat, hold on to it as the bridges can be very windy and Waterloo Bridge in particular can make you feel very cold and exposed – and it is a lot longer than it might appear.  Hungerford Bridge used to be an assault course, but in its modern state, together with the South Bank developments, means it is much more accessible.

I made my first solo trip on Tuesday across the bridge from Charing Cross underground station.  You can get off at the Embankment, but I know my way out of Charing Cross on my own though always ask for help in getting back into the underground system.  The bridge is a pleasant walk and will lead you over to the South Bank, which is celebrating 60 years since the Festival of Britain in 1951. 

I wanted to find my way into the Royal Festival Hall (RFH) and had completely forgotten how to get in.  In these circumstances you can usually find a restaurant or a shop and if you hear the sound of money, you can be sure that someone will be able to direct you.  In my case it was the bookshop and through a few questions of the ‘where is the box office’ variety, I found myself at the said box office, where on a whim I got a ticket for Tuesday night’s performance by the Royal Philharmonic with Charles Dutoit conducting and Nikolai Lugansky (piano) with a programme of:  Berlioz/Weber’s Invitation to the Dance, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 4 and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. 

The box office staff were extremely helpful and checked my requirements including that of the dog with their accessibility database.  The concession is a half price ticket and one for a guest at the same price.  So, two of us went to a programme which ought to have included Martha Argerich, but she had cancelled.  Incidentally, the concert was broadcast on Radio 3.  There is only one box office on level 2 of the RFH, and the staff generally are very helpful and will guide you to your seat.  If you’re meeting someone, there are tables and chairs and comfortable sofas near the box office and it is good as a rendezvous point (if you haven’t got a Smartphone).

After having booked a ticket, I decided to explore the South Bank and was attracted by a lot of bright yellow, which is one of the few colours I can make out reliably.  There is a lot going on here and the site is currently laid out resembling a beach or lido with deck chairs, beach huts and boating exhibitions. 

I managed to find the National Theatre, entered it and gravitated towards the box office.  Again, they were very helpful, put me on their accessibility list and, once again, inquired about the dog.  I was also told about the current programme and told them that with the help of a friend I had booked into a touch tour and performance of The Cherry Orchard by Chekov. 

This news was of interest to someone else, who told me that Chekov had written precise instructions regarding stage direction and props, and that most productions of Chekov, wherever performed, tended to adhere to the playwright’s directions.  This was news to me, though I can remember seeing The Cherry Orchard at Edinburgh many years ago.  

A couple of transport comments: 

Accessibility for wheelchairs is not something I have commented on and is beyond my competence.  Obviously, access at some stations is restricted, though ramps and lifts have been installed at many stations.  I’ve recently been changing trains in East Croydon, Watford Junction, Bletchley and have been to Bedford, Tonbridge and St Albans Abbey on research.  There are no staff at St Albans Abbey station, but it does provide easier access to the Verulamium.  Unfortunately, it was a rainy day when I went and though I did find the Verulamium, I should have taken a waterproof reel of cotton with me.  It was Theseus without Ariadne, though I think I could just about manage to retrace my way on a good day. 

Some of the junctions I’ve mentioned can be useful as interchange rather than using the London termini, though a word of warning on some First Capital Connect services – there are often no announcements on the train so you may have to ask ‘where are we’.  I would advise that you check in with the station staff if using this line as the timetable is also more complex than it would appear.  Service on Southern Southeastern and London Midland, on the other hand, have regular announcements if not automatic ones, and the railway staff are obvious.  

As mentioned before, there is a lot of construction work on Thameslink services.

London Overground : services are frequent, there are announcements and the station staff have always been a useful source of information on tickets beyond the London zonal system, as well as arranging for onward help at Watford Junction (staff there also extremely helpful).  Remember, your Freedom Pass will take you to Watford Junction so you can buy a ticket for beyond, if you feel adventurous!