Saturday, 19 August 2017
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Hop on - Hop offVisitors to London from the States have to be entertained, and what better way than an open top tour of the Capital on a double decker bus.

The “hop on, hop off” availability appeared to suit all concerned and we were soon determining our “hop on” and “hop off” spots. I must admit that initially I had trouble understanding the tour maps. Red and Blue routes criss-crossed and the directional arrows were seemingly randomly placed. Finally I got the hang of them after a “tour conductor” explained.

Well sir, both routes go round anticlockwise. The Blue route is longer. The other major difference is that the Blue route has recorded commentary in different languages via earphones, whilst the red route buses have tour guides with live commentary in English.

Now, having tested both alternatives I would strongly recommend avoiding the Red Bus and its Cockney humoured repartee at 75 decibels, whenever possible. One other general observation after numerous contacts with members of the working Londoner club is simply. Everybody is so “nice” these days. It would appear that they all have been to the same charm school or is this simply the Olympic legacy.

We were soon past the Waldorf and on to a strangely paperless Fleet Street followed by the Old Bailey. We then hopped off at St Paul’s. Wren did a brilliant job all those years ago. The cathedral still looks so impressive. Internally it is a place of introspection and externally inspiration, after all it has dominated the sky line for over 300 years. Somehow I can’t see the recent London architectural additions, The Shard and the Gherkin, lasting that length of time. These new builds do however show the city is still alive and kicking.

Hopping back on a Blue, the Bank of England quickly came into view on our left. I smiled as the commentary mentioned the address, Threadneedle Street just off Cheapside. What joker consciously located the country’s main financial centre at such an address? We continued en route via a two bridge loop round to the Tower of London. My U.S. visitors couldn’t stop smiling in the fresh air and sunshine. They were loving every moment. I too was enjoying this excursion but in a different and somewhat emotional way. After all I had spent 5 years commuting to and trudging around this metropolis and not once did I wonder about the heritage or the individuals who had sweated, toiled and died in the Fire and the Bombing to produce this magnificent demonstration of human brilliance. The will of the people to overcome everything and anything that the world could throw at them hit me. My emotions climbed even higher when “Land of Hope and Glory” came through on the ear phones.

The Tower remains as stolid and as intimidating as ever. A stroll around it and a gaze at those fierce lion statues spurs all pedestrians down to the water’s edge and some onto a leisurely ferry ride to Westminster.
The “Waterman”, “I’m not a tour guide” took us all under his microphone and proceeded to do guide through the length of our river ride. The Thames was at low tide. Its banks were covered with debris which was being thoroughly examined by numerous human scavengers. The water was empty of any commercial traffic other than the joy riders enjoying their ferries. HMS Belfast was the only other class of vessel on show.

Big Ben struck one as we landed, a really great welcome. Unfortunately Parliament square and Whitehall were chock-a-block with humanity, so we decided to give No 10 and the Horse Guards a miss and retire to the relative quiet of Bird Cage walk. A hop, skip and a jump later we were gazing at the Palace. It looked splendid. Her majesty was at home but was not available, visitations had stopped just over a week ago and the State Rooms won’t be open again for visitors until next summer. Pity. The guards on duty, facing the Mall, entertained us with their neck relaxation exercises. They were just like the puppets in “Night Garden”. It was really quite odd, very robotic. Also, we didn’t find Christopher Robin or Alice so we hopped on a Rad at the Mews and headed back to Piccadilly, Nelson and Trafalgar and finally the Embankment.

By now it was going home time for the office Wallahs and yes 30 years ago I was one of them. Today my route home has changed ever so slightly. There is no pedestrian section hanging onto the Hungerford Bridge any more. It has been removed and replaced by a new separate “Golden Jubilee Walkway.” All very grand but still crowded and still decorated with “Buskers” of variable quality.

Finally Waterloo station, there ready to offer us seats on the 1710 to Kingston. We sat there quietly, content to reflect on our day whilst enjoying the rattle and roll of another homeward journey.

HIB