A free day in London can mean varied entertainment and practically no dosh required. This is how I spent yesterday.
We take the bus into town, intending to head straight for the Tate Modern a little way up from the stop at Waterloo Bridge. But London transport being the roulette game it is, we're all turfed off early in Trafalgar Square.
No great problem, though, as it allows us to have a look at the Fourth Plinth activity (artist Anthony Gormley's idea that more than 2,000 people will spend an hour each on the vacant plinth until October). This consists of a bored looking guy reading a newspaper. The safety net ruins the exciting possibilities of the unexpected so we move on past the National Gallery (free entry), down Villiers Street past Charing Cross Station, and over the beautiful pedestrian Hungerford Bridge with some of the most spectacular views of London, to the South Bank.
Here are London plane trees wrapped in red fabric with white polka-dots, giving the impression that they've caught lurgy — a precursor to the Swine Flu pandemic expected this year.
We'd normally pause at the National Film Theatre where you could once relax with a pint or a coffee on one of the democratic benches overlooking the bookstalls and river, and maybe chat to your neighbours, mostly film buffs. But some bureaucrat bean-counter had them all dug up earlier this year and replaced with chi-chi tables and chairs, surrounded by a barrier of topiary and clear messages that the hoi-polloi can frakk off! This is now for the haute bourgeoisie with spending power, not skint movie fans.
So on to the National Theatre where I bump into a friend, actor Stephen Hoo looking very fit, exercising with playwright Rikki Beadle-Blair and a bunch of mates. We exchange air-kisses and leave them to their exertions while we settle at a table on the almost deserted first floor of the NT. When the weather's nice, I sometimes pick up a box of sushi from the Embankment station Wasabi for a few quid and picnic outside on the balcony. Today it's grey and showery so we eat our Tesco's sandwiches in the warm.
We walk to the Tate Modern, running past the boarded up length of pathway where they're building a new entrance for Blackfriars station and which stinks of chemicals. It's like sniffing glue and I feel quite light-headed by the time we reach the gallery. We head straight for the Members Room (membership allows you and a guest free access to the exhibitions meaning you can save hundreds in a year if you're a regular visitor to the Tates) with its great views across the river to St Pauls and beyond. The Dunkertons perry cider is the best — a scrumpy-like earthyness, lovely flavour, and it's 7.5%! It costs £4 per 500ml bottle but definitely worth it as a treat. [Note: in the Members Room it's £4.05, in the other restaurants it's £4.50.]
A bit squiffy, we catch a bit of the art including animee films (Anna Lee) and some arty nude footage which look like parody but turn out to be the genuine item from the 1960s. Sorry we guffawed like the drunken philistines we were, but they made us do it!! I did haul at Delightful Chum's arm when he pointed at the Free Willy and chortled. Thus distracted, we're too late for the Futurism exhibition which we'll have to see next time.
Outside, the RSPB have set up telescopes trained on the top of the Tate Mod tower where a female peregrine and her mate have taken to hanging out for the past five years, feasting on the feral pigeons who don't seem the least bit bothered. She's sitting peacefully with nuthin' but the breeze ruffling her feathers — a good state to be in.
We intended to take the boat to the Tate Britain (a fiver) but it's nearly six and everything's closing so we note that you can get a day roaming pass for £12 which gets you to all stops between Westminster Pier and the O2 Centre downriver, and resolve to do this next time.
We cross the Millennium Bridge, now disappointingly stable since its opening week as the Wobbly Bridge. Halfway across, we meet a guy with a juvenile Asian python. For £2 he'll let you take pictures with it which we did. As you can see above.
St Pauls Cathedral is closed — tough if you're in a crisis and in need of something numinous. Thankfully, we're not, so we take the bus home having spent under a tenner each.