Bristling with excitment like a hedgehog on steroids

  • Tuesday, October 28, 2014
  • 0

While down at Greenwich for slaves and tin,

The tall Phoenician ships stole in,

And North Sea warboats, painted and gay,

Flashed like dragon-flies, Erith way

(Rudyard Kipling, 1911)

I've never forgotten the culture shock I experienced when I arrived in the UK 17 years ago. My wife and I landed at London Heathrow on a damp and bleak January morning, I remember the temperature was one degree Celsius and we had departed Africa at the height of summer. I had a shock of punk blonde hair and quickly exchanged my t shirt for a long army greatcoat and Doc Martin boots. The other vivid memory I have of that day was how cramped, crumbling and dirty London appeared, after the space and vivid sunshine of home, London with it's rows and rows of identical terraces and slivers of joyless gardens was demoralising.
The longer I've lived here though a paradigm shift has occurred. Initially I hated the place, mentally I never unpacked and I just wanted to leave and go home. Slowly my relationship with London became more love/ hate and eventually bloomed into a passionate love - I am proud to describe myself as a Londoner, this fascinating, multicultural city has become home and I love it.
Now I have grey, cropped hair and I can't afford Doc Martins. I wear glasses and have put down roots. I also run with Jerry, a human Google, genius and Mad Hatter. For a while I've had unformed idea's and several half finished conversations with him about running along the Thames Path and I liked the idea of doing it at night. The big city sparkles at night.  When running the Thames came up again on Saturday evening Jerry's beard took on a life of it's own, bristling with excitement like a hedgehog on steroids and it all morphed into a spontaneous and ad hoc run. We drove to Greenwich park as a jumping off point and ran from there. Our run took on a sinuous feel along the beautiful curves of the great river. I love curves and this river curves something wicked. Also, because I love history, I tried hard to imagine what it must have been like when tall ships carried cargo from around the empire up the Thames and unloaded it into the many warehouses lining the banks but I couldn't. As hard as I tried I could not conjure up sailors, traders, whores or rats. Now days the warehouses are all gentrified apartments full of upwardly mobile and modern sailors, traders, whores and rats, and like the light slap of our Vibrams on the cobbles only echoes of history remain - a few canon, some anchors and the blocky shells of Victorian buildings. Only the river remains constant. It is lovely though, London glitters at night and as we drew closer we could see the Shard (the tallest building in the European Union, completed in 2012) and Tower Bridge, built in 1894 both lit up in the distance. We ran on past Tower Bridge, past City Hall and HMS Belfast to London Bridge where we crossed over to the North Bank and doubled back to the Tower of London. The moat of this historic building is currently filled with hundreds of thousands of red Poppies, one for every one of the service men and women who fell in the Great War. A moving tribute and a fantastic way to end our run.

Tower Bridge, The Shard and The Thames.

The Tower of London, the Poppies.