Monday, 13 December 2010

The Best Way To Spend A Friday Afternoon In London

By Faye Armstrong.

A good friend of mine recently commented that in my future she sees me living on a canal boat, having built a fierce reputation for myself as the local crazy. Being the subject of fearful chatter amongst local school kids, they will run to the water’s edge and shout adolescent obscenities in a game of titillating tag which will make their hearts beat hard and fast in a bid to prove just how lionhearted they are. Apparently, I will share this floating house with many animals, paying special attention to my collection of birds and stuffed road kill. Quite the well thought out, off-the-cuff comment I think you’ll agree.

I’m somewhat of a clairvoyant myself, and in my future I see me no longer associating with this ‘good friend’. (My extra sensory perception must be on the fritz, this would obviously never happen, I’m certain she’s the only one who would bring me my bird seed from the local PetSmart.) In my future I see me whiling away a Friday afternoon with people of good standing order on a Veuve Clicquot Cruise, not with the handiwork of a taxidermist on a flat bottomed barge. Hold on, that’s not my future, that’s my past. Stupid crystal ball from GimmeGadgets.

Yes, I recently had the privilege of experiencing what I would consider one of London’s most unique and special activities: a Friday lunch cruise on the River Thames aboard the Silver Barracuda.

Before departing, my guest and I were offered champagne and canap├ęs as the upper deck filled with London’s finest (mostly a blend of suited silver foxes and heeled blonde vixens) all of whom, although I’m sure were happy, looked unfazed by their current locale while my eyes shone with the light of unschooled expectancy, a verdant sailor finding my sea legs. A tricky aim when the ground beneath your feet rocks and you’ve consumed two glasses of Veuve.

The water cruising police pass alongside the Silver Barracuda and for some inexplicable reason I feel guilty and turn my head. No, there is no crime littering my past, I just harbour a strange disposition of unearned guilt. Like when you exit a shop and the alarm sounds and despite having not shoplifted you somehow believe you have, or when you buy booze and as the till assistant regards your countenance you blush and look cagey despite having ID in your purse officially stating that you’re older than you would care to have anyone know.

Perhaps the crowd around me feel the same or perhaps they are actually trying to evade the law, either way, whether coincidental or not, the sighting of the men in blue spurs a move by all to the lower dining deck.

For £115 (+VAT) per person I was expecting the scene I encountered. Decadent in its canvas of wood and unusual in its accents of Art Deco, the space was lit by both the ash wood chandelier and the natural light streaming through the curved windows hugged by booths now seating wide-eyed guests, struggling to decide where to look: at their plates filled with excellently cooked food or at the iconic scenes passing silently by the expansive windows. A green bean drops onto one woman’s lap. I know which sight she has chosen.

As the dishes of the specially selected three course ‘rhubarb’ menu pass me by – pumpkin and roasted pear soup, rump Welsh lamb with Boulanger potatoes, green beans and star anise jus, steamed ginger marmalade sponge pudding with rhubarb compote – the sights do too.

From boarding the Silver Barracuda at the Savoy Pier on the Victoria Embankment we cruised for two and a half hours from Westminster to Greenwich and back. What does this mean? It means I saw London’s most loved sights and architecture - Tate Britain, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, the Savoy Hotel, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London, Canary Wharf, the o2, the Globe Theatre, the Tate Modern, the Oxo Tower, the Royal National Theatre, the London Eye - without having to see red on the tubes as people push and shove as I try to get from one sight to another in one piece, both mentally and physically.

It means that when the Silver Barracuda docked at 2.30pm I was feeling relaxed, euphoric, cultured and ready for the rest of my weekend. It means that unlike the usual Friday afternoon eye-rubbing which, like nail-biting and word-mumbling, only seems deranged when other people do it, there was no private fit for me to defend, “look, I suctioned latex disks onto my eyeballs every day and then dab what basically amounts to black paint around the whole area. What do you expect?” It means I was left with only a feeling of contentment and positivity, like I could walk on water. Hmmm, perhaps my friend’s vision of my future will come to pass. Now, where can I pick up a copy of ‘Best Barges For British Bonkers 2011’?

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