London, let’s face it, is a fairly frenetic city. The trade-off for the excitement, buzz and opportunities afforded by living in one of the world’s greatest cities is hustle and bustle, loud noise, and at times relentless activity all around you.
In my view, it’s very much a price worth paying – if I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t live here, nor would I spend time introducing tourists to some of the hidden gems of the capital. But from time-to-time we all need some downtime, and one of the secrets to living successfully in London is to be able to grab that time, even in the most unpromising of places.
And when it comes to taking a restful, meditative moment, places don’t come much more unpromising than Vauxhall Bridge. A fairly grim iron structure providing a busy road link between Victoria and Pimlico on one bank of the Thames, and the heaving complexity of the Vauxhall one-way system and the delights of its bus station on the other (a bus station which is beaten in terms of London busy-ness only by Victoria bus station itself).
I walked across the bridge recently, as I often do, while the low tide exposed a muddy, pebble-strewn foreshore just beneath the MI6 building (affectionately called Vauxhall Cross or, more tellingly in relation to its architecture, Babylon-on -Thames). There, picking delicately across the mud was a rather elegant heron, apparently oblivious to the roaring road traffic, the chugging river boats or the many CCTV cameras doubtless trained upon it from spy HQ.
The grace, focus and calm of the bird was in such contrast to the noisy surroundings that I stopped on the parapet of the bridge and watched. I must have stood there for several minutes, in what I can only describe as a brief communion with nature. I think several people passed me, most I suspect without noticing me or the bird, and a few slightly bemused as to that I was doing. Eventually, an older couple came and stood near me to watch the heron, and so I left them to have their own private moment in that most public of places, and wandered on home.