Day of the post Christmas river trip, so no long lie-in. Rewarded by quiet streets and have time to show Granny our new office location in Tavistock Street and Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridge views before gathering with the others for the 10.30 boat from Embankment Pier to Greenwich. Full family turnout. Eleven in all. Onto a barge with chairs and a plastic hood. It’s a quarter full, almost entirely of foreigners, as we turn under Charing Cross railway bridge and head downstream.
A Cockney commentary, full of jokes of the corniest sort and not even told with any charm, just routine taxidriver sort of prejudices. Edward and especially Catherine Burd, both architects, made apoplectic by references to the National Theatre – ‘thought by most architects to be the worst building in London’. Piers Gough’s Cascade Towers – ‘they say they were designed to look like a boat under full sail. Well all I can say is he’s obviously never been on a boat in his life’, and the Millennium Dome – ‘biggest waste of taxpayers’ money this country’s ever seen’.
In a way I prefer this batty bigotry to a recorded message, but that’s quite a perverse view to take.
An hour to Greenwich and the changes along both banks are considerable. Housing runs in a broken line on the south bank and an almost continuous line on the north, all the way to Greenwich. Canary Wharf is expanding again, after its dodgy hiatus in the late ’80s and the bombing in the ’90s. London’s eastward spread looks inevitable and unstoppable now.
The Dome, a strange new shape, a blister amongst the strips of housing and the fingers of the tower blocks, looms beyond Greenwich’s elegant seventeenth and eighteenth century façades.
We climb up the hill to the Observatory, following an ant-trail of visitors. There is a space on the wall below Flamsteed’s Wren designed building where the zero line of longitude runs. It’s covered in graffiti.