For me it has to be 9.45am on a weekday. Other times, I’m sure, would work as well but… it’s like the first sip of your favourite wine. What’s important isn’t that there are others just as good. What’s important is that you are drinking this one, right now.
So at 9.45am I leave my flat, turn left down my NW5 street and – grateful for sufficient height and laziness to have long since given up on heels – speed-walk the greasy pavement layered with gold and ruby tree confetti to Kentish Town Station. Which is where it all truly begins.
I swipe my Oyster card. I take a moment to pause and grin, Jack Nicholsonesque, at the wind tunnel escalator descending to the bottle trap that is the Northern Line and I
Oh yes. oh Yes.
Because left delivers you to The Train.
The 10am Train.
The One That Goes To Wimbledon. (Eventually. Don’t worry, that’s not relevant.)
The One That Stops At Blackfriars. (This is. Hugely.)
The One That Takes Just 16 Minutes. (I know.)
Have you seen what they’re doing to Blackfriars? The entire bridge is becoming the station. It’s an absolute wonder. Or it will be. At the moment it’s covered in scaffolding that from a distance looks like the whole thing’s held together with matchsticks, along with mesh and swaying canvas making you feel you are on a boat whose owner misbelieves it’s motion sickness you’re after, not a view.
But the good thing about the fact that it isn’t finished is
There’s No-One There.
Certainly not at 10.16am.
So while you can feel that thousands on thousands are anticipated, are being catered for with jumbo platforms and banks of ticket barriers, at present the barriers all stand open.
The other absolutely brilliant thing is that
You Can Get Off At Either Side Of The River.
And while obviously there’s no contest about whether you would choose to exit into the heart of the City with gazillions of pounds worth of misery on its conscience or onto the arts-championing, iconoclastic, Shakespeare-hugging South Bank – where the gazillions earned in the City are partly spent on buying (sorry, sponsoring) culture – I want to know how many other cities give you that option.
I’m off the train at Blackfriars. I turn right towards the south exit, walk swiftly down the steps and at the turn I stop to regain my breath because what I’m looking at has just taken it away. The Thames. Our River. The reason our city exists, the reason our lives exist here. Wide but not stupidly (have you seen the Mississippi?), a silver-grey ribbon sewn with such a random selection of buildings that they are held together only by the colour palette of tidely regurgitation – the bone white of old clay pipes; the pale green of salt-polished bottle-glass; the steel pearl of everything else that has made the journey from city to estuary and endlessly back again.
At the bottom of the stairs I can either walk east to Tate Modern (a few minutes’ stroll) or west towards the National Theatre, the BFI and the book market, past the skate park, cheered on by a blast of bright music from the Wahaca Restaurant Experiment.
Then it’s a quick hop up onto the terrace and into the elegance that is the Festival Hall, wandering its communal spaces, catching a drift of jazz piano. I pick up a coffee, find a table and a chair, angle myself at the view and when I’ve done gazing at history from the Romans onward playing out in transparent layers over the water in front of me, I take out my pen and I write about our mutual friend, this city, this river, just sixteen minutes away.