I have an unfortunate trait of leaving things to the last minute. Friends, family and colleagues and all suffer from my habitual, and quite possibly chronic, fear doing things in good time. There’s always time to enjoy another ten minutes in bed, to listen to one more song on the radio, to make that final killer move in Facebook Scrabble. It probably all started in spring 1999 when, instead of revising, I decided playing endless games of Solitare would be an appropriate method of exam preparation.
You might remember me going on about ascending The Monument last Friday. The ticket I bought, for a tidy £8, allowed access to both The Monument and the Tower Bridge Exhibition (a saving of £2 on buying them separately; we’re living in austere times). The caveat being, of course, that both attractions needed to be visited within the week. I waited, naturally, until seven days had passed — despite having had a couple free earlier in the week. The procrastinator’s holy trinity of a warm bed, Ken Bruce’s Pop Master and the BlackBerry’s BrickBreaker could cause even the most determined man to fail in his important tasks.
So, I’d put myself into an awkward position. I had to make a decision: go see Kevin Pietersen play for Surrey at The Oval or make use of my ticket for Tower Bridge. Seeing an out-of-form batsman play for an out-of-sorts county cricket team certainly has its appeal, but the lion of fiscal common sense is an intimidating beast, and one I am generally unable to ignore. To the District line, batman — there’s a bridge to explore!
My fellow apathists, and those of a lethargic disposition, will be pleased to learn the walkways — 44 metres above the Thames — are accessed by an attended lift. After clearing the airport-style security check, and avoiding the chroma-key photographer by way of a firm stare and sullen shake of the head, the lift takes a matter of moments to whisk you, and a couple of young European families, to the top. It’s not so swift that the lift attendant can’t tell you where to buy the souvenier photographs, but I suppose that’s the price of living in a market-driven economy. That and the £850bn to bail out the banks.
Each of the walkways has its own exhibition. The east’s is about bridges; famous examples from all parts of the world flank the inner wall. The view through the east-facing windows is occasionally interrupted for a bit more detail on Tower Bridge itself. The west walkway is all about the Thames, tracing the river from its origins in Gloucestershire to its ultimate demise in the Thames Estuary. The images of picturesque, quintessentially English, places on the walls can’t help but make a chap wonder why on earth he, of all people, would choose to live elsewhere.
The photographic fraternity is well catered for. Both walkways have small sliding windows to enable decent shots to be taken up or down the river:
Both the towers show looping videos on large screens. The north film explains the story behind the bridge, the south details how the bridge was built. While you’re up there, see if you can spot these lads:
The second phase of the experience happens at ground level. After another attended lift journey, visitors are invited to follow a blue line down the pavement towards the Engine Room. The old boilers, mechanisms and hydraulic systems have been preserved and restored for the visiting public. There’s also an opportunity to see a video of Robbie Maddison jump a semi-open Tower Bridge. While watching, you can stand next to the actual bike on which he performed. There’s also an interactive demonstration of hydraulics. Essentially, you put your fat mate in a chair and turn a small handle, then watch as, almost effortlessly, you elevate them to dizzy new heights (of about two feet).
Harding’s Improved Counter
(That’s me, my Canon 350D and its nifty fifty)
The bridge’s bascules are raised on around 1,000 occasions each year. Times and dates are given on their website. Coincidence was kind and, just as I was leaving, the bridge was raised to allow a tall boat to pass downstream:
There’s some nice photographic opportunities, and the bridge’s policy seems to be very liberal. The guide in the first lift had taken the time to explain that taking photos of anything and everything was fine. I thought the sliding windows in the walkways were a nice touch, too.
A quick note of caution for anyone who doesn’t like the smell of tin-fresh paint: the lads are up on the walkways at the moment, completing an extensive programme of refurbishment. The fumes are rather pungent, but presumably non-toxic, so it might be one to avoid on a hangover…
Oh, almost forgot: Pietersen managed a single run, giving him an average of 0.5 runs per first class innings this year. Good work, KP.