Grist to the Mill

14 January, 2005


I nearly began by writing “Every morning”. Which would be a lie, so I’ll start again. On most mornings I cycle to work. The distance is 6.1 miles exactly. If I feel particularly exhausted or unwell I take the Northern Line, but my view is that 6 miles in each direction really shouldn’t challenge a person of my age.

At Southwark Bridge Road I feel happy because I know I’m nearly at the end of my journey. “Happy”, relatively speaking (given that I am about to spend 8½ hours at an office job). As I leave the depressing surrounds of Elephant & Castle behind me and head up!-up!-up! the last stretch of Southwark Bridge Road (it looks like a gentle slope but is deceptively steep) I come to Southwark Bridge itself. It’s the only pleasant part of a journey that takes me along some very busy roads and run-down areas in South London. To my right – further East – I can see Tower Bridge, and, early on a January morning, the newly risen sun poking my eyes out and throwing long shadows across the width of the road. To my left, heading West, the Tate Modern is very close and in the distance, recognisable landmarks (such a Centre Point) are obvious. Going to work or heading home, crossing the bridge is the best part of a fairly uninspiring route.

One thing that takes some getting used to, though, is the sight of the Millennium Bridge. This is the famously wobbly bridge whose designers had to go back to the proverbial drawing board. It is the very next bridge to my left (West) and it is a footbridge rather than a bridge equipped for transport. Further West of this we have Blackfriars Bridge, of which there are two – one is a regular road connected up to other roads, the other one only moves trains, directly into Blackfriars Station. Seen from my perspective on Southwark Bridge, pedestrians walking over the Millennium Bridge take on the appearance of giants. The Millennium Bridge is narrow. The distance between me (observing), the pedestrians (walking), and – furthest away – Blackfriars Bridge, where trains and cars are moving, creates a strange effect whereby the more substantial Blackfriars Bridge seems to absorb the skinnier Millennium Bridge, rendering it invisible. Its pedestrians seem to be walking over the much more distant bridge, yet the people are impossibly tall and it is disorientating. It is an illusory sight created by the bridges being somehow in line. The brain has to instruct the eye how to perceive. It has ceased to surprise or puzzle me now though, which is a shame.

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