Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Grand Day Out

You can tell I’m getting too used to living in Britain; we went on a sightseeing trip to London the other day and I didn’t even bother to bring my camera. Consequently, all the photos for this post have been nicked from other sites. Don’t worry; I ripped off major news organizations, not budding photographers trying to earn a buck.

Anyway, my wife and I managed to hit the end of summer just right, and chose the final day of truly hot, sunny summer weather to make the trip to London to see The Monument. How I have managed to live this long so close to The Monument and not even see it, much less climb up it, remains a mystery but, once discovered, we aimed to rectify the situation sharpish, which is how we found ourselves on a northbound train this past Thursday.

The first tourist site we encountered was not The Monument, however, and we fell across it by accident. All we wanted was something for lunch and we ended up across the street from The Walkie-Talkie building, also known as the world’s first fryscraper.

The building itself is an attractive skyscraper with a slightly concave shape that, in any other year, would not have attracted any notice whatsoever. As it happened, this summer has been the hottest and sunniest for some time, and Britons—who are used to drizzly, cloudy skies—are now becoming re-acquainted with what happens to light when it meets a curved lens.

The building formerly known as the Walkie-Talkie building, in reference to its unusual shape
On the hotter days, cars have been warped, bike seats have melted and a doormat allegedly caught fire. The concentrated light reflects directly onto the shady side of the street and, let me assure you, it really is hot in there. We walked through it on our way to the sandwich shop but it wouldn’t have done me any good to have my camera with me as the area was so crowded with gawkers and photographers I wouldn’t have been able to get a decent shot.

This guy with the frying pan wasn't there the day we went
up, but most of the other people were.
The concentrated sun reflection does look just like that
and, boy, let me assure you, it is hot in there!
Really, they should put up a gate and charge admission; they might make enough to fix the building so it will stop frying people.

I got this from The Sun. You can always count on them.
After a bite to eat and a final look at the Walkie-Scorchie we made our way to The Monument.

For those of you who don’t know what The Monument is, it is a huge Doric column—built between 1671 and 1677—to commemorate the Great Fire of London. To the people of London, and beyond, however, it is simply The Monument.

It was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, who rebuilt most of London after it burned down in September 1666. The tower—202 feet tall—is built in a spot exactly 202 feet from where the fire started, in a baker’s house in nearby Pudding Lane.

Incidentally, the fire began on the 2nd of September and burned until the 5th of September, exactly 347 years to the day of our visit.

The column—though short by today’s standards—would have towered above London’s streets in its time and, even though it is now dwarfed by surrounding buildings, it remains the tallest free-standing stone column in the world, and is still an impressive sight.

Really, it is impressive; there's a stairway inside and everything.
 It’s also an impressive climb: 311 steps to observation deck, a flat flange around the top of the column that used to be edged with nothing but an iron railing until the Victorians got tired of people flinging themselves off the top and erected an iron cage to scupper despondent peoples’ plans to become airborne (and thereby forcing them to go all the way to Beachy Head on the Sussex coast in order to try their luck at free-falling).

A serious set of steps, and a very old banister.
I have to say I was impressed with the construction. The 17th century spiral stairway is in better shape, is better constructed and is more roomy than the barely-a-century-old stairway corkscrewing up the inside of the Statue of Liberty. And, of course, there is the weight of history hanging over the place, and I thought of all those people who had climbed the steps before me, and whose hands had rubbed the oak banister to a smooth sheen—people from the 16, 17, 1800s, people who would be awestruck at the city as we know it, people who never heard of a power-shower, people who, maybe, had the plague, or at least cholera.

After that, I kept my hands in my pockets.

The view for the top is magnificent but, as I mentioned earlier, I forgot my camera. Imagine Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral nearly obscured by modern, steel and glass structures, one of which looks like a giant pickle and another that is slightly curved and melting cars on the sidewalk.

I put "view from the monument" into Google and this came up. Enjoy.
Trust me, it was worth climbing all 311 steps. And, best of all, when you climb back down, they give you a certificate.

Certificate back (front side is inset);
seems I forgot to sign it. Does that invalidate it?


  1. Oooh, not sure I'd be up for the claustrophobic experience of that stairwell.

    1. It can get a little cramped in there, though it is surprisingly roomy. And there are a number of "resting" points, though I think the original intention of these indents was to hold lamps.

  2. HI Mike

    Absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with your post - very interesting by the way - I have seen the Monument but didn't know you could go up the thing..... sadly not something I can do these days :-(

    Anyway, the reason for my writing is that I saw a quotation recently and thought of you and that you might well enjoy it - so here it is.....

    Literature is an occupation in which you have to keep proving your talent to people who have none. - Jules Renard

    1. Steve,
      Thanks for the quote. Too true. And, yes, I don't think going up the 311 steps to the top of The Monument is something you want to tackle right now; maybe in a few months ;)