Hanging Around the Southbank -14/08/21

Today was a proper old school LWAT kinda day. Not much of a plan but sunshine and family made it a happy day of hanging out. We were meeting CousinZ and her parents and CousinO under the clock at Waterloo. This has been our standard assembly point since the beginning of time – I don’t remember when we first met anyone under that clock but it was probaly at least 30 years ago. Now, apparently, it’s something that everyone has latched onto:

Still, it works so well as a meeting point that I’m happy to share it. And it worked fine today – CousinO, CousinZ, my brother and sister-in-law were all located right on time and we took the level exit out of Waterloo (just behind the clock and next to Costa) to head to the Southbank Centre. We’d met at lunchtime so the first stop was at the food market at the back of the Centre. I didn’t think Roo and Eva would eat anything that was on offer, so I’d packed sandwiches for them but Reuben spotted some giant Polish sausages in baguettes and asked for one of those instead of his sandwich.

Nathan and I had BBQ bowls from the Korean BBQ stall and they were pretty good – I had some kind of sticky chicken on a bed of kimchi rice and allllll the pickled radish. So yummy. I got something beefy for Nathan but don’t exactly remember what. I avoided the super spicy options just to…errr…simplify the day. I won’t elaborate.

We found a bench near the river, using the wheelchair friendly route round the right side of the Southbank Centre (after you come out next to Giraffe, there’s a graduated slope through the middle of the steps to get you up to the river-level). The kids were obviously immediately distracted by the classic Southbank benches, which are now more postbox-red than neon-orange-red, and ran off to climb on them as soon as they’d finished eating. That kept them happy for a bit but once Reuben and Eva started arguing, we moved them swiftly on to the playground proper. On the way, I realised that the South Bank itself looked different to how it used to. Is it just me or has it got a lot leafier of late? I know these trees were always there but were they always so…well…treelike? I’m not complaining, it’s just something different.

The playground worked fine until Roo and Eva started arguing again, at which point Nathan took Reuben off for a round of hipster golf at Between the Bridges. For anyone who hasn’t been to the South Bank lately, that’s the patch of land between the Southbank Centre and the playground that was the Underbelly arena at one point and has had a million names since.

Golf was fairly pricey – £9 for adults and £5 for kids – but kept them occupied for a bit and gave Reuben something fun to do after the disappointment of Free Comic Book Day being postponed again. Nathan didn’t take any pictures, but it was apparently “a bit confusing” and squeezed into a repurposed dodgems arena. When Roo and I popped over there to enquire about availability, a whole crowd of young people were singing “Spice Up Your Life”. It was, as Nathan said, a bit confusing.

Golf aside, we lasted around two and a half hours in the playground with various trips to the M&S Food Hall to get drinks and to the Southbank to use the loos. The centre is open to the public still but seemed weirdly empty. The loos are accessible through the doors on the terrace side and other bits of the centre are roped off. Luckily, it was outdoors weather so that’s where we spent pretty much the whole afternoon. In fact, it was so outdoorsy weather that CousinZ declared she wanted to find a swimming pool to dive into. Now, swimming pools are in short supply in Waterloo (despite the watery name) and my South London knowledge is not what it was, after 7 years in the North and, quite frankly, a year and a half in my lounge. So I googled and found that there was a water feature in Victoria Tower Gardens (I think the playground is actually called Horseferry Playground) and did remember, in the dim recesses of my memory, that I had blogged about a water feature being put in there some time ago. It wasn’t a swimming pool or even a fountain but it was nearby and it would have to do. What’s the worst that could happen on the way?

Well, the unlikely answer is that we would be unable to cross Westminster Bridge Road because of a barrage of naked cyclists. I had to think for a while about what the collective noun for naked cyclists would be. A bikepump of naked cyclists? I don’t know. I do know that I should have called this post London With a T0dger but that would forever have got me the wrong kind of Google searches. Plus, it wasn’t just one. It was many, many.

The World Naked Bike Ride has been a London institution for years now but I’m not sure I’ve ever spotted it in the wild before. I have a memory of maybe glimpsing the tailend, if you will, when I worked in Oxford Street but I’ve certainly never been at eye level to it before and it was indeed eye-opening. Not that everyone was fully nude, no no. One guy was wearing a high-vis but nothing else and another guy was diligently covering his shoulders in a thick layer of suncream. Just his shoulders tho.

The website warns that children may be disconcerted by the ride and I think that’s fair to say. I mainly found it amusing, especially as the riders were gathered right outside Nathan’s office, but the kids  – and I include CousinO in that – were a little perturbed. “It’s so inappropriate!” CousinZ shouted as we walked along Westminster Bridge with the riders riding freely in the other direction. Very freely indeed.

Anyhoo, that made the walk a bit more interesting and took the kids’ minds off their hot and aching feet. When we got to Horseferry Playground, it did indeed have an underwhelming water feature which the children mostly ignored, but it was nice and shady in there so a good place to play on a warm day. It also had a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst, who Eva identified almost-correctly as “the leader of the Suffra-Gets”:

and some horse statues which reminded me of Artax from Neverending Story:

The playground has come a long way since the sad single slide we visited on New Year’s Day 2013. It now has a kiosk, selling quite impressively overpriced cans of Coke and ice creams and toilets that are accessible by paying 20p on a credit or debit card. Which is better than having to have change but I wonder if I’ll forget about it until the statement comes and ponder over what the weird 20p transaction might be. It also had disabled loos, which are free with a radar key.

It also still has a decently sized sandpit, a roundabout, swings, a slide, a wooden boat on springs and a swing that’s big enough for all three kids:

We stayed for an hour and a half or so before crossing Lambeth Bridge and wandering back along the Albert Embankment to Waterloo.

So, some old LWAT turf but unvisited since pre-pandemic times. It was really nice to be back and the South Bank always delivers when it comes to hipster food and something new to look at. I just wasn’t quite expecting exactly what we did look at….!

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