The pressure was on. As Jaz had bought me tickets for Body Worlds for my birthday, I agreed to arrange the outing for our February adventure in London. I had thought about the Saatchi Gallery but when I looked at the exhibits there was nothing that really caught my eye and I figured I could come up with something better. I didn’t tell her where we were going, just that we had to be up early.
We came out into the brilliant February sunshine (yes, I know it’s a weird sentence and a sign that Global Warming will kill us all) and we headed over the bridge towards the aquarium, the London Eye and Shrek’s Adventure. The area is a bit of a tourist trap, mostly because it’s walking through glue because of the number of rubbernecking tourists with pushchairs and prams there are along the South Bank. We ducked inside the Aquarium to collect our tickets and I was pleased to see that it wasn’t as hideously busy as I expected the death rattle of the Half Term holidays to provide. There was still time.
Jaz and I have a mutual interest in the unknown, space and the sea are fascinating to us, as they should be to anyone. Last month when we were in Greenwich it was the Astrology Photography that really got our pulses racing. Similarly, I can sit and watch a fish tank like a fat tabby cat.
The first room had stingrays and skate all flapping around like CGI extras in Aquaman. I sat on the floor and wondered what their agenda was. I was also struck by how extraordinarily cruel it is to keep something that is supposed to be free in a glass case. Then again, I work in an office in London.
The aquarium is designed with young families in mind. That wasn’t going to stop me taking the opportunity to crawl into the domed tanks or stroke a starfish. We were told to gently stroke one of the legs. I fought the hideous compulsion to give it the old death grip. It felt like a short-haired dog, but underwater, and red and not a dog at all. The other clue that the aquarium is set up to entertain little people is the position of the tanks. I kept banging my head as I stuck my big old face as close to the tanks as I could to try and befriend the seahorse army and make them do my evil bidding. Each time I would come up and nearly crack my head open on the faux-cave design.
The best tank is the giant circular beast in the middle that you can get different views into as you work your way around. It’s in here that they have the sharks and a couple of giant turtles, upon whose backs the known universe sits. Again, you have to delete out the part of your brain that tells you they need more space than the enclosure to enjoy it but my god, those creatures are beautiful.
I also have a lot of time for penguins. It always feels like they know something that we don’t. I think that thing is how to dress to impress. Those guys always look so fucking dapper. The last room was like the ambient chill out room in a club, except full of jellyfish. As children, my brothers and I would often spend our time in the sea on holiday worrying, probably unnecessarily, about jellyfish attacks. The drab, plastic-bag looking motherfuckers you see off the coast of Normandy are nothing on the spunky maniacs they have at the London Aquarium. I didn’t have to feel bad about the jellyfish because like musical theatre kids, they like bright lights and have no identifiable brain.
After the aquarium we played Air Hockey, which Jaz not only beat me at but then gently gloated about, until I beat her at bowling. We wandered along the South Bank, visited Foyles where she bought me Lee Israel’s book and then we stopped for lunch at the BFI. I’m still thinking about their courgette fries today which is testament to how good vegetables can be if you just think about it for a minute.
We got coffee and sat outside St Pauls, watching young siblings chasing each other up and down the steps, secretly hoping they would fall over. Then we crossed back over the river and found our way up to the viewing platform of the Tate Modern – the art isn’t to my taste but the wine certainly is.
It was another day to celebrate what London is best at – being a hub of activity and fun, a place where, as long as you can fund it, you can enjoy it.