Ian Waddell: Look left, look right—my last day in London
It is my last day in London and under clear skies I walk to my familiar No. 76 red double-decker bus. My now familiar morning route, all viewed from the front of the top deck, takes me through East London, through the financial area called the City and downtown to Fleet Street the press area, from which I jump off (literally) and walk quickly to Trafalgar Square.
It's like coming from Surrey to downtown Vancouver, except my bus passes the magnificent dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the medieval spires of the Royal Courts of Justice.
But before the bus arrives I buy a morning paper from the local news vendor. London still has a big selection of papers. Reading one before the bus arrives, I begin to laugh. An old black woman on the bench next to me wonders why. I ask her if I can read the story out loud and she agrees.
“One of Britain's leading judges criticized her partner after he left her for a law student 50 years her junior. Constance Briscoe, 55, accused leading QC (Queen's Counsel) Anthony Ardidge, 75, of being 'bonkers' and 'mad' after he abandoned her for an aspiring barrister. He has moved out of their home in Clapham, South London and is sharing his central London apartment with Heather, age 27. The judge said of Aldridge, who has worked on some of Britain's most high-profile cases: 'Tony is one of the most intelligent people I know but it is mad'."
I'm not making this up. We both kill ourselves laughing. The bus arrives.
From Trafalgar Square I walk down past 10 Downing Street (didn't see the prime minister, who was at some Olympic event apparently), past hundreds of Union Jack flags carried by happy Brits because Team Great Britain won a ton of gold medals. I scratch my head. Am I in a time warp? It could be Vancouver 2010 week three.
As I cross the River Thames, I approach the London Eye, which looks like a giant Ferris wheel. The visitor is put in a big class pod with about 12 others and is taken up ever so slowly to a great height to see all of central London and to take tons of great pictures.
I must confess I originally thought this was an architectural monstrosity, seeing that it is right next to Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Cathedral. It was to be a temporary project for the Millennium, but is still here. The tourists love it. It also reflects the challenge of taking a great historic city and adding modern buildings.
Anyway, at the very top of the loop I was able to snap a picture of the beach volleyball Olympic event which was held—where else?—in Horse Guards Parade. Prince Harry, in the stands, cheered what looked to me like California girls.
Leaving the Eye I search for the Thames boat ferry. But I can't resist stopping briefly at the reconstructed Globe Theatre of Shakespeare's time. The downstairs museum is magnificent, re-creating the London of the Bard. I thought of Vancouver's Bard on the Beach, which I suppose is a direct descendant, and about all the people in the Arts Club of Vancouver who also volunteered to build our Stanley Theatre. And right next door to the Globe is the towering New Tate Gallery, which had an exhibition of modern surreal British artists.
Finally I got on the boat and sped under London Bridge, the great symbol of London now with Olympic rings attached to it. I wondered what the Olympic Committee charged for that! I wanted to see what the Canary Wharf, a new business district built by Canada's Reichmann brothers, looked like. Canada Square and Cabot Square reminded me of, what else? Canada. I will admit it looked pretty clean and efficient.
I did enjoy the “Look Left” signs painted in white letters at every crosswalk to stop Canadians and other foreigners from being creamed by large trucks and buses as they crossed looking the wrong way. In Britain they drive on the other side of the road to us.
Actually Canadian history was changed by one young Canadian being hit by a bus. His name was Lester B. Pearson, but his fellow young soldiers called him "Mike". As a young man in the First World War, he found himself in London waiting for his unit to be sent to the trenches in France, those killing trenches.
Pearson didn't look, was injured by a London bus, survived the war, lost lots of friends, and determined to work for peace the rest of his life. (When I was 19 years old, I briefly worked for Pearson and he told me this story).
Pearson of course went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize for inventing UN peacekeeping and as prime minister of Canada brought in the maple leaf flag, national medicare and the Canada Pension Plan. I like to think he did eventually "look left".
On the way to Canary Wharf the boat passed Crossharbour, a part of the waterfront. I immediately thought of Lord (Conrad) Black of Crossharbour and (forgive me) I wished Jean Chrétien had still been in power so he could have extradited the arrogant lord back to the U.K.
There actually is a prison not too far from Crossharbour and it would have been fitting place for Black, who had given up his Canadian citizenship to become a lord. It's called the Tower of London. The boat even stopped there.
Enough, I managed to get back to Canada House on Trafalgar Square to join some of the families of our athletes and see a replay of a men's canoe race, where Canada's Mark Oldershaw won a bronze medal. This is the guy whose father and grandfather were Olympic athletes, but he's the first to win a medal. Even in replay the room erupted in cheers.
I managed to talk to his girlfriend, who told me Mark practises 30 hours per week and has done that for some 15 years. That's how you win an Olympic medal, I suppose. Later I saw silver medallist Adam van Koeverden being interviewed. He had led the race until the very end until a big Norwegian edged past him. So he had to settle for he silver, which was an obvious disappointment. But he smiled and congratulated the winner. Was this the Olympic spirit?
Was this Olympics worth the cost both to London and to the world? British newspapers gushed with the victories of the GB team in story after story (except for those about Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, who is something else again). Sound familiar? Again see Vancouver 2010.
Buried, really buried in those same newspapers were three bank scandals, and Sir Mervyn Davies, the head of the Bank of England, saying the British economy was dead flat and probably would tank further.
Yet, lots of fun, some great athletes' performances, and the biggest TV audience in world history. Go figure.
Ian Waddell is a former NDP MP and NDP MLA. He was the first provincial cabinet minister responsible for Vancouver's Olympic bid. He was in London to watch the 2012 Games.