Hungerford Bridge (Part II).
As I recall, I and my mentor, Bill, had partaken of the care and attentions given by George, the waiter, in Gordon's (Green Door) Wine Bar, lieu of Rudyard Kipling and others, and we had planned to cross the Bridge, with our nicely camouflaged bottle of Rich Bual Madeira, variety 'Good Company' dangling from our hands, when it occurred to us that such open invitations to muggers and other stealthy personnages, should be avoided.It was winter, and the darkness was intense, the bridge being lit only by weak lanterns, Jack-the-ripper-London style, every 100 yards or so, but our devotion to the reader of today (some 45-50 years later) was such, that we risked it.
In fact, being two helped a great deal, and the real problem wasn't the Bridge itself, but the passage up the narrow turning stone stairs from Charing Cross U-ground Station, to the actual start of the Bridge. This was unlit, and I recall thinking (the first time I used them) that I would NEVER have even found them on my own, much less have mounted them.
I often wondered, too, what the poor people coming the other way were thinking, when they heard the approach noises of someone - or something. These stairs went round in circles, so one only had an overview of about 4-5 stairs at a time, and that overview was in a very strange, shadowy light.
One could hear everything, but see nothing.
After some 25-30 of these stairs, one stepped out onto a small platform, illuminated by a fog-lamp style lantern, but one never looked at that, for one was ON the Bridge - presented with a whole new world- water, river, lights reflected, traffic lights and car lights on the bridges up and down stream, lights on barges going, to and from - who knew where in the world, carrying goods and supplies, to and from, everywhere in the world, lights and noises of 'another place'.
These things were taken in avidly, every time one crossed the bridge, but the first thing one saw was an enormous, immense construction, of glass and metal, lit up tremendously, the reflections in the river adding to the charm and awesome beauty of the thing.
This was the goal - "The Royal Festival Hall."
On this particular occasion, only to the wine bar the Festival Hall counted as it's own, but often to Concerts, or even a meal and a concert, in it's own restaurant.
It was Hungerford Bridge which took us there.
This was a magical Bridge, going from one epoch to another, from the world of Pepys, Kipling and others, to the world of Haendel, Bach and Mozart, passing by such places I, as a young scottish laddy, had never heard of before - Madeira, Bordeaux, Champagne, Jerez, Rhein and Mosel, Chianti, and many, many others, all of which I was to visit and occasionally be "gainfully" employed in later in life.
Little did I know the large, predominant role they all would eventually play in my life, and that of my later wife too.
Thanks to the Bridge and my mentor, I think I can say that neither of us regretted one instant our choices made.
Yes, we could both have stayed Civil Servants, in which case my wife would probably still be alive, and we would certainly be rich, with houses, flats,holidays etc. In fact, with our language ability, we would probably be in Brussels as "eurocrats" and already multi-millionaires....but we would not have had the experiences, both good and bad.
The crossing of the Bridge was always a longish event.
We often had to stop and stare at a new sight, different from the last time, or stop and seek shelter somewhere, from the smoke, steam and cinders of the thundering monsters which passed at about 10 feet distance.
Inevitably holes were burnt in overcoats, suits, jackets,trousers, but it was all part of the game.
These were, after all, the trains which could take us (via Victoria, of course) to destinations, as yet unheard of, and as yet unknown.
Nowadays, all and sundry quail their way to airports, and disappear (sometimes never to be seen again) into the clouds, for 14 days.
Gone are the deliciously bad quality meals in the train's "restaurant" car, watching the country side pass bye - France, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Portugal etc, each train with it's own un-equalled, internationally 'bad quality' restaurant car, bill of fayre. Service not included!
All this was Hungerford Bridge, not only for a wee Scots laddy, but for his mentor and, I suspect, for many others.
What time was there to think about the darkish, murky waters of the Thames passing under one's feet - how many corpses had it swallowed up, how many 'dastardly deeds' had it covered up?
No time, for we had arrived at the other side, and were already descending the circular stairs on the South Bank, much larger, open to the air and well lit, and approached this awesome palace of light - the Royal Festival Hall.
The entrance to the whole place was really on the other (front) side, but as is so often the case in life (as I found out later) the back entrances are often, if not always, more important and more interesting, and it was, indeed, by the back entrance that one had immediate access to the wine-bar and Restaurant area, with it's view over the river Thames, and in summer (that one day in the year!) to it's large terrassed area.
Another side/back door to the world at large - to everything - to traditions,countries, languages.........
So we arrived, my mentor and I - our bottle, camouflaged under our arms - to be met by our favourite waiter, and his standard question:-