TRS boat trip to Greenwich review
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The river is the same colour as a cup of tea. There's a cracked polystyrene cup floating in here too, I might fish it up and scoop out a brew. Heat it up, milk and two sugars please guv, it might taste all right -- a cup of Thames tea. Apparently we've got some of the cleanest water in Europe but you'd never know it by looking at it. I saw a boat dissolve in here once. When the fish start swimming with their heads poking out the water, that's when you know there's something up.
I'm sitting here waiting for the first boat to Greenwich at 10 AM. No sign of it anywhere yet though, I think the skipper's still fast asleep. Maybe it will rise out of the waves like Thunderbirds. Big Ben is slowly ticking his tock over behind the trees, counting down the time while I'm waiting. That is all he does, all day, tick tock tick tock tickety tockety tock, it must drive him nuts. He should get a new job -- swap all his clocks out for TV screens. If I was Big Ben I'd start whizzing my hands round at 100mph just for the hell of it, just to wind everyone up. Let everybody know that I am still here. Watches these days can do all sorts of different things, they have alarms and stopwatches and even make phone-calls. But what can Big Ben do? He can't even tell you what the time is in New York.
I'm sitting in the boat now. It's got a nice top deck with a load of school seats arranged in a row, and totally open to the weather. It doesn't have much in the way of sides, though -- just a few iron railings along its length. If this boat pitches violently sideways then you can forget about the rest of this post -- I'm going to fall in. If I stop halfway through then you'll know I'm bobbing somewhere out at sea. I notice that there are only four life-jackets as well, and I'm pretty sure that they will be snapped up by the crew. Where are our ones? Er, hello! What about all of us? I don't care about all the tourists, but I'm really hoping they've at least got one for me.
The seat starts vibrating now as the engine starts up. The guy unties the heavy-duty rope at the side and lets us loose. Then we back away from the pier and drift a full circle, turning round to face upriver. I'm imagining that he's got a big red button in the cckpit marked 'Turbo boost', because he's just done something serious to get us going. The waves are being burst out the back of the boat and churning up the water. We are under way now, motoring past the London Eye and Cleopatra's Needle. It's a bit nippy on the river (should have brought my coat). There's a bit of a chilly wind icing up my eyes and making them bleed tears.
Past St. Paul's now, and Tate Modern on the right. We've got the Globe Theatre and Golden Hinde too -- you can see quite a lot of sights along this stretch of the Thames. The beaches aren't up to much though. There's no sand in London, no sunbathing beauties. It's all syrupy brown mud and stones the size of potatoes. They'd probably cut your feet to ribbons if you went in for a paddle.
The Shard rises up on our right as we pass under London Bridge. Here comes HMS Belfast in the distance, and Tower Bridge behind. HMS Belfast makes this ship look like a rowing boat. One shot from her big guns and we'd turn into a pile of matchsticks. Past the Square Mile... past the Gherkin and Billingsgate Market. You can just about get a glimpse of The Monument's golden urn glinting off the office rooftops. Believe it or not that used to be one of London's tallest landmarks, and now it can't even see above its nearest neighbours.
Past City Hall and the Tower of London, and then we slowly come to a halt past Tower Bridge to let some people off. I was hoping that Tower Bridge might sound the horn and open up to let us through, but no -- this boat is a midget. We don't even come close to grazing our heads on the concrete roadway. The boat does a 180-degree turn into the dock and off they all get, clambering down the gangway. We are pointing the opposite way round now, so we can get a good look back the way we came, towards Tower Bridge and the City. It's very foggy so everything is dipped in a lick of light grey paint. I can see the colours in the brown bricks in the bridge, but they slowly lose their hue as they retreat into the distance. Back beyond London Bridge it's a monochrome world of white and grey.
Off we go again, heading towards Greenwich now. There are no more sights between Tower Bridge and Canary Wharf, so we motor along at quite a pace. I've pretty much got the top deck all to myself now that the tourists have disappeared. So that means that the wind has only got one target left -- me. I am on the verge of giving in and going down below, but what the hell -- if I die, I die. I will brave it. If I succumb to pneumonia out here on the Thames then that is a decent enough way to say goodbye to the world. And cheap too -- it only cost me 15 quid for a return ticket. If I die before we get to Greenwich then someone can prise the return bit out of my frozen hands and get back home for free.
I quite like the sound of the waves sloshing up against the side of the boat. In they come again and again, banging and battering the sides, churning the foam into a dirty mess of bubbles, before receding again -- defeated. The boat plows on.
Past the skyscrapers at Canary Wharf now, and the luxury flats worth a few million quid. They've all got balconies to take in the rays. The river really widens out at this point, and you can almost imagine that you are headed out to sea. The only boats that venture out this far are the dredgers, river police and us. Every now and then we pass a seagull sitting on a fence post, poking out of the sand banks. They say that London is a crowded city, but they should try coming out here in the morning. There's not a soul around, not a face in sight. I can't even see anyone running along the towpath. I try peering into the windows but they are too far away to see. No traffic, no cars. No buses, no bikes. Just the occasional bird skimming the tops of the waves, following us along until he can't keep up the pace. It's just us and the sea, and the roaring rushing tumbling sound of the water round our bows. The wind is drowning out everything else. I can't even hear the people talking in the seat behind me.
It's a very strange sensation out here on the river. It seems like it's nice and quiet, but the noise is always roaring. The wind and waves and water are bashing my ears, but it still seems totally peaceful and serene. My eyes are really watering too -- that is how cold it is. The wind is teasing the tears out of my face. People will think that I'm overcome with emotion but I'm just cold.
No one has been seasick so far. No one has heaved their breakfast over the side. There's not much in the way of up-and-down motion -- just a gentle rolling from side-to-side. It's probably not a good idea being sick in this wind anyway, because it will just come boomeranging back into your face.
Now we're floating past the slummy parts of London. We've got the cheapo flats and wastelands. There are no pretty riverside walks around here, just places where people come to dump their rubbish. All the boats are busted and what passes for scenery looks dull and rusted. I see a few cranes stooping over half-built houses, wondering whether to finish them. There are a load of old boats about too, parked up in the middle of the river. They are missing their masts and cabins to sit in, they're just empty hulks of junk and peeling paint. If you wanted to board one then you'd have to swim across and climb up the side. They all look like they've been dumped and forgotten, like scrap metal cars in a breaker's yard. As we round the corner at the Isle of Dogs I can see what's coming next... Greenwich.
Now we're back to beauty. What a contrast. The tall mast of the Cutty Sark is the first thing you see, and then the onion dome of the Greenwich Tunnel. Up high on the hill, almost out of sight, is the Royal Observatory. And then you float slowly up to the Old Royal Naval College and get booted off the boat.
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