Canary Wharf review
I'm too scared to get on a plane these days so I've never been to America, never been to New York. I just settle for Canary Wharf instead. I've got all the skyscrapers and Starbucks I'll ever need just three stops from London Bridge.
I must admit that I'm totally useless when it comes to finding my way around here. This is the one area of London where I always get lost, because every time I visit they've put another couple of skyscrapers up. It's like trying to find your way around a forest when they keep moving the trees. The rate of change around here is incredible. When the first skyscraper went up in 1991 (One Canada Square), its 50 floors made it the tallest building in Europe -- now it's not even the tallest one in London. The twin towers either side of it are just about hanging on in the top five, and if you come here at nighttime then these three skyscrapers together are quite a sight. The illuminated windows at the top may as well be stars. The big light at the top of the tip makes a decent replacement for the moon.
Every big bank and financial institution seems to have their own skyscraper, but the thing that I love most is not what's towering above ground, it's the luxurious shopping mall glitz that spreads out underneath. It's a bit like the wartime tunnels under Whitehall: you can walk from one end of the docks to the other without ever seeing sunshine. They've got absolutely everything under there: you can have a new suit fitted, have your hair cut for fifty quid, your shoes shined for thirty; you can buy a Rolex watch, some Tiffany cufflinks, an apartment by the water, a coat, a boat, whatever you want. It's the shiniest shopping mall I have ever seen. They polish the floors, the doors, the marble walls... they even polish the rubbish bins. They probably polish the rubbish as well.
Obviously I can't afford to buy a Rolex watch so I just pick a coffee shop and watch what's going on. You've got to remember that we're underneath the skyscrapers here, underneath the offices, so you can watch the day-traders traipsing from one escalator to the next like waves of military infantry, sharp umbrellas poking out like pikes, briefcases bashing together like bronze shields, mobile phones always on the go -- people just talk into space these days, straight into the air, as long as their lips are within five feet of their headphones then it all gets picked up so it looks like they're muttering and chuntering to themselves. You can't tell the mad people from the sane ones anymore because they all look as mad as each other.
You don't have to be all that old to remember when the Isle of Dogs was one of the busiest docks in the world. If you were around in the 1960s and 1970s then this place would have been filled with ships unloading their crates on the cranes (you can still see a few cranes dotted around). Huge container ships would have pulled in from the West Indies, India, Africa, America and Australia. The vast waterways still give you some idea of the huge ships that came here but they've got gleaming skyscrapers and towering hotels around them now. The only boats you see these days are the party pubs and clubs and jolly offices for hire. The huge steel cranes that stoop over the sides are locked off like artworks, like industrial sculptures, too rusted and busted to lift anything up.
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I’ve been here more than once…
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