“Date” on the back of a Harley Davidson. London, lights.. and lost love.
Illuminations of London by motorbike
London – February 2012
I use the word “Date” loosely. This wasn’t an actual “date” by normal standards. Neither is this the first time that I have ridden around London on the back of “Jumbo man’s” Harley Davidson. This was more of a catch up between two people who have dated multiple times in the past, always with disastrous consequences. Still, come whatever, I’m still overcome with pangs of affection for him.. and so the nerves and excitement kick in as if it were our first date again, as I hear the roar of 60 horsepower pulling up outside my house.
Any guys out there reading who dream of owning a motorbike – DO IT! I cannot recommend a better way to see the sights of London than by motorbike, and, if you’re looking for “pulling-power” on top of your horse-power then it’s a match made in heaven. No other first date will have your new squeeze’s arms locked tight around your body all night… and danger surely is the best aphrodesiac.
As we make our way towards central London I recall the first time he picked me up on the bike. The helmet had felt heavy on my head and every time he braked, my helmet would smack into the back of his. I would spend the whole journey shouting “Sorry!” at every junction and traffic light, and aware that every time he accellerated off my fingers would lose grip around his huge waist and I would start to slide backwards on the seat. Not this time. It seems I am now a pro. I anticipate every set of lights.
I’m hesitant to tell him, but I think he might have put on weight since our last meet up 2 months ago! At 6’ 2” to my 5’2” he is well.. Jumbo sized anyway, but Im finding it harder to get my arms around his waist. Never mind, all the more reason to hold on tight. I’m relaxed, and for once, completely unafraid of the ride.
There are many ways to see the City at night. The back of a cab? On foot? Open top bus perhaps? Nothing compares to the back of a bike. It’s a sensory overload and the fastest way to zip through the streets. As you make your way from the subburbs to the City centre you can feel the temperature around you rise a few degrees. You feel every bump, every incline in the road. The city is a panaroma around you, only the physiology of your own neck stop you from seeing it 360 degrees. There are no windows to obstruct your view. You could, if you were silly enough, reach out and touch the post-boxes as you ride by. You hear everything, the hum of the traffic around you, the murmur of the crowds on the pavement, honking of horns, music spilling out of bars and clubs in every direction. You are truly in the middle of the action.
We sped down The Mall, and slowed slightly to view Buckingham Palace. At Knightsbridge I squealed with delight at the sight of Harrods, illuminated, a huge beacon of luxury. Green frock coats in the doorways a mere blur as we passed. At a junction Jumbo Man shouts to me “You see those apartments”, nodding forward to the great big modern high-rise in front of us that looks very out of place in the grandeur of knightsbridge. “They’re the most expensive in London. And mostly empty”. I stare up whilst we wait at the lights. Makes no sense to me. Ugly I’d say.
The Ritz is also a sight to be seen by night. Opening in 1906, it is arguably one of the most famous hotel’s in the world. The building is lit up with soft uplighters, the words “Ritz Hotel”, “Ritz Restaurant” and “Ritz Club” emblazoned in huge bulbs, as if on broadway. Stuck in time it screams opulence, glamour, sophistication. Jumbo man is also staring as we slow down next to it. “I’d like to have tea there” he murmurs. Fortunately he couldn’t see my incredulous look through the helmet. “You? Afternoon Tea?” I ask, confused by his remark. “Yeah!” he shouts back at me, as if it was ridiculous to think a burley, giant Rower who rides round on a Harley would not enjoy afternoon tea at the Ritz. I think about it, looking back at it behind me as we move on. The Ritz is world famous for celebrating the institution of afternoon tea. Perhaps this is one for my list.
At Piccadilly and then Leicester Square we are slowed by the traffic. Another sensory overload. The Theatre district of London, the place is lit up like a Christmas tree. Huge flashing lights advertising tonight’s show, more people bustling about than any other place we had seen that night. It’s also a great deal warmer in this part of the City too. Again jumbo looks up. A sign for the show “Wicked”. A huge green Witch whispering on the billboard. “That’s supposed to be a great show. I wouldn’t mind seeing it” he shouts, head tilted slightly to the left so that I can hear him better. Again, I stare puzzled at the back of his head. Jumbo Man? Musicals? I shrug it off. Apparently, after 2 years, I don’t know him as well as I thought.
We decide to head to Camden for a bite to eat. Northern London is up and coming. It’s gritty, it’s edgy. It’s a far cry from the Grandeur and showiness of Central. It’s also colder. At a set of lights he leans back and grabs hold of one of my legs. “You warm enough?” he asks. My stomach does a backflip. I’d almost forgotten who’s bike I was on the back of.
In Camden we pull up outside a Pizza place. I couldn’t tell you what it’s called. It doesn’t matter. The service was appalling so I wouldn’t recommend it. We caught up on the past 2 months. I’d just got back from 17 days in Thailand, from where I’d drunkenly texted or emailed every few days. I hate how much I miss this guy.
We decide to head to Putney for a drink. He could drop the bike home and I could catch a train back from there after. So we climb back on the bike and head off into the night again. I can tell Jumbo is relieved to be reunited with the Harley. He’d been shooting anxious looks out the window at it for the past hour.
Somewhere around Fulham and Chelsea there are diversions and we head up and down the backroads to find our way out. The houses are some of the grandest we’d seen. I’m obsessed with history, with architecture, with interior design, with the grandeur of the past. I spend most of my days in London looking above the shops and cars to the higher level of the buildings. They are beautiful. I spend my days trying to imagine what the streets looked like before the cars and buses moved in. How much more imposing would the buildings have looked in their original setting? Jumbo is the only other person I know who looks up at buildings too. As we zip around he nudges elbows back into me and shouts up “look at that place” and so on and so forth. Once again, camouflaged by the helmet I’m beaming.
Lastly on our trip, before heading off to Putney, is one of my favourite landmarks in London. It’s the icing on the cake for me in the City. I have travelled over it 3 times now, every time on the back of the Harley. Every time I have to fight back a tear. It overwhelms me. I find it hard to believe that it’s such an under-rated landmark. It is a Grade II listed road bridge over the river Thames connecting Chelsea on one side and Battersea on the other.
Designed and built in 1873, originally as a tollbridge, it was known for sometime as “The Trembling Lady” due to it’s tendency to shake when too many people crossed it. However there it is, still standing firm in the midst of a bustling city, still a big bright beacon of impressiveness. Lit up like Blackpool with 4000 bulbs it is a most striking landmark, and so it commands an emotional response from me every time I cross.
It is the beautiful Albert Bridge.
I look up and as we pass the lights not only reflect off our helmets but it bounces off the cars and the Thames below. The spectacle has not lost it’s magic for me since riding over it 6 months ago. As we reach the other side of the river it feels as though we are plunged into darkness in comparison to the Bridge. I suddenly feel cold for it. I look back and I light up again. I muse.. perhaps the emotional response on the bridge comes from the company I’ve shared with it? All I know is that Albert Bridge is a big part of my London experience since moving here 3 years ago. As has been Jumbo man… It’s a mental snapshot of London I will treasure forever.