Have I shared with you my love for the Shard? It’s a slightly embarrassed and confused love. I feel as uncomfortable telling you of my love for the Shard as I would introducing my family to a new boyfriend, who happened to be a Liberal-voting, asylum-seeker hating, red-meat guzzling, gun-toting, Ayn Rand-reading, climate-change denying mining magnate. That is, I feel a little sheepish. A little misguided. Part of me thinks that this love is wrong and will never work out in the long-term. I mean, how would we raise the children? They’re not going to private school! But, the truth is, I can’t help it. For whatever reason, I love the Shard, even if it is wrong, even if we do have completely different values and lifestyles and morals and… completely incompatible and conflicting amounts of consciousness.
Just like a true love, I can’t quite explain my affection for the Shard. Part of it is certainly that it was completed whilst I lived here and I have a strange sense of ownership over the building. But I also have a long-standing love of tall buildings of all varieties, sky-scrapers, apartment buildings et al. I know they are not usually something that people like. I guess I have an honest love of heights of all varieties, which is only slightly confused by an honest terror of heights of all varieties. So, I love being up high until something snaps in my brain and I’ll suddenly realise how FREAKIN’ HIGH UP I am and that my life is CLEARLY IN MORTAL DANGER and then I will collapse in a snivelling, shivering mess somewhere as far away from the cliff-face as possible. So, I guess I like apartment buildings for being so high up, but tricking me into feeling relatively safe. I love derelict, abandoned council housing (yes, this is weird); I love ugly 1960s government developments (East Berlin fascinates me). I can only assume this is because of my stereotypical, genetic ‘Aussie’ affection for the underdog and the abandoned (yeah, I don’t really think Australians these days can claim to be the champions of the underdog, but anyway…). But I also have a real affection for novelty-shaped skyscrapers (yes, I love The Gherkin). Perhaps it is because they are meant to be such serious office buildings and yet, they also kind of look just a little bit silly and not-quite-real. Like something a kid might design as buildings for a future city. Like something from a parallel world. Like a sly architect’s slightly whimsical joke on the mega-rich and powerful (‘I’m going to make them spend their days in a pickle! And they’re going to have to be serious in it!’)
Anyway, whatever the origins of my love, on Saturday, I finally got to meet the object of my affection up close.
The Northern line was down, so I decided to walk from Clapham Common. It had also (as you can see from the picture) turned into a glorious afternoon and we in the UK are not used to turning our backs (or closing our public transport doors) on unexpectedly nice afternoons. Especially not when they occur after a morning of torrential October rain.
The Shard is around 76 storeys high, so it was quite easy to navigate my way towards it. You can see it from pretty much everywhere. That is, it was pretty easy to navigate my way towards it until I was right underneath it and then it became strangely elusive. It disappeared from sight. It started playing cheeky games with me, hiding behind other buildings, train stations and trees. It acted like the creepy psychotic man with a knife in horror films – I could see broken pieces of its steely reflection in the glass of other buildings, but when I turned around, it wasn’t there.
Eventually, despite the Shard’s best efforts and the best of efforts of the Southwark Council road works and road workers, I managed to find my way to the entrance. I picked up my tickets (which were stupidly expensive, especially considering one of my arguments against the stupid, dull and over-hyped London Eye is that it is WAY too expensive. Well, the Shard is even more expensive than the Eye), met my companion, had our photos taken (it’s like a rollercoaster, apparently) and then headed up in the elevator. In fact, the building is so high, we had to get out at the 30-something floor and get a second elevator further up afterwards (actually, I don’t know if the reason we had to get a second elevator is because its so high or for some other obscure reason. They didn’t tell us why. I like the idea that it’s so high you have to take 2 elevators. It feels like there’s some amount of effort required to get up that high. I mean, not like, actual proper effort, like climbing stairs, or climbing up the side of the building, but… Just a little bit more effort than your average skyscraper…)
You get out at the 68th floor and then climb stairs up to the 69th floor. And then you see this:
Didn’t I tell you we were lucky with the weather? Didn’t I tell you the Shard is a magical place? Didn’t I tell you its like another world up there?
Greasy marks had been left behind where people had smushed their faces and hands into the glass, trying to get closer to the outside. I went around rubbing it all off with my hand, muttering about how the marks were ruining the beautiful view. My companion thought this was taking my love and dedication to the Shard slightly too far (surely this was unhygienic to say the least). But I couldn’t help myself. I am dedicated to my love.
There were some pretty freaky cool telescopes scattered around. Not only did the zoom in, like a normal telescope, but they pointed out places of interest, gave you information on the places of interest and also had 4 viewing options: current time, sunrise, afternoon and nighttime. They were all perfectly matched up, so you could look at the same barge in the Thames over the 4 different time periods. To you know… see how much a barge changes at night-time (it doesn’t change much). Of course, I didn’t know any of this to start with because I got to the telescope and saw that you could choose what language to use and I decided that Mandarin was absolutely the language that I was going to use the telescope in. Which was amusing for about 3 seconds until I realised I couldn’t understand the instructions to go back to the front screen and choose another language. Awesome. Don’t worry, we abandoned the ruined Chinese telescope and started again with another one.
So, the 69th floor is the indoor viewing platform and then you can take the stairs up to the 72nd floor to the outside viewing platform. I don’t know why, but I did expect there to be no glass on the ‘outside viewing platform’. I kind of expected there just to be a little railing and I could then put my arms out into the sky at 72 storeys high and see if it felt any different to the ground air. Of course, this was not the case. There were still large panes of glass, making it impossible for people to fall (accidentally or deliberately) to their death way, way below.
We stood around trying to map important parts of our London lives on to the slightly strange and surreal view: ‘That must be about where my house is. Near that patch of green, past the skyscraper and the Oval’, ‘That’s the O2 there, the yellow spike,’ ‘Those two white blobs look like the University of Greenwich’, ‘That hill must be Hamsptead Heath’, ‘Maybe that giant barn thing is that palace I always pass on the train on the way to Cambridge….’ etc. It was quite a pleasant way to spend an hour.
However, after an hour or so of trying to figure out which tiny blobs are actually buildings you use in your everyday life and after you’ve attempted to use the telescope in Chinese, there’s not a lot more you can do up there. You can go down a few levels and pay even more money to sit at one of the restaurants, which might have been quite pleasant, but we really were at the end of our budgets. You could buy all sorts of Shard branded merchandise, often helpfully gender-divided in pink and blue for the kiddies (I told you there were serious moral/political issues standing between the Shard and me’s relationship), but my love for the Shard is pure and does not need to be broadcast to strangers via branded T-Shirts and pens and notebooks in order to be validated and feel real. I would have happily sat down and watched the view for much longer, but I guess (from the lack of chairs) they really didn’t encourage you to stick around that long.
Nevertheless, it was a really lovely way to spend some time and I did love the opportunity to seeing this beloved city from a different perspective.
London, you are problematic, Shard, you are also problematic, but I love you both so very much in spite of your flaws.