I spy from the London Eye…

17 03 2012

‘The Eye has done for London what the Eiffel Tower did for Paris, which is to give it a symbol and to let people climb above the city and look back down on it. Not just specialists or rich people, but everybody. That’s the beauty of it: it is public and accessible, and it is in a great position at the heart of London.’  

Richard Rogers (Winner of the 2007 Pritzker Architecture Prize)

‘Earth has not anything to show more fair;

Dull he would be of soul who could pass by

A sight so touching in its majesty

The city, now doth, like a garment wear

The beauty of the morning; silent, bare

Ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples lie

Open unto the fields and to the sky’

‘Upon Westminster Bridge’ – by William Wordsworth (1802)

‘The Thames at Westminster Bridge’- by Claude Monet (1871)


Amazingly, my Dad was born only 55 years after Monet created his impressionist painting from Westminster Bridge.

A few weeks ago it was his 86th birthday. He had not visited the capital city since his retirement 20 years ago. He wasn’t sure he would be able to manage it now, but he’d always fancied going for a spin on the ‘London Eye.’

So I went into ‘Jim’ll Fixit’ mode and set about arranging a belated birthday treat that, hopefully, with my help, he would be able to take in his octogenarian stride.  

On Monday we left the Shire around 8.00 am, taking a leisurely drive, across the rolling Cotswolds, shrouded in early morning mist, and arriving in plenty of time for the 10.01 London bound train from Oxford

At 11.05 we drew into Paddington Station, and 25 minutes later, by way of a not too busy Bakerloo Line, we were standing on the Southbank gazing up, into a cloudless blue sky from which the giant gleaming Eye was winking down at us –  a Ferris Wheel, resembling a huge spoked bicycle wheel, that has become such a recognisable feature of the London cityscape.  

A few years ago, when I took my first ‘flight’, it was the BA London Eye. It is now powered and illuminated by, and bears the name of, Britain’s largest producer of low-carbon electricity, EDF – an iconic attraction central to Mayor Boris’s Green500 scheme for reducing the capital’s CO2 emissions.

EDF will also provide power to the Olympic Park, while the Eye will display the Olympic symbol for the duration of the 2012 Games, and provide the focal point for a spectacular, opening ceremony, firework display. 

The London Eye was constructed at a cost of £70 million pounds. Weighing in at 1700 tons and at a height of 135m, with a wheel diameter of 120m, it was the World’s tallest wheel, when erected back in 1999. It still remains Europe’s largest, but has now been surpassed by the Star of Nanchang (160m – opened in 2006) and the Singapore Flyer (165m – opened in 2008).             

The Eye, a European construction, with components from six different countries, was designed by a team of seven architects led by David Marks and Julia Barfield (husband and wife) and is now the most popular paid tourist attraction in the whole of the UK.     

By June 2008, it was reported that 30 million people had already ridden on the Eye. Judging by the lengthy queues, on a Monday morning in early March, there are no signs of its appeal diminishing, and the 50 millionth passenger can’t be too far away! 

Luckily I had pre-booked tickets and in no time at all we were climbing above London in one of the 32 ovoidal passenger capsules (symbolically, one for each of the London boroughs). The wheel rotates at 22cm (10 inches) per second and never actually stops, but at such a speed my Dad had no problem hopping on board.

The capsules are spacious and, with one complete revolution taking 30 minutes, there was plenty of time to admire the panoramic views, and pick out so many famous landmarks, including the, under construction, Shard soon to be unveiled as the tallest building in the city.   

Having disembarked, we enjoyed a gentle stroll along the shady Southbank, soaking in the splendour of the Houses of Parliament, bathed in early Spring sunshine, before taking the tube from Westminster to Tate Modern, which affords a wonderful city vista, across the Millennium Bridge to St Paul’s and the Gherkin. 

Before making our way back to Paddington for the 16.22 there was time for a Starbucks rendezvous on Old Holborn, just beneath the ‘Love It’ office, from which journalistic Gem escaped for a late lunch.    

By half past five we were back in Oxford and driving across to Nicci’s flat, to whisk her away for a more than welcome pie and a pint in the White Hart at Headington.

We eventually made it back to the Shire, for the 9 o’clock news. It had been a very long day and Dad had done remarkably well. He had thoroughly enjoyed what he guessed would be his last visit to London, the Eye experience, and, probably most of all, meeting up with his two granddaughters!

Oh yes, and he was massively impressed with his Oyster Card (I loaned him one of the three that Chris has managed to accumulate during our London visits!)             












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