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Ramblings — Night Swimming

Christine Campbell

In the first of a series, Christine Campbell, a South African living in London, writes a London Letter

In the pursuit of higher learning and artistic endeavour, I signed myself up for a 10-week photography course. As I immersed myself in my art, my world took on a Chandleresque quality, with deep shadows and revealing light. Last night was typical of this new view of the world. As I sat at my desk, with my feet up, leaning back on my chair, I listened in on the conversation around me. The server was broken, work had ground to a halt and the natives were restless. The pub was filling up with work meetings and I watched the world go by my window.

The sun slanted onto my screen, throwing a shadow across the room. I put my bottle of mineral water back into my drawer and got up to leave for the evening. I shuffled on my overcoat and collected my things together. Making sure I had all my camera equipment with me I set off to walk the streets of London. I stepped out onto the pavement, folding my collar up against the cold, and waved farewell to my colleagues. I decided to head towards the river in an attempt to capture images. I meandered through the back streets glancing in on the squalor of humanity, watching them end their day with a handshake as they step into their waiting Mercedes Benzes.

I squinted into the descending sun, assessing the time until night would fall over the city. Turning onto the Embankment I readjusted my camera strap and tucked my tripod under my arm. Traffic jammed up next to me as London bled for the night. Dark clouds amassed around the setting sun as I wandered towards Waterloo Bridge, snapping the odd fractured thought. My destination was Hunnerford Bridge to capture the lights of London, and I knew I was going to arrive early. I made a detour up Villiers Street and ducked into a coffee shop.

Ordered my usual — tea with a dollop of milk — and settled down at a table to wait for darkness to descend. I watched the groups of people huddled around the metaphorical campfire warming their hands on their beverages and exchanging stories. Snatches of conversations filtered through the coffee-scented air, like snippets of radio. A young couple sat in the corner entwined, stroking each other’s egos, as the neon light of the opposing shop flashed an ambiguous signal on the window pane. The shadows on the street outside grew longer as the day turned into night. I finished my tea and gathered myself together. Stepping out into the throng of people rushing towards their life, I side-stepped the street beggar and made my way towards the bridge.

Clambering up the stairs seeped in collected water, I found the niche on the bridge that gave me the view of London I was looking for. I set up my tripod and attached my camera. I framed the image I wished to capture and put my finger on the button. At that moment the heavens opened and hail fell in a cascade of ice chips. I didn’t even have time to react as I stood there drenched to the bone with water dripping off my coat and down my back. I ducked my camera under my coat for protection and let my glasses mist up the world for me. The downpour finished as abruptly as it began, leaving me standing in a puddle looking at my abandoned tripod standing like an anorexic starlet waiting for its close-up.

Undaunted at the biblical comment on my intentions that night, I set up again and attempted to capture the soul of the city. Noting the time on a nearby building’s clock, I eventually packed up, shook the water out of my hair and meandered through the pathways towards my bus-stop. I waited in line next to the man who talked to himself, with my hands buried deep in my pockets for warmth. The clouds began to clear, revealing a spring-cleaned night, with washed buildings circling around me. Water gleamed off the streets, reflecting the illusions of old London town. I looked back at the bridge and glimpsed, for a moment, the black and white of London.

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