As a supporter of LLSB’s campaign to save the skate board park on London’s South Bank, I had to go and have a look. It was the May Day long weekend and the strip of walkway by the river Thames was thronged with people, enjoying the afternoon sunshine. I’m not a great fan of crowds so I felt a little daunted as soon as I arrived.
The picture above shows the view from Waterloo Bridge, looking down at the edge of the skateboard park. These people were not all there for the jam, as I discovered once I got down to the river bank.
As I climbed down the steps to the river I saw this happy family taking photographs with 3 cameras!
The Undercroft Skate Park, South Bank
It was about 4pm when I arrived at the undercroft. Straightway I noticed that music was playing from 2 metre high speakers, though it wasn’t that loud. There didn’t seem to be a specific activity or display beyond the usual skaters and bmx bikers demonstrating their prowess.
There was such a good turn out for the jam that there were too many people to all skate at once. So many were just chilling out and enjoying taking ownership of the space. And they weren’t all teenagers or young adults. There were plenty of families and young children.
Those tiny kids you can see behind the skater in the foreground were using the ramp as a slide because they had no skateboards. And the older skaters and bikers were happy to give them space to enjoy themselves.
There was a great atmosphere. The observation barrier was full of people stopping by to watch. And the campaign table was doing good business raising funds with t-shirt and postcard sales. I’m sure the jam was a great success though I wasn’t in the mood to hang around for long.
Jeppe Hein: Appearing Rooms fountain
The vast crowds who were really there for the Spanish food market directly opposite the skate park, were making me feel claustrophobic. The only quick way out was to climb upwards to a walkway above. And then I came across this delightful display.
My first thought was, ‘photo opportunity’ and I was too busy clicking away to think about how the people had got inside the fountain. And then the water stopped on one side, releasing those trapped inside and allowed others watching to take their place.
And once they are inside, the water rises again, like this. The people in the photograph above have just stepped into the fountain.
I walked around to the far side and noticed that there are four areas or rooms that could be used. Though only two were in operation that afternoon. They are designed by a Dutch artist, Jeppe Hein and they’ve been installed there each summer since 2007! But I’ve never seen them before.
The Food Markets
I headed around the back of the Royal Festival Hall to find an easy way to leave and came across a second food market, this time with no specific theme. It was packed with people. I found myself fascinated by the sight of all these people eating or waiting to eat.
As I headed away, walking back towards Waterloo Bridge, I remembered there was an interesting piece of graffiti art commissioned by the Southbank Centre last year and created by a Sheffield artist called Phlegm. The link is to a blog written about the creation of that piece.
Phlegm’s mural depicts the black and white creatures. And as I took the picture I noticed even more people, eating!!
I continued east along the South Bank, walking passed the National Theatre.
As I passed the National, I saw that poor old Larry’s statue (actor Sir Laurence Olivier) was littered with rubbish left by people who had been drinking and eating. The red building stands on what had been an open air space for free summer entertainment for decades. But now there is nothing to see.
This was the first busker I came across but even with a tuba which shot fireballs, his audience was small. Was that because people were more interested in delighting their taste buds at a third food market?
The stalls here were devoted to the food of Malaysia. A woman sang an exotic plaintive tune to entertain the diners but most people only thought about their stomachs. I saw no other celebrations of Malaysian culture beyond the gastronomic.
By this point, I had became obsessed with snapping people eating. I took a lot of pictures which I haven’t shown because in the end I’m not judging those who are enjoying themselves. I thought this couple looked rather romantic as they shared their dish.
My impression that afternoon, walking along one of London’s most significant cultural areas, was that all people really want to do these days is eat!
Making your own entertainment
Further along, in Jubilee Gardens, this father was making his own entertainment for his son with this giant bubble blowing kit.
Further along still, near the Globe theatre, these teenagers were really enjoying their own music. Busking looked like a byproduct.
London loves Food
But the majority of people who were out enjoying the Spring day were focused on eating. Is it really London’s favourite pastime in 2014?
I ended my walk on London Bridge. And whilst waiting for a bus home, I spotted these energetic people too busy cycling on their joint pedibus to eat.
Did I eat anything you ask? “Sunshine by the river and I could be tempted by an ice cream”, were my thoughts when I left home. But the sight of so many gorging themselves put me off. Just call me Victoria Meldrew!!
I know that in France there are free cultural activities to bring communities together. Maybe there are in other European cities too. London is moving away from that it seems in favour of commerce. There is plenty of culture inside the theatres and galleries along the South Bank but little of the free fringe activities that there were in the past.
Now that National Theatre’s free open air space has gone, the skateboard park is all that is left. The rest on offer is food which isn’t free. The ghost of Marie Antoinette hovers over us, “let them eat cake.”