FA Cup Final 2014

Arsenal, as everyone had become very fond of saying, had gone a long time without a trophy. Nine years, it seemed, if every boring journalist was to be believed.

Had it really been that long? It didn’t seem it. Then again, I missed the 2005 FA Cup Final to attend a wedding, and listened to Patrick Vieira whacking home the winning penalty with his last kick as an Arsenal player down a phone line in the garden of the sort of Yorkshire country house many of Imogen’s friends got married. In the following decade we’d got married ourselves, had two children and had another on the way. Life had changed in dozens of other ways, some tiny, some vast in their significance.

In the foreground and the background throughout all this turbulence had been going to the football. Weekends and evenings through autumn, winter and spring roll round as they always have done with the rhythm of the season, some good, some bad. Always fun and always there. But for those years not much of significance: a couple of swings and misses at the title, an agonizing Champions League final, two League Cup Final defeats. The second of these, to Birmingham, was on a bleak and frigid February afternoon which felt wrong right from the outset and ended dismally.

So during the winter of 2014 I’d learnt to not have high expectations from Arsenal. We were so obviously inferior to Chelsea and Manchester City that when we met these teams we’d go out of whatever competition we were in. Despite this, disposing of Spurs and Liverpool in the third and fifth rounds was, as you might expect, very enjoyable. But once we’d beaten Everton in the quarter final we found that every other ‘big’ team was out, thanks to Wigan knocking out Manchester City at the Etihad. The field, it appeared, was clear for us. From being no hopers who couldn’t win anything the papers suddenly declared there was no way we could fail to win the Cup.

As ever, it was not that easy. Wigan’s stubbornness exposed the short tempers among Arsenal fans and the semi-final was an ugly affair. Groups of drunken men who’d turned up for a party got nasty with each other when we struggled. Mertescacker’s equalizer and subsequent penalties were greeted by relief, not unbridled delight. I remember feeling like losing that game would have brought about the end of Wenger’s time in charge. Perhaps it would have. Kim Kallstrom’s penalty was one of several strange cameos that have an unreal air to them now. Who was he? Where did he come from? Why was he there? And where did he go?

On then to the final. Dad and I were back behind the goal in the lower tier, this time with old friends, randomly, for company. At a game like this who you sit with is a lottery, but I was relieved we didn’t have the drunken groups of men who were nearby at the semi. That said, our pals were pretty trollied. Perhaps the scarcity of tickets weeded out the day-trippers, but the people around us were (mostly) a bit older, more mixed and able to hold it together, I thought, if things went wrong.

All season Arsenal had fallen apart in big games, going down 6-0 at Chelsea, 5-1 at Liverpool and 6-3 at Manchester City. Again, here, Arsenal started like a legless greyhound. Before we had time to blink, we were 2-0 down to a Hull City team that probably could scarcely believe their luck. It could have been 3-0 as the mood went from dark to black, with a goal-line clearance saving the day. But it was early in the game, and I said either out loud or to myself that we were going to have to do it the hard way. I thought of George and Harry at home and fretted. No-one said much.

With almost 20 minutes gone we were awarded a free kick, a long way out. In 1991 Paul Gascoigne scored an improbable free kick for Spurs against Arsenal. I can still recall the sinking feeling, the delirium in the Spurs end, the instant sense that we’d lost the game. This time things went our way. Santi Cazorla bent and thumped the ball high over the keeper and into the goal. GOAL.

In some ways, the game was won at that point. Hull were looking at 70 minutes of defending a lead they suddenly seemed unlikely to extend. Arsenal didn’t quite throw everything at them, but kept knocking at the door. In the crowd, the drunk among us veered from swaying to angry to optimistic. Though missed chances were greeted with howls, the crowd mostly stuck with the players.

After one chance, a man in front of me produced the memorable line ‘people these days want everything now’. His words have stuck with me since and become a mantra for understanding modern times. Was he a kind of shaman, appearing on this important day to deliver a life lesson? I believe, on the whole, that yes he was.

Still, the minutes ticked by and our colony of hopeful supporters watched the ball come closer and closer to the goal without actually going in. The ultimate enigma, Yaya Sanogo came on and had his best game in an Arsenal shirt, still managing to miss a few good if not quite clear-cut chances. Then, with 20 minutes left, Laurent Koscielny spun and poked home a half-chance. Another eruption of relief. After this goal I fell over and pulled a load of others with me. What had been a terrible day was suddenly producing larks galore.

There was a long time in extra time to get the winner but it didn’t seem to be coming. Giroud hit the bar with a flying header from miles out. Sanogo continued to miss. Extra time came along, and suddenly we were in the lead. Ramsey’s goal was a beauty, though it wasn’t clear how good until later. For now, we cheered and hoped and prayed it would be enough. Even then Arsenal tried to blow it, with a kamikaze piece of goalkeeping nearly adding to the long catalogue of self-destructs that make up the latter years of the Wenger Era.

But hold on we did, and it was wonderful. The players, ascending those very long stairs, hoisted the trophy into the air. I felt some validation for Arsene Wenger, who must have carried the trophyless years around with him like a heavy weight, even more than we all had, and looked especially pleased. I remember Tomas Rosicky, on as a sub, charging along with the cup, something to show for his time with us beyond loads of injuries.

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Wembley as ever took forever to leave, and it was 10pm by the time I got back to Finsbury Park for a drink. A  very drunk man cycling down Stroud Green Road fell off his bike and crashed. I ran to his aide. He didn’t seem able to speak. I got home after midnight to hear how the boys had stuck with Arsenal too, and been brave. Just an FA Cup? Don’t believe it for a minute.

There’s a million tiny moments in what survives as in video clips, getting older by the year.

After the glow

Iceland notes

Grundarfjordur, Saturday, 9pm, light

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Light, light, light. Iceland in June and there is no darkness. When you choose to stop and take a moment here there is no wind, no rain, and no noise either. The tapping of the keyboard and the background noise of another guest making a call is all there is.

This town is a sort of point of nothing further, and the end of the road after a frantic and spectacular 30 hours or so in Iceland. At numerous points on this quick-fire raid on the west of the country I have had cause to note how lucky I am, and how this is quite the most spectacular landscape of any place that I have ever visited.

Tonight, as the cloud wafts over Kirkjufell, standing sentinel over the north of the town, both those thoughts are coming into my head again.

I had meant to hit the ground running in Iceland, and take in Pingvellir on my way to my bed at Borgarnes, north of Rejkyavik . The road leading up to the Ping from Reykjavik, up through the Mosfell valley was an immediate thud to the senses, green hills and ribbons of river poking through the cloud and light, persistent rain.

Pingvellir was interesting and the first place I found a smattering of other tourists completing an afternoon golden circle. Two groups of divers kitted up for a plunge in the Silfra streams that fill in the rifts in the valley floor stood apart, the mooched off towards unseen depths.

It is very lovely. Even so, Magnus Magnusson makes it sound better than it is, playing up the huge historical significance of the site.

I drove straight on, north onto route 550, past a sign warning anyone with a rental car not to drive off the road. the road was gravel, but still a road. I drove on. And after ten rattly miles or so of gritted teeth I found myself in what looked like Tibet, or what I thought Tibet would look like. Land stripped of vegetation, blue rivers cutting over bleached rock, and glacial lakes. At one point I reached a junction and turned left. It felt like the remotest place on earth.

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There had been coaches of people at Pingvellir. I saw no-one for the best part of two hours. After what felt more like a lifetime, with Felt and Cocteau Twins, wild and strange on soundtrack I arrived, a little frazzled and elated, into Borgarnes, sweet in its own way, for a dip in the B&Bs hot-pot, a garage dinner and an attempt to sleep.

I was up early, early enough to have breakfast and sneak out before the Finnish couple I was sharing the B&B got up. As they were Finnish, I reckon they’d have cowered in their room until midday had I continued to clatter round. Either way I was on my way across the flat, Lewis-like scenery that led to Snaefellsnes what felt like early, early, early.

The first few miles slipped by in the excitement of the new day, and looking back at the map there is nothing until a waterfall that I scrambled up a steep track to get as close to as I could.

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That set the tone for the day, driving a little, seeing something interesting, strolling over to it, or up it, eat a jelly baby, repeat.

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Volcanic cones, odd rock outcrops, waves crashing on rocks. And then there was the turning to Ondvandarnes, and the strip of golden sand where the buried Viking was found, and a swim in the Greenland Sea. As I like annoying my father by telling him every time I swim somewhere cold or unusual or indeed any time I swim outdoors as he seems unable to do it I quickly told him I’d done that, too. ‘Most morbid swim’ he suggested on account of the cadaver who spent a few centuries under the sand.

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Given the intensely beautiful scenery all around me, I initially regretted taking a few hours out of it to go whale spotting. I shouldn’t have. Three hours gazing at the water ended up being nearly five in the company of so many orcas and sperm whales the crew were laughing. Top ocean predators. Top everything.

Sunday in brief

I woke up in Grundarfjordur, with Kirkjufell glowering behind cloud and hurried to use the shared bathroom before anyone slowed me down, then similarly gobbled breakfast, made up the last of my rolls and fled.

On the road by half past seven and at the Stikkisholmur turn-off at just after eight. I decided against heading here, Iceland’s towns not holding much allure. The ferry to the Westfjords would have to wait for another time.

After an hour of more incredible views I had driven back to Borgarnes, where I summoned the nerve to go for a swim in the local pool. First you must follow signs telling you which parts of your body to wash before getting in. Bollocks, armpits, ears. It makes sense really. Other people’s filth should not be a bathing companion.

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The pool was warm enough to feel welcoming, and after 20 lengths I headed for the hot pots where aged locals were swapping gossip. Never one to wallow for too long I was soon off again, resolving to see Reykjavik with the remainder of what remained. The only people up in the capital on Sunday mornings, however, were other tourists, and I was only really keen on seeing the Íslendingabók, the chronicle of the settlement of Iceland, and the spot where Ingólfur Arnarson had thrown his high seat pillars , deciding where to settle on being the first person to arrive in Iceland. The book was hugely understated, and the museum it was in underwhelming, while the statue was very fine, if a most unlikely place for some rods to have washed up on the shore, being as it is on top of a hill.

And that was all there was to the capital, I think. Possibly a bit harsh but I wouldn’t bother next time apart from to try a few of the swimming pools.

In fact i decided to spend my last hour looking round Reykjanes peninsula, which was flatter and more like Lewis (lots of Iceland looks like Lewis) than other bits, but interesting nonetheless. At one point I happened upon a family rushing to watch the local football team kick off and I wished I had longer, maybe forever, to be in Iceland.

Back in the real world and somehow still outside of it I flew on to Washington for the usual undignified schlepp through US immigration to catch my onward flight. I put having tried to leave my passport at immigration down to being mentally still on a road in rural Iceland. After what seemed like a dozen more hurdles I arrived in Franklin, Tennessee. I can’t think of a great contrast involving travel in the western hemisphere.

When I read these words back I have done a disservice to the excitement and wonder of those few hours in Iceland. Take these words and pump them up with breathtaking Icelandic air and views.

And wandered in Wales

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Is heaven, or the centre of the universe to be found in the near-lost corner of north Wales that forms a leg of lamb shape including the Llyn Peninsula, the coast running south as far as Harlech and encompasses Snowdonia National Park?

If not, how can I make sense of our outing to Braich y Pwll, at the end of a long road, where the land meets the sea to Bardsey Island? In this place, my family and I stood, then sat, on the grassy headland, as near to the temperamental sea as we could get, staring at the waves looking for seals and porpoises. I’d bought us here because it sounded interesting, the old launching point for pilgrimage boats to Bardsey, and I thought there was a chance that we might see something. Searching the waves while we ate our lunch had yielded nothing more than a pair of choughs, crow-like and underwhelming, and the boys, seeing wonder in the waves, had claimed a whale sighting or two. We stood to leave this beautiful place, which had been ours alone, when George shouted and pointed at the water. A grey-headed seal, 50 feet or so from us, close enough to make up his face and staring at the shoreline so intently he might as well have been asking us the time. It was magical. After a longish time he dived under the water, and we spent a happy half hour watching him, and another seal, bob about in the turbulent currents of these straits.

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Since then I have thought a lot about this thrilling meeting. The boys were desperate to see a seal, and had talked of nothing else. We had come to that place not in expectation, but to look, and see what we saw. Two peregrine falcons hovered overhead, at one point looking like they were going to swoop near us with their record-breaking velocity. But it was this curious seal, and why he picked there and then to give us such a moment, and why the land, and the sea, and the sky all combined to freeze everything in time, which has puzzled me since. A moment to make you forever look up, and keep you eyes peeled.

And if north Wales isn’t heaven, then how come it has steam trains rattling up and down hillsides, and turning Porthmadog into a kind of island of Sodor made real? On one day George, Winnie and I take the Welsh Highland Railway to Beddgelert, racing Harry and Imogen in the car (an honourable draw). We sit in the open carriage without windows, and on departing immediately cross the mainline on a kind of crossroads you’ve only seen in Brio railways but now made real, then run alongside another steam service called Emma. She belongs to near-namesake the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway. Then we ride up through tunnels and past a mountain called Cnicht that looks like a medieval helmet, and past the Aberglaslyn River and by the time we get off I am in some kind of reverie.

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Completing the sense of something strange and special was the ascent of Snowdon. This had been discussed for weeks but due to my Dad’s schedule we only had one shot, on a day where rain was forecast. We headed up the Pyg Track in darkening cloud, but as we climbed higher things brightened up, even if we were in cloud for three hours or so of heroics from George (8) and Harry (6), who skipped up the bulk of Yr Wyddfa and claimed a notable top, their biggest yet. It looks like not much can hold them back. The summit was frigid, bitterly cold with the odd flake of snow and Imogen & I briefly worried, hurrying them back down. Such heights always have teeth. A maintenance train clanked up the cog railway at one point, an incredible delight growling out of the mist. Dad applauded its talismanic arrival. It chugged over the rails I had lay down on in mock submission a few minutes before. The lower slopes gave up trying to scare us, and offered us plenty of views of Glaslyn and the Miner’s Track. The boys skipped down, too.

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On our last night Imogen and I drove over to Lloyd George’s grave in Llanystumdwy. This very secular burial mound by the rushing river Dwyfor seemed alive with the spirits of the place. It seemed sunny, damp, warm and cold and infused with life everywhere in the late Spring evening we were there.

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And then going home, snow laced our passage out of Avalon and into mid-Wales, where our reluctant escape seemed to run dry in quicksand of towns with impenetrable names and valleys straight from my imagination I was now seeing in reality. So is it really all these things? You decide. I have decided.

Warsawa Centralna, and hostelling in Poland in the early noughties

In Krakow the hostel had been a chaotic, strange place. Dormitories were filled with long-term Australian residents who vetted a new arrival like me. They seemed unwilling or unable to move on. One especially odd individual had purchased some website domain names he was sure would make him his fortune with no effort on this part at all. The rooms were musty and the corridors echoed with noise day and night. Krakow was that kind of magic backpacker town. Like Prague a few years before, it was somewhere the world’s budget travelers came to drink and dance, as carefree as the thousand of students who had piled in at the same time I’d arrived. On my first day I sat in the huge main square and stared happily at this parade of youthful optimism laughing its way around the city. What a joyful place this was. At night it revved up a notch further, if my one night out with an awkward international group was anything to go by. It was made stranger that the day trip of choice here was to Auschwitz, arguably the one place you’re least likely to feel like going and and having fun after visiting. For those studying here, or remaining here for indeterminate period as their funds eked away of course, that didn’t apply.

Warsaw was a different proposition. On first arriving, late at night, I checked into a room which was part of a sports complex, utterly alone. I fled early the next morning, buying an astonishingly cheap week’s rail pass and boarding the first train to Gdansk. I was eager to begin traveling so didn’t linger in Warsaw, saving it for the end of the trip.

Then again, I had reckoned without my own plans taking me through Warsaw Central station twice more, once on the way south, to Krakow, Zakopane and the Tatras, and once on the way back to fly home. On each occasion I found the station as fearsome as when I’d first passed by. From outside, a concrete monolith planted by one of the vast boulevards I’d imagined were carved from the wreckage of WW2 that looked neither promising nor romantic. I love lingering at stations, from Barcelona Franca to Prague Hlavni, but all there was to do here was struggle to find a platform and flee the incessant smell of urine. Later, when writing for the Observer (yes, I once wrote once a week for the Observer, I did, and I shall not forget the odd mix of terror and excitement of my views and advice being published every seven days) I ventured forth my view that WC was not nice. I received several letters chiding me, and reminding me that Warsaw was raised to the ground and the station was all they could afford. I felt bad and never wrote another critical word. After all, stations are essentially functional and plenty of people love modernism and brutalism. Sorry Warsaw Central. I have recently learnt that this, too, was incorrect. In fact the station was designed to be something of a bold statement of intent for communist Poland, but a scheduled visit from Leonid Brezhnev has forced cutbacks that led to the station ending up in its current state. So I claim some deliverance from my earlier shame. 

The station has, I gather, been spruced up for the European Championships a few years ago. Some people call it a classic. So maybe it too has achieved salvation.

Either way, when exploring Warsaw I didn’t hang out at the station. I did after the oddities encountered in Krakow give the main hostel another go. Hostelling International places aren’t generally the party places. I pitched up during a rainy night either this century or at the end of the last. After one of the rubbish dinners my travels are famous – pace the city in increasing agony at being unable to settle for somewhere, then plump for something foul and unhealthy that doesn’t involve interacting with a waiter – I’d retreated to the kitchen area. The whole place was silent, and accessed by a staircase above some shops. There were no staff there and few guests, and I expected to have the place to myself. Slowly the room filled up. First with a small group of Aussies, who invited me to join their card game provided I brought along my transistor radio and stuck some much on, and a group of Russian young men who plonked themselves down next to us and proceeded to drink. They passed a bottle round and did shots from it, and occasionally offered everyone else some, which I politely declined. The evening wore on in this fashion, with an increasingly absorbing card game and easy patter punctuated by drunken shouts from the next table. At one stage the cheesy Polish pop on the radio (the phrase tickled my Australian companions, which I found flattering that they noticed) gave way to Kylie Minogue’s ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’ which sent our companions into a frenzy of almost Viking-style chanting and banging the table, roaring ‘Kylie! Kylie! Kylie!’. This also went on for some time. At some forgotten point I ambled off to bed, and the next morning flew home. Warsaw, too, was wonderful in its own way.

The Beck Stone

New Year’s Eve with dusk turning to night quickly, Ilkley Moor. There’s a lake in the quarry caused by recent heavy rain. Who could resist walking through it with wellingtons on?

Strong wind has pushed our walking and climbing party back to cars, carrying younger explorers back to the warmth of Granny & Grandpa’s. George, as usual wants to walk down. I do too. So do others, but I get to go which is good as it’s a wonderful half hour or so. He is full of conversation and loves bouncing off up offshoot paths and through trees, the route familiar and variable with pinecones and stones to gather on the way. I love the sense of space to walk and talk, and to be quiet together from time to time.

Each time we’ve done this walk lately we’ve sought out the Beck Stone. To reach the stone requires a short detour from the path, up from the Troll Bridge, through the bracken and then down and across the beck, a fast-flowing stream that plunges off the Moor. 

We reach a large stone engraved with a poem. Part of Simon Armitage and Ilkley Literature Festival’s Stanza Stones project, Beck follows the water here from its inception as ‘a teardrop/squeezed from a curlew’s eye’ to ‘the full-throated roar at it’s mouth’. The poem is beautiful, none more so than when we read it aloud, by torchlight.

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Reading Beck by torchlight at the end of the day

Afterwards we pad back to the route down to the cattle grid, talking a while of the poem, and water, before returning to today’s obsessions. It is quite dark but the time we reach home, the orange streetlights seen from the Moor now close up and, if not offering warmth, welcoming us back from wilder territory.

Beck

It is all one chase.
Trace it back: the source
might be nothing more
than a teardrop
squeezed from a curlew’s eye,
then follow it down
to the full-throated roar
at its mouth:
a dipper strolls the river
dressed for dinner
in a white bib.
The unbroken thread
of the beck
with its nose for the sea,
all flux and flex,
soft-soaping a pebble
for thousands of years
or here
after hard rain
sawing the hillside in half
with its chain.
Or here,where water unbinds
and hangs
at the waterfall’s face,
and just for that one
stretched white moment
becomes lace.

 

Two rides south of Nashville

Work takes me to Nashville, Tennessee more frequently than anywhere else. Given the preoccupations of the weeks I spend here I’m normally keen to let off some steam at some point. At that point I go to RB’s Cyclery, hire one of their Felt road bikes and take off out of the small town of Franklin where I’m billeted. The first week of January I did it twice.

Winter in this part of America veers between bizarrely mild to ridiculously cold, often with only a few days notice. Christmas Day this year was shirt-sleeves weather. I arrive on January 4 to sub-zero darkness which slowly warms up over the week. On two midweek runs I need to wear my cycling tights, which slowly fall down as I run, leaving me pulling them up in a most ungentlemanly fashion. By the time the weekend rolls around things are 7c in the morning, right on the cusp of full glove conditions.

My colleague and I roll out of town at first light. The road is wet and I quickly develop a badger’s tail of water on my back. The roads are silent. I push on, relishing turning pedals for the first time this year. Commuting in London it is not. I look back and I’ve left Daniel far down the road. He’s usually quicker than me. I expect he’s fiddling with his phone, or watch. No matter. I tell myself I’m fitter, and put the hammer down some more. We finish with a coffee in town, happy with the morning’s work. I keep the bike for another day.

Saturday is drier, and jet lag gets me up before dawn. As soon as I think I can get away with it I’m out again, with the freedom of the weekend offering the chance of some more miles. This time things are drier, and the streets of Franklin give way quickly to the silence of rural Tennessee. Occasionally there’s a slow-slowing river, a fork of the Harpeth, a old bridge, an ancient stretch of Old Natchez Trace. I’m heading for the new version of this famous road, and ride a decent stretch of it on a triangular run out of town, across and back. Winter here means bare trees, grey-green grass and a kind of heavy cold air, sitting over everything bar an insipid but persistent wind.

Eventually I reach the huge bridge that marks my entry point on to the Natchez Trace Parkway. This road runs from Nashville to Tupelo, Mississippi and forbids heavy vehicles, appears to have none at all on it at 8am on a Saturday morning. I drove a stretch of it one warm summer’s evening last year in a convertible while listening to Aretha Franklin. Today there’s no music, just the subtle noises of cycling on a silent road.

I rest my chilled bones at Leipers Fork, a country halt with a fine tradition of deep drying everything, and pause for breakfast. Later that day I fly home, back from the strange outer space of cowboy hats and boots, giant trucks and southern manners.

Magnus the Martyr

Every now and again I drag colleagues out at lunchtime for a ramble. They’re kind and don’t complain and a few even come back each time. I’m grateful.

We’re on Blackfriars Road. From here the Thames is a minute or two away, Borough south and east, Waterloo and Lambeth west and the City due north. With all that in front of us there’s no end of options for an hour or so of strolling with intent to absorb centuries of history and modern-day marvels of the capital.

Yesterday we went with the wild west wind, first across the bridge and then along the north bank towpath of the Thames. The path ducks in and out and under buildings and bridges, leaving the river altogether for a stretch along Lower Thames Street and passing wall-tiles bearing historic views of the city. A mighty mosaic lines the Anglo-Saxon dock at Queenhithe telling the story of London. Rather than the beery behemoths on the south bank, pubs here are small and somewhat hidden. Runners duck and weave, jogging-boxing.

In due course we arrive at St Magnus the Martyr, a little to the east of London Bridge. Or not, if you know what you’re looking for. Even if you just pause and look in the porch of Wren’s tower the truth is revealed. Here a blue plaque states that the church was on the pathway that led from the City across old London Bridge from 1176 to 1831. Merchants, travellers, royalty and vagabonds all went this way, down Fish Street Hill, across Thames Street and over the bridge on their way south. Sometimes they were simply heading to the Borough for some naughty. At other times Antwerp, Venice or Constantinople would have been the end of the line. St Magnus saw them all pass, and then kept an arm around them. Two-thirds of the bridge was within the parish of St Magnus.

Inside there is an impressively horn-helmeted statue of the Orcadian saint retro-fitted as the definitive Magnus of yore, despite competing claims from namesakes. In truth, no-one is sure which St Magnus the church is named for, just like it is opaque why the shelves by the belfry are lined with plastic bread rolls.

Most visitors are too busy gawping at the superb stained glasses dedicated to saints of other churches absorbed into St Magnus’ parish and the wonderful model of Old London Bridge to care. This comes complete with a procession, rowdy apprentices, pilgrims and a lone out-of-time policemen. This represents David T. Aggett, a former bobby who made the model. What a talented chap, and what a legacy to leave.

By now I was quite overwhelmed by all the wonderful stuff to be found in here, and more than out of historical guff to share with everyone. I was pondering the bridge, its chapel to St Thomas (a’Becket) and its gatehouses. Its traitors heads on spikes. Its piers, houses and inhabitants. What happened to all these people? Where has this London gone, and how is it connected to today?

We can’t stay in the lost world. We turned our back on time-travelling. The modern bridge, now a few yards upstream, struggles to deliver romance. It is grey and unless you pass under it by night, lacking colour and identity. It cannot help being in the wrong place.  We did our best and remained upbeat: walking across it in good cheer heading for a pint in The Market Porter, busy with Christmas revellers. Afterwards, back to the office via Southwark Street, where the ghosts of trams rattled in the darkening December sky.