Sunday, 31 July 2011


A Japanese girl, fashion-conscious in a light blue pencil skirt and a wide-brimmed hat with a red ribbon, bending down to try and get her sunbathing friend in the frame, laughing, swapping cameras, and doing it all over again.

A tall, brown-haired, brown-booted girl with a sensible ponytail, part of a small group, with an incongruous baby-pink camera swinging from a long grey cord down beside her sturdy, tanned legs.

A group of middle-aged visitors milling around, stopping, oblivious, pointing-and-pressing, the arms of their jumpers dangling down from their backpacks.

A solitary, smart figure in a sharp black blazer with a compact silver number, well turned-out with a pretty cream shoulder bag - she's interested in the architechture.

A little boy in a fluorescent orange t-shirt trying to figure out the functions, while his family (older brother, much taller; parents in their forties) gather round to witness the results - he tips it upside down, now they're moving on and it's swinging from his wrist.

A professional photographer in a grey t-shirt and knee-length black shorts taking expensive-looking shots of three women in three different bridal gowns, their backs to me, resting between the double columns of the Old Royal Naval College.

I've come to Greenwich today and forgotten my camera. It has lain dormant for so long that I wanted to give it, and me, a refreshing little outing, but halfway down the Northern Line I read these words: "Dr Lioukras had a little camera he was always using" (Annabel by Kathleen Winter) and I remembered, too late: Camera. Shit. Still at home, where I left it.

There's masses to photograph here, if you want it. I'm lying on a lovely cultivated lawn, a kind of square, between the four buildings of the Old Royal Naval College, underneath two identical domes atop identical colonnades stretching all the way in front of me to Greenwich Park in the near distance. I'll go and explore these buildings in a little while, but for the moment I'm just enjoying being in their presence.

More than anything I love to just be among beautiful buildings. I think this is why I detest day-to-day life in London so much - most of it is overcrowded, run-down and ugly (at least the parts of it that I can afford to be in). For years I have been spoiled by the smoke-blackened grandeur of Edinburgh's run-of-the-mill architecture - and by "run-of-the-mill" I mean that Edinburgh is effortlessly beautiful, so it's no big deal to find a charming close or a gorgeous, jagged vista.

Used to this kind of thing, I feel a sense of entitlement left painfully unsatisfied by the red brick terraces of Tooting Bec. But though beautiful buildings are a necessary element in my life and it's stifling to live in a city where they are always at least a train journey away, they are not what I really like to photograph - though I am admittedly annoyed at myself for leaving home without the necessary equipment. While it would have been nice to open my maritime scrapbook (a current fascination, and more on this later) with some artful shots of the colonnades and the spindly, sky-reaching masts of the Cutty Sark, the latter has, heartbreakingly, been gutted by a fire and is closed for restoration anyway. What I'm most upset about not being able to capture on film is the fascinating moment when you catch somebody else taking a photo. The concentration is almost ridiculous - face pointing, squinting upwards in awed appreciation, a modern-day ritual, proof of pilgrimage to this historical site or the next, an imprint of a moment, a statue, a dome, a ship, saved forever in your memory chip, ready to call up at will at some later date and remember what a lovely day out it was.

I suppose I'd have been doing the same thing in their shoes - I'm a tourist today too - but luckily, I've forgotten my camera.