They must have known we were coming. I mean the brave souls who abseiled from the top of Elizabeth Tower — Clock Tower, as it was before HM The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012 — to clean the faces of the massive timepiece beneath. I’d seen the insect-like figures about their task in a striking photograph on the front page of The Times during a journey on the Oxford Tube to join friends for a night-time cruise on the River Thames in London. It was good to think that Big Ben would be looking his best as we purred past aboard Fairline Targa 43, Miss Moneypenny.
The last time we sampled the luxury of this private motor yacht, courtesy of its owner Ken Corbett, she was known by a different name, also drawn from the oeuvre of Ian Fleming. These days, it seems — though I can’t think why — Pussy Galore can create access difficulties on the Internet, which is hardly conducive to a successful business (chartercruise.co.uk).
The sports cruiser is moored at Imperial Wharf, whither we travelled by the fast and frequent London Overground from Shepherd’s Bush. This was my first trip on this line, though it has been open seven years. Actually, I should say ‘service’ rather than ‘line’, for I traversed the tracks fairly often in the days (bring back British Rail!) of direct trains between Oxford and Brighton.
Having rendezvoused with Kenny at Young’s Waterside Bar & Kitchen — a reason enough, incidentally, for a jaunt to this part of London — we boarded Miss Moneypenny and set off in a westerly direction.
In the circumstances, ‘towards Fulham’ better describes our route, since points of the compass scarcely assist in charting a journey through the tortuous bends of the Thames. These are not especially apparent at water level but are strikingly illustrated in sudden changes of direction in the steady stream of aircraft passing overhead on their way to Heathrow. Also above us, with surprising frequency, are sleek helicopters, clearly the transport of choice for the moneyed of London.
What was curiously absent, it struck me, were other craft engaged in the same pursuit as us. We were, after all, in our hugely populous, tourist-crammed capital city in high summer (not that this was evident from the plunging temperatures which had led me to leave Oxford — I am not joking — wearing an overcoat and carrying scarf, hat and gloves). Were not others alive to the delights of London by night, with its buildings and bridges lit up in a fashion not to be observed in all its glory from dry land? Why no Lights of London river tours?
I need expend no words, really, in describing what we saw as we returned past Chelsea and made our way under the famous bridges of the capital. The pictures on this page speak for themselves. As can be seen, both Albert Bridge and Tower Bridge looked particularly magnificent lit up against the night sky. Beside the latter, the Shard — the tallest building in the European Union — glows majestically to a height of more than 1000ft.
Not entirely apparent, perhaps, is the black mystery of the river itself, which led me to remember, as we ploughed onwards, the arresting opening chapter of Charles Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend. Only the next day did I discover that the various police craft on the water — recognisable by their flashing blue lights — were about the same business as Dickens’s characters Gaffer Hexam and his daughter Lizzie; they were pulling a dead body from the water, though not, I trust, as Hexam was, separating any valuables from it.