“Are they Jimmy Choos or Manolo Blahniks” I ask, as I spot the sultry contrast of a red sole on a black stiletto? My encyclopaedia of designer shoe knowledge spans no further than a handful of Sex and the City episodes. A girl, a young woman rather, throws a beaming smile in our direction. It isn’t meant for us, this much we know, as she stands beside her relatives, smiling at a camera. The wide grin of achievement deflects from her footwear, whilst the charcoal tassel suspended from her graduation hat dances to a beat of its own in the river breeze. How could a student afford such heels I wonder?
Like her, there are many. More capes fill Millennium Bridge, more blow dries and polished shoes, more proud parents and black caps. We reminisce over our own brief stints in these gowns with memories as crisp as yesterday, yet painfully aware of the longevity of years that have passed since. We look at their youthful faces with a mix of envy and wisdom and owing much of our professional lives to London universities, we ponder curiously about the establishments these giggling graduates have blossomed from.
It is 24 degrees Celsius on this particular convocation day and 24 years since I met the friend I walk this bridge with. She saw me through my own graduation day – because it was her graduation day too. She saw me through high school and through my wedding day. And whilst these are words we are supposed to reserve for only our spouses, she has seen me through richer and poorer, through better and worse.
We walk between Charing Cross and Waterloo, the Thames Rockets text message open on my phone directing me towards the London Eye Pier. During our first week at university, the hedonism-infused and for many, the alcohol-fuelled Freshers’ Week, we boarded a boat party on the River Thames and toasted to the start of our independent lives. And so, it seems wholly fitting that all these years later, as homeowners and career women, we have been given an opportunity to take our friendship back to these very waters.
Today, we will discover that despite walking along the banks of the River Thames hundreds (and I mean hundreds) of times, we still have so much to learn about this city, its riverside landmarks and the stories that lie within the Thames.
The Thames Rockets Experience
Since this summer’s unprecedented London heat wave has long been and gone, we really cannot believe our luck when we pull open the curtains the Monday morning of our Thames Rockets Ultimate London Adventure experience and our girly day out to face a pastel blue sky woven together with wispy clouds. Is there a more dreamy way to kick off a working week in this city than cruising along the river in the sunshine, with the wind blowing in your hair and with laughter so hard your belly will ache?!
We are the last to arrive. This will surprise none who know me but no one on the pier seems to be judging (vocally anyway) and within moments, we are fitted with size-appropriate life jackets. I am all for safety but when we are strapped into our inflatable vests both horizontally and vertically, there is a part of me that starts to feel apprehensive about quite what kind of ride we are in for!
Time will tell that trip is anything but a sedate slow lull along the water and I would expect nothing less from a London activity that (at the time of publishing this post,) is classified London’s number 1 outdoor activity on Trip Advisor. We have a full house on board with a couple of school children enjoying the final days of summer and a mix of local Londoners and international tourists but Rory, our guide for the tour, wastes no time in putting us all at ease with his cheeky one-liners and witty wisecracks. “For the first part of the journey, we will be limited by certain speed restrictions – but then…” he continues with a wide glint in his eye that speaks volumes, in a sentence that needs no end.
Until then, we are promised views and music and we are delivered both. The song choices are every bit as comical as they are deliberate and between listening to the James Bond theme, Celine Dion’s anthem from…errr…Titanic and the more contemporary “Hold back the river,” the comedy factor of the playlist in not lost on any of us.
Our open-topped crimson vessel starts to gather pace, measured and mature; steady enough that I can put up a couple of Instagram story videos (such are the considerations of a blogger,) steady enough that my friend is able to fill me in on how my darling God son has started to help himself to other childrens’ lunch at nursery ☺and steady enough that I can photograph this city that I love without having to resort to the sharpen feature in the edits.
And then, within an instant, our rocket takes off. We hear the hum of the engine rise to a crescendo, the staff put their shades back on and the volume on the sound system is blasted. We shoot along the Thames with a velocity that brings the passengers out of their shells. Some of us laugh, some cheer and one of us (guilty as charged) may have even uttered the word, “Eeeek.” This particular friend has witnessed me one too many times standing at the bottom of a roller coaster holding everyone’s bags by virtue of my cowardly ways with rides. Fortunately, this time, I am lapping up the adventure.
There are acute bends, tumultuous drops and rises and now the purpose of the double strapped vest becomes all too apparent. Narrating along as the speedboat navigates the voyage between the London Eye and Tower Bridge, Rory incorporates his own special mix of humour whilst telling us how the Oxo Tower legally retained its name, what actually happened to Cannon Street station and explains just what those tents are that sit outside the Houses of Parliament.
Not many tour guides could get away with making jokes about falling into the Thames and eating algae when we get there (!) but his wit is such that far from alienating anyone, he has us all laughing in tandem, all the way to Tower Bridge. We glance up at it as our speedboat sails beneath it, in awe of its architectural grace, struggling to recall a bridge more picturesque.
For someone who frequently suffers motion sickness and nausea in cars, I am surprisingly fine in the,water and contrary to the nerves I was expecting to experience, I am exhilarated to be traversing the city in a whirlwind 30mph kind of way – on the roads in this city, it is a traffic-light day if you can come even close to this speed.
Pumpkin and I often remark on the fact that on almost every trip we make abroad, we end up on a boat ride in one form or another but never did I imagine that the most entertaining one to date would be right here just half an hour away from home. After a thrilling day on the river with my BFF, I have earmarked their other itineraries to take Pumpkin and our friends to one sunny day again soon.
Disclaimer: We were guests of Thames Rockets during this adventure but all views, London love and bestie-love are entirely my own.