“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.