A Study of City Wildlife

I cycle my favourite riverside route past the unexpectedly playful fountains of the MI6 building, across the path where the amphibious vehicles slither into the water like great yellow turtles of fun, down the narrow stretch past the stencil of a small red bear with a large red penis and the exhortation ‘Kill the Pigs’.

I reach Albert Embankment where empty coaches are arranged nose to tail, a well-behaved line of circus elephants, each with a sleeping mahoud in the driver’s seat.  Taking the underground path to avoid the traffic horror of the roundabout above, incongruously flanked by the Museum of Garden History, I wend my bike through the tourist throng.  It’s a balmy Sunday afternoon and the crowds are milling: bees about to swarm, randomly changing direction, veering across my path to pose for photos in front of the Houses of Parliament, goggling at Big Ben as it strikes the hour.  An old man sits on one of the cast iron seats, reading the newspaper, his left arm resting on a beautifully wrought swan’s head, while a little boy sits astride another, pretending he’s winning a swan race; young couples lie together on the grass like serpents basking in the sun.  An inebriated youth lolls against a riverside lamppost, bearing a remarkable resemblance to the gaping, glossy black fish cavorting round its stem.

As I cycle back at dusk, mist rises from the silent river.  The bee swarms have disappeared, drowsy inside the elephants lumbering home down the motorway.  The swan seats are resting, waiting, their burdens lifted.  The grass snakes have gone, slithered away to entwine elsewhere.  The lamppost is alone once more, its harsh light illuminating the fish mouth below with a chill black-framed intensity.  Hearing a shout I pedal faster, my heart pounding.

Angela Wray