The London Eye is a hundred and thirty five metres of steel and glass, the wheel of a bicycle ridden by a god. You walk out of Waterloo station and across the road and it sits awkwardly by the banks of a river, like some remnant of a funfair that the giants forgot to pack away when they moved on. Tickets are expensive but you pay for half an hour of sensational views across London - the palace, Downing Street, St. Paul's, the enormous gherkin over in the financial district and the magnificent Gothic structure that is Parliament. I snapped a picture of it as we landed; the sun was sitting directly behind the clock tower and shining through one of the gaps. It probably won't come out; my photography was never up to much.
We climbed out of the glass cage and then wandered along the south bank and into the Saatchi gallery, where the Dali exhibition was on - we had only discovered forty-five minutes ago that we shared a mutual passion for his work.. It's a collection of 500 paintings, sculptures and watercolours on various collected themes; retellings of Romeo and Juliet and Casanova, an enormous, striking painting that was a collaboration with Hitchcock to promote "Spellbound", and a series of religious and mythological paintings with the twelve tribes of Israel depicted by animals in a desert, and the Song of Solomon.
Dali, it seems, was a slightly less tortured soul than many artists; settled as he was with Gaia, who loved him with fierce devotion until her dying day some fifty years after they'd met. After spending the last few years looking at his work I've come to the conclusion that he's a genius but probably crazy, or at least choosing to exist on an entirely different plane to the rest of us. Hence the sculptures were based very much on his previous works - melting clocks and drawer-constructed figureheads were abundant, as were the phallic unicorn horns and snails and beans. Of most interest was a recreation of the celebrated lobster phone, using a real lobster and a real phone (as Dali said, "I often wondered why, when I went into restaurants and ordered the lobster, they didn't bring me a cooked telephone"). And there was an enormous sofa, painted blood red and formed into the shape of a pair of lips; apparently they're Mae West's lips. (I don't know how you tell.)
Art galleries are usually full of noisy schoolchildren or black-polo necked
critics and collectors, and I was amused to note that some of the sculptures
were for sale - I really liked the one of the horse but fifteen thousand is
a little out of my price range at the moment. Wandering around you feel like
you really ought to be taking it seriously, and speaking in hushed tones about
textures and subtexts and God knows what. But it's hard to be completely serious
when faced with one of Dali's images, involving some rather strange activity
outside a Rapunzel-like tower in a pastoral landscape. I took one look and burst
into laughter, and then collected myself, adding "Sorry. It isn't funny."
"It is," said Emily. "It's a burning giraffe being pushed out of a window. Of course it's funny."
And I'm reminded of the scene in Black Books where Manny is trying to impress the wine connoisseur whose house he will shortly be sitting, as they gaze at a picture of a cow: "No, I love art. Especially late.....art. No, this is magnificent, I mean the look, the way he's captured the cow looking off, what's he looking at, we don't know, you wonder, is the artist trying to say cows - cows...know something....we don't?"
We wandered up the Strand and eventually found a nice little restaurant called Salieri's, where we sat in a corner, boxed in by two American couples. (Why were there so many American tourists yesterday? It was like a convention. It reminded me of when Mike and I flew to New York a couple of years back; I've never seen so many Hassidic Jews crammed into such a small space.) One middle-aged couple were eating steak. The woman sent back her meal because she said it was undercooked, and then her potatoes, insisting they were too cold. Finally she left the mostly-uneaten steak on the side of her plate, pronouncing it a dead loss.
Meanwhile, the (much nicer) couple at the neighbouring table were asking the waiter about the origins of Guy Fawkes night. He was Italian, and didn't know, so I explained.
"You could have made it a more interesting story," Emily pointed
out - and she was right, really, it's not particularly exciting. Meanwhile,
the don't-like-the-food couple were bickering over what they'd overheard.
"What, so they have a day to celebrate blowing up Parliament?"
"No, no, they don't."
"I just heard him say - "
"No, they celebrate catching the guys that did it. They celebrate because Parliament was saved."
"Fine," she said with a theatrical sigh, and then called out, "Waiter? We're in a hurry. Could we get our deserts now, please?"
After they'd gone, I turned back to the second couple, and asked "So what
are going to see tonight?" (Hey, it's the theatre district, everybody's
going to see something.)
"Well," she announced with Kindergarten teacher enthusiasm and a beaming smile, "We're from Chicago - and we're going to see Chicago!"
It was quite sweet, in a sort of do-all-Americans-really-love-Britain-this-much kind of way...
* * * * *
By the time Emily and I got down to the embankment, it was dark. It doesn't seem like six months, somehow. Six months since I stood in a car park and we made eye contact for what felt like an eternity - time seemed to stop, slow down, as it still does at the best of times when I'm with her. I don't know if I knew that day that this was something special, or whether we both figured it out later. There were turning points, as I'm sure I've talked about - moments when you realise there's been a development, something new, deeper.
I squeezed her hand and we stood by the river's edge and watched the fireworks explode against the night sky, popping and spluttering and lighting up the Oxo tower and the Festival Hall, the white electric structure of the Millennium Bridge and, far off, the gherkin. Eventually we decided to sit down; there were no benches but there was an awkwardly positioned ledge that jutted out from the wall. It was too steep to jump down but we managed to edge carefully along a slope before resting on the cold stone for a while. Emily guided me across; I get nervous about falling, despite the fact that I'm OK with heights. (I'd have only landed on concrete, but I'd probably have broken an arm or something, and it's the show in a little over two weeks.)
So we sat for a while until it got cold and I remembered the risks of piles.
It's just that getting back is harder than getting there; I suddenly realised
I was stuck. Emily, who'd already reached the other side, said "Give me
I took it, and she eased me across the slope and then I landed, a little heavily, but upright and intact.
"Thanks," I said.
"That's twice I've saved your life this evening," she said.
"I know. I don't know what I'll ever do to repay you."
"Well," she said, "you could always marry me."
I took a deep breath. "Would you?"
She stared at me hard, not quite sure. We've talked about it a lot. It's just it was always an acknowledgement that it would happen when we were ready - not yet.
I took off my glasses.
"Emily....I'm asking you to marry me."
She gazed into my eyes. Smiled. Said yes.
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