It was William’s seventh birthday. He wanted a tour of St Paul’s Cathedral for his present. He’d learnt about it during a school project. He has the pop up book, the architecture dot to dot and the dates, names and details committed to memory. Farriner. Pepys. Wren. Parmesan cheese. Pudding Lane.
The morning was bright and fresh and clear and the seats at the top of the bus gave us a panoramic view of his favourite city.
We tipped out of the bus alongside the tourists and sightseers and as we rounded the corner St Paul’s rose in to view.
William’s face was luminous and solemn: like Christmas morning when he saw his stocking had been filled.
With his grandma and younger brother banished to the Museum or London, the rest of us regally climbed the steps up and in.
It is phenomenally beautiful. Breath-taking. Awe-inspiring. Vast. Everything you can imagine it to be.
It was still early and quiet so we went straight to the Whispering Gallery. Up and up the twisting staircase and out in to a great circle. We split up and sat at opposite sides and whispered sounds between us that rang like echoes in a seashell.
Higher and higher we climbed- electric with excitement. Up and up in single file – the adults following in the wake of William’s tense joy and out in to a storm of wind and sunshine on white stone.
And up again! Pushing through narrow staircases and trilling up spiral ones. Past cogs and cables and vast wooden beams as we slipped under the skin of the dome until we reached the top.
There’s Monument! Knock it down and it’ll land where the Great Fire started! There’s Tower Bridge! There’s the Cheese Grater and the Gherkin! And London Bridge where heads were displayed on spikes!Look! The whole vast city that you can adventure in or study in or eat delicious food in amidst your bright bright future.
And all of a sudden, the birthday blues hit. Right there at the top. A melancholy descended. That familiar rock in the stomach. Is it over? Is that it?
Did you know that the body of Christopher Wren is in the crypt here?
Down down down we flew!
We stopped in the cathedral alter and lay on our backs in the middle of a semi circle of tourist and worshippers. We lay on the cold brass and looked up to where we’d been- past the angels, the gilded cupids, through the whispers and up in to the shadow of the gold cross.
Then we went down to the crypt.
We saw Nelson’s monument, we bought and wrote a postcard. We drank delicious coffee. We marvelled at models of Old St Paul’s. We touched the toes of effigies blackened by the flames of 1666 which gave a thrill of history.
William was enthralled and keen to pay his admiration to Wren’s tomb only to find it was surrounded by a baptism so out of bounds for the morning- an oddly pleasing thought.
And then we had to go.
And the come down was swift and savage. Is that it? That was it? Is it over?
That feeling like the spell is broken and everything will be disappointing and average again.
But there was his granny Rose and grandpa Ben and the whole city of London to explore. And St Paul’s to watch over us.