I am sitting at a promenade table beside the river at Southbank, scribbling with a pencil into a little notebook. The atmosphere is cosmopolitan, the mood stimulating, the people animated, the venue, trés-chic. I write, enduring the minor discomfort of the restaurant chair, which is of course designed to maximise customer turnover. Only in Paris can you own a restaurant chair all day for the price of a cup of espresso. I can feel the organic texture of the lead pencil traversing the fibrous paper, sending a tiny reverberation through my fingers.
The first thought that occurs to me is that I have sat beside more melodious rivers than this. In itself, the Yarra is silent. The principle sound is the murmer of voices, interspersed with the occasional laughter. I find this a melodious mélenge. Less pleasant is the sharp rattle of cutlery and crockery conveyed on its circuit of commercial use – dishwasher, warmer, kitchen, bain-marie, waiter, table and then its converse migration, completing the life cycle of a profit.
With increasing frequency trains enter and leave the station directly across the river. At platform speeds their tenor is not intrusive but their movement can catch the eye and distract. Traffic noise from the bridge is dulled by the balustrade, though a driver will occasionally use his horn, not as a sonic precaution but to advertise impatience or intolerance. The mime artist entertaining child and adult alike on the promenade is not adding to the acoustic environment. And so it should be. This probable university drama student in technicolour dress has a nice little earner going, making his share of the rent and tonight’s King Street rave. I can see – but not hear – the older gentleman on the other side of the footbridge, wearing a Hanfu of yellow silk and playing his Chinese harp for coin.
It is hot, humid and there is no breeze. A slight perspiration has collected on my forehead. I will pat at this with a handkerchief when it threatens my spectacles. The action will be almost subconscious, like waving away a fly. I pour another cup of green tea. In theory, this will help to bring my body temperature closer to the ambient air temperature, thus minimising sweat gland emissions. In practice, it makes me long for a large chilled diet-something. The sun brightens the scene and flashes off the water.
I feel grateful for this beautiful day in the city.