Serendipity

There are times when an absolute treat just sneaks up on you.

On Sunday morning, I was heading back from a birthday party, having stayed up far too late. Stumbling zombie-like out of the bus at Aldwych, I then waited an age for the next one, and in the end decided that, zonked though I was, it might be quicker to walk across Waterloo Bridge and get the train home. Muttering imprecations on Transport for London under my breath, I trudged along the Strand, past Somerset House, and turned left onto the bridgefoot. I was completely zoned out and staring down at the pavement, but then looked up to notice the Thames, as calm as a shallow puddle, with the beginnings of a smoggy sunrise filling the sky above and water below.

Thames sunrise, 9th September 2012
Thames sunrise from Waterloo Bridge, 9th September 2012

Moments later, the sun peeped over the horizon, overwhelming the pastel colours and washing out all those atmospheric silhouettes. No one else was around: the bridge was deserted. I stopped and realised that I had this all to myself. It was magnificent.

It’s not the first time I’ve enjoyed a moment like this. Here’s another one: same river, similar time of day, different bridge, different year, different sky, same feeling of awed privilege.

Thames sunrise, 2nd January 2011
Thames sunrise from London Bridge, 2nd January 2011

It’s not all rivers and sunrises, though. Here are another two photos that connect with each other, in an odd way that I hadn’t realised until I thought, just now, of posting the first one. This was taken in Lillie Road Recreation Ground, where (I think) some kind of caterpillar had encased a thorn bush in gossamer silk:

Lillie Road Recreation Ground, 12th August 2012
Lillie Road Recreation Ground, 12th August 2012

And this was taken near my uncle’s house in Sweden, where caterpillars had encased an entire tree in the same way, stripping it bare of foliage in the time it had taken us to ride on the tram to the seaside and back. (Sadly my camera didn’t quite do justice to the extraordinary sight of a tree wrapped in silk).

Bergsjön, Sweden, 6th June 2011
Bergsjön, Sweden, 6th June 2011

Noticing moments like these correlates pretty closely with my mental state. If I am preoccupied, worried or stressed, I rarely seem to notice. If I am feeling relaxed, I seem to be more open to serendipitous observation.

And the nice thing about serendipity, compared to anticipated pleasures, is that it always more than lives up to expectations.

5 thoughts on “Serendipity

  1. Beautiful. And reminded me of this:

    Earth has not anything to show more fair:
    Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
    A sight so touching in its majesty:
    This City now doth like a garment wear
    The beauty of the morning: silent, bare,
    Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
    Open unto the fields, and to the sky,
    All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
    Never did sun more beautifully steep
    In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;
    Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
    The river glideth at his own sweet will:
    Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
    And all that mighty heart is lying still!

    That Wordsworth knew a thing or two!

    1. True! I’m not usually a big fan – all the hillsides and daffodils leave me a bit cold (not in real life, I mean the poems). But thanks for reminding me: this was one that I first came across at school, when Mr Holmes, my crazy English teacher, made us all go out on Westminster Bridge early on a winter’s morning and read it out loud to baffled commuters.

      Can’t believe I’d forgotten that experience, but thanks for reminding me….

    2. Thanks, Penny. Somehow I published the comment and didn’t reply. This is one of the few Wordsworth poems I really like – others like the daffodils don’t really speak to me, but this does. It was in my mind when I took the photo. I remember it from my favourite English teacher at school, who used to drag us out to places associated with poems and get us to read them out loud. The trip to Westminster Bridge to read this one was one of the more successful; standing around in the pissing rain at Chiswick House reading Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock to a few baffled mums, their prams, and their dogs was less so! Still, it gave me a sense of words having a connection with place, and his madcap lesson ideas like these are among the things I remember most fondly from school.

      1. Ha! And now I see I did reply, and the poem triggered the same memory both times. Just goes to show that Mr Holmes was right.

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