Free spirits of Southbank…

Agility and acting on the Southbank

One of my favourite walks over the last few years has been to wander slowly along the South Bank of the Thames on a busy Saturday afternoon just watching people and soaking up the atmosphere. Having always been somewhat clumsy, without a good sense of balance, I appreciated the gutsy, gravity defying energy and freedom of the skateboarders, skaters and bikers exciting the Undercroft watchers at the Southbank Centre. Not formally organised, they put on an impromptu, unstructured show for passers by, family and friends, who stand behind a safety rail.

Like so many sporting activities, indoor and outdoors, skateboarding here has been put on hold, so after searching through past pictures here is a retrospective selection to give a feeling of one of my favourite parts of London. A feeling that I hope will soon be possible to experience again.

Defying gravity against a background of street art
Concentration and skateboarding skill

According to SkateboardGB, at the moment “Skateboard coaching can continue outside on a one-to-one basis, maintaining social distancing and hygiene protocols.” And the Southbank Centre say that “the Skate Space area is currently fenced off but will re-open once social distance measures are relaxed. […] Hopefully within the next few weeks.”

Balance and control while riding up an invisible hill…

Also usually putting on a real show are the many living statues, whose ability to keep absolutely still never ceases to amaze me, often under a certain amount of touching, even prodding. Though you can see them in other touristy parts of London, the area close to the London Eye along the Southbank has been the most popular place to perform. But since the beginning of the first lockdown in March 2020, and all the anti-covid restrictions, this has not been possible.

Motionless Silver Statue
Golden statue giving me a smile on his break
White mophead statue

The Plimsoll white statue with his thick, Medusa like strands of hair would change position every so often, otherwise remaining impossibly still. There was something about his thoughtful expression that, after dropping the necessary coin at his feet, I wanted to photograph. The following day I returned to the South Bank with a picture for him in an envelope which I laid at his feet, explaining what it was. Though he gave a slight smile, he held his position. However, the time to leave his post was approaching and still in the area, I saw him retrieve the photograph, taking it carefully from the envelope, and could see the pleasure it gave him. When I approached, he told me that he didn’t have any pictures of himself working in London and would send it to his parents, if I remember rightly, in Poland.

Pink statue in her peaceful pose by the Thames, oblivious of the crowds
The most impressively inscrutable of all the living statues I’ve seen takes a sudden break and calls out to a Fire Rescue boat to be saved

All this takes place against an ever-evolving background of street art on the walls and ceilings of the Undercroft below the Queen Elizabeth Hall, a famous London concert hall venue. Every time I went, there were different images and colours splashed across the walls. How long a particular design remained in place before being painted over, I don’t know. Rules, or a kind of etiquette would seem to contradict the spontaneity and vibrancy of the art but I imagine there is some sort of code or understanding. But for the moment, the space is in limbo, waiting, as are so many, for it to be safe to relax social distancing.

Artist at work
A silhouette passing the ever-changing art work
A leap against a striking background
Getting up speed for an acrobatic leap in front of a recently painted wall
Bikers gather against a vivid background of street art
Art reflected in the Undercroft as a skateboarder prepares to take off

Further Information
SkateboardGB On March 22, SkateboardGB will publish the latest information on the route out of lockdown.
Southbank Centre
Southbank Undercroft: Cultural and Heritage Assessment Report, September 2014