I was going for a walk around Stockwell last month when I noticed a cassette tape lying on the ground. I’d not seen one in ages, so picked it up, put it in my bag and thought nothing more of it. Then, a week or so later I came across it, looked more closely and read the hand scrawled title – “joanna’s audio diary october 2015”.
Intrigued, I dug out my tape player from the loft and gave it a listen. I knew these dulcet tones! It was recordings of Joanna Lumley! Some kind of audio diary she must have taped daily. There was only one entry about the Garden Bridge, so I sat down to transcribe it.
I just don’t understand them. They’re trying to stop something wonderful, why? This is my dream, why would they interfere? What’s it got to do with them?
Nearly twenty years I’ve been working on this, I can’t let them stop me now. What a waste of my energy – and love – that would be. And for what? For some angry little people who can’t see beauty, who don’t like nature, who don’t want this joy in their lives.
Those days. Halcyon days. Back in the jungle, just Aelene and me, we seemed so at one with nature. We got up very early each morning and we were surrounded by thick white clouds – an island of tropical plants floating in the air. It had the most enormous impact of anything in my childhood. I was just seven, Aelene 10. Two little girls in that ginormous jungle. Deep in Malaya, we didn’t know what was out there. Monsters! We thought. But, really… there could have been all sorts. Animals, beasts.
Just like now, monsters, these bastard protesters stopping me… Stopping me giving London my gift.
Oh, Aelene. You were so silly, all those years you refused to talk to me. Silly little girl. We had such fun in our youth – following daddy around the world, all that fun in Malaysia. What a place, what a place to grow up and understand the world.
So distant from here in London. Stockwell, shabby south London. But part of my heart is always back there, in that Malay jungle with you, Aelene. Me and big sis, adventures.
Stupid girl, stupid Aelene. To break up our sisterhood, to break our friendship. For what? For your arrogance. Fancy telling the world those things. Lies. Stupid, stupid girl. Telling the world I humiliated you, that I talked down to you as if I was Patsy. Nonsense. Yes, I may have leant on you like a sideboard that time, and publicly called you “small”, but you are small! It’s no secret I got the height gene. And if I commented on your looks it’s not because you’re particularly ugly, but just that I can see so much unfulfilled potential in you. Why Aelene, why would you… How could you take that the wrong way. I know you love me, just like you did back in that Malay jungle when I led you through the forests on my expeditions.
And you will love what I am doing in London. Transplanting that Malay forest into the heart of the city. The city I live in. My city. The city at the heart of the empire… Our great empire, Aelene. The one we Lumley’s fought for.
It will be so simple, floating above the Thames. My gift, my legacy. A bridge floating over London, with trees on it. Trees make everything more beautiful, and there will be a flower seller selling single blooms, which you can throw into the water to make a wish or to remember someone. And a kiosk selling simple things, like coffee, apple juice and champagne. A tiara on the Thames. My beautiful Thames.
And it will be here way after I have gone, it can be how I am remembered. I love Patsy, I love Purdy. But I want to be remembered for me, for Joanna, and what a stage this would be – the Thames, that bend in the Thames, what a stage for the public’s fond memories of me.
So we mustn’t let them stop it. Those pests. What are they? Nimbys? Protestors? “Community”? They can’t stand change, they can’t stand beauty. What’s wrong with them? I’m always astonished by people who are truly ungrateful.
Everybody has loved this. Everybody. Friends and family, taxi drivers, show-folk, shopkeepers. Everyone was so enthusiastic. “Darling, do it. It’s wonderful…”, they cry. From Terence Conran to dear Boris – I’ve known him since he was a nipper. And Prince Charles! Well, it would have been rude not to ask him! Even the Duke of Wellington.
The Duke assured me that the big white ship HQS Wellington was not connected to his family. To move her from anchorage would not ruffle the feathers of the Iron Duke’s descendant, and anyway I reminded him that great granddaddy Lumley helped his family out in India back in that 2nd Manhratta war. Oh, it must have been glorious for great granddaddy Lumley – that last hurdle for our glorious empire. And daddy! Daddy Lumley. Major James Rutherford Lumley. You too. You hero. Hero of the colonies. Bhutan, Kashmir, India, Malaysia. These are my roots. The east, the empire, the East India Company. The marvelous East India Company! Exporting Britishness, making the world more more wonderful.
I will crush these opponents of my bridge, crush them like Lumley and Wellesley did in India. That’ll teach them who I am, what a Lumley is. Hey daddy?
I invented this, I dreamed it up! So I am passionate about it. I can’t bear people not liking what I like. I want to go “what are you? Stupid?”, when people go “you’re wrong” I think “no, you’re a selfish bastard actually. You’re wrong!”
I will have this garden bridge, what a symbol.
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