We only meant to come in for one drink, and now here we are, nodding our heads, “no, no, no” (that’ll take some getting used to) as the bartender points at the clock. 4AM, an hour past closing time.
We hand in our heavy tankards, I turn up the collars on my heavy fur-lined coat, and we make our way out of the mildew-scented, mural-covered basement of our local. The sub-zero air fills our lungs and finds us less worse-for-wear than we thought we were, wide awake and wanting. I suggest that we walk to the river, catch the winter sun rising on the bridge, before the light of day brings the usual sea of selfie sticks and pavement vendors.
The cobbles are sprinkled with fern-patterned frost, an other-worldly patina covering spilled drinks and broken glass between the cracks. There are probably others here, tumbling from seedy bars into extortionate cabs, but we do not see them: we remind each other to look up, never to take the baroque balconies and corner turrets on every terraced row for granted, never to be jaded.
The sun has only just beat us to the gold-tipped Gothic gatehouse, and as we walk across the bridge, bidding good morning to shadow-saints who line it, an uncompromising line between light and shade follows like a brilliant white wave stroking ancient sand, hundreds of miles from the sea.