Friday 21 September 2012


If the Ceske Budejovice School for Civil Engineers had asked us to organise a programme in Somerset we could have shown them the collapsed wall at West Quay in Bridgwater and explained exactly why it has still not been  rebuilt after almost a year and they could have witnessed 4 different agencies fighting desperately to deny their own responsibility for the collapse in the first place. But they didn't. They wanted to see London. 

But we'll rise to any challenge and several weeks of emailing people who might know people who might know civil engineers eventually bore fruit and a full and absorbing programme was built , Brunel like , piece by piece,  from one end of the capital to the other, suspended over a massive gap, filled by pie and mash shops.

Outside Buck House

Honza Muzik is a well travelled History and English teacher who came to our attention several years back at the Czech English High School in Ceske Budejovice but who has since moved into the world of Civil Engineering. Where he remains an English and History teacher. This time he wanted to inspire the 25 teenagers with the impressive array of civil engineering and wealth of modern new build in London. 

Arriving by plane mid morning to Gatwick  we were in the centre of London within 30 minutes courtesy  of the non stop Gatwick Express. Which stopped at Victoria. Thankfully contradicting it's own advertising. Then straight into the madness of the London underground , out through the Jubilee line and into open air round about Canada Water we had a little rumble alongside the Rotherhithe landscaped canals and suddenly we were in our rooms at the Thameside youth hostel and it wasn't even 1pm. And it was sunny. The sunlight rippling off the nearby Thames like a rippling shiny thing.


With our amazing travel anywhere (but not on the busses) passes we jetted up to the heart of the city, crocodiling through the throngs of  what we could only assume were millions of other civil engineers on similar exchange projects. Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, Piccadily Circus, Soho and Chinatown. Well, that's a taster. As indeed was the wealth of 'all you can eat for £5.50' cafes, prawn crackers, noodles, chicken legs, table legs, serviettes, waitresses, all were scoffed down at rapid speed. Except for those who went to the £6.50 one next door, which clearly had a better class of plastic plumbing pipe and shelving unit.
The I.C.E in Great George Street

Next morning it was down to business and a great introduction to British civil engineering  thanks to the Institute of Civil Engineers who gave us a tour of their Parliament Square headquarters - walls bulging with  portraits of the big names of the trade-Telford, Brunel, Stephenson, Molesworth, and splendidly designed chambers bulging with guest organization hiring out the facilities.  Invited into their library and then into their private canteen and even offered free student membership, the ICE really was as welcoming as it was unwelcome on the decks of the Titanic back in 1912. Another feat of civil engineering.


The afternoon took us on a terrific skyride through East London via the Docklands Light Railway, by passing the Olympic Park and turning up at the University of East London, next to Cyprus station and just across the water from City Airport. It was freshers week and marketing guy Prince 'I'm not actually a Prince' Zoiku took us on a tour of facilities -all  to the raucous backdrop of drum and bass, hip hop and other generally loud and ear tweaking rhythms . The students especially liked the elastic bouncy thing which catapulted them backwards when they tried to run forward. It's exactly the kind of thing  Thomas Telford considered for his early designs of the Menai Bridge.
'I am genuinely NOT a Prince.' say's Prince Zoiku

Down to Canary Wharf and the Jan Kaplicky bridge which spanned the West India dock and then a general staring upwards at the majestic towers of glass and opulence that surrounded the smart suited bankers below. And then it was off to the East End to find some ethnic food. So we did Brick Lane. Just by Aldgate East tube (which they want to rename Brick lane) every shop you pass has a bloke inviting you in with the same line 'i tell you what guys, I give you starter, free drink, any curry you want  £10' - '£5!', ' £9 I can't go lower'. '£6!!' , ''Ok so £8.'. And it was done. Banglatown special.

Day 3 and it was UCL - Gower street was also awash with freshers - so generally a good time to visit. Kim Morgan took the students on a tour of the Civil Engineering department of London University and then a visit to the Norman Foster roof at the British Museum. And then it was time for lunch - so a couple of lost hours in Camden did the trick.

Kings Cross station..@ Harry Potter

Of course, something Civil Engineering students just had to see was the recent makeover of Kings Cross station..but..ah, in fact they all wanted to see the Harry Potter themed  platform 9 and 3/4 where some enterprising bod has half inserted a trolley into a brickwall and people pose  for photos trying to dissappear up JK Rowlings head .

That afternoon we finally went in search of the Shard. we had seen it from everywhere in London, but when we actually got to London Bridge we couldn't see it at all...largely because it was directly above us. So we had a stroll along the back streets of the London Bridge quarter, along by Shakespeare's Globe, Herzog's Tate Modern and across Arup's Millenium Bridge to Wren's St Pauls, then off to Bishopsgate in search of giant Gherkins posing as office blocks.

Muzik and student below toppling building

Final day we visited Greenwich. Home of the Equestrian olympic events, or 'horse torture' as it's more widely known, the Royal Naval College and the famous Observatory, the restored Cutty Sark and the Friday market where the choice of ethnic food  sent heads and Czechs spinning as we tried to choose between Brazilian, Thai, Korean, Mediterranean  or pie and mash. Well, give me a ladyboy anytime I thought. So I had the pie and mash.

So mission accomplished I think. The civil engineers I mean...not Greenwich