See the girl waving on the left… that’s me. And next to me… that’s ‘K’.
I’ve not introduced you before, but for the last year this funny, complex 10 year old has been my most familiar weekend companion. Two summers ago I applied to be a mentor through Chance UK, a charity that matches volunteers with primary school children who have behavioural difficulties and are at risk of developing anti-social or criminal behaviour in the future. After training, screening and a long wait, I was finally matched with K. I’d like to say we hit it off immediately, but life is complicated for him and it took a while to build up trust. When we first met he hid under the table. Laughter didn’t come easily to him – he frowned a lot, he was sometimes angry with me when I picked him up for our weekly sessions and sometimes angry when I left too.
But over the months that followed things gradually changed and more often than not, we’d both laugh until our sides ached. We’ve fallen flat on our faces together at the ice rink. I’ve got us horribly lost and K has stepped in with his phenomenal knowledge of London’s buses to save the day. I’ve taught him how to get himself going on the swings without being pushed. Gentle encouragement, small achievements but I hardly recognise the child I took to The Shard on Saturday from the one I met last April.
Flying up in the lift at a rate of six floors a second felt a little like a scene from K’s beloved Dr Who. Believe me, it’s a very strange feeling to be in a lift moving so fast your ears pop and your stomach feels like it’s been left at least three floors below. We swapped lifts at floor 33 for the final ascent, emerged blinking at the top and there it was. The view..
There’s nothing like seeing something enormous through a child’s eyes. “How come the river’s straight on the tube map and from here it looks like Eastenders?” he asks. While I was scrabbling around in the back of my brain for a child-friendly way to connect erosion and Harry Beck, K had already moved on and was happily starting a rendition of the theme tune. “Boom, boom, boom-boom, boom boom… Can we go to the top now?”
From the end of the lift on floor 68 you’re able to take the stairs further up, right to the level of the jagged glass shards at the top of the building. Amazingly, the sides are partially open up there and you’re exposed to the elements (in our case wind and rain) which somehow makes the incredible height you’re at seem suddenly very real. People have mixed views on whether super skyscrapers like The Shard have a place on the London Skyline, but there’s no denying the architecture is mindblowing. I commuted in and out of London Bridge every day while it was being built and K has seen it rise up from the windows of his council flat in Lambeth. Whether K felt the significance of being there – with London laid out below us – or not, I can’t say. In truth, probably not. But having seen the transformation in this kind, inquisitive child through a year of exploring the capital together and knowing that we’ll never be in contact again, the poignancy of the moment was certainly not lost on me.