On Saturday night I found myself in the innermost Dantean circle of Hell that is Piccadilly Circus. The Dilly was always disreputable, either for its ‘secret army’ of streetwalkers or renters, or its touts and pickpockets, but now it seems to have taken on a particularly horrible aspect.
The new hi-resolution ads are running so brightly (with McJunkfood more eye-searing than the rest) that you can’t directly look at them. Where are they designed to be seen from, Mars? Beneath this pickpocket’s paradise are several kettling spots governed by the placement of the tube entrances.
One is under the fugly building that replaced the newsreel cinema last seen in ‘An American Werewolf In London’, which is now occupied by toxic pizza-slice displays and people who draw your caricature – who on earth would sit and have their caricature done at this nightmarish junction? (Answer: the same people who go to ‘Les Miz’ and Angus Steak Houses).
There are also lines of overexcited suburbans queuing for a couple of nasty nightclubs at the same point, creating a solid wall of pedestrians. As I exited the tube on Saturday night (at a creeping pace, due to SWOT) deafening announcements were being made in Chinese, lending the entire scene a Blade Runner-ish feel. In fact, it made Ridley’s Scott’s dystopia appear rather sedate and under-populated. I’ve been in Bangkok night markets that were less chaotic. The only saving grace is that a few streets over, the crowds fall away to almost nothing.
Here is Westminster Council at its most purposeless, greedy and derelict, seemingly blind to the tourist Hell it has created. If they were interested in giving back any dignity at all to the area they would reduced the intensity of advertising, stop nightclubs from allowing street queueing, reduce the open-fronted junkfood stands that bring foot traffic to a halt and keep rickshaws in the Soho backstreets.
Of course the young gravitate there just as I once did, but I’m pretty sure I was never sick against the side of a building, as at least half a dozen people had been on Saturday.
In John Wyndham’s ‘The Day Of The Triffids’ a man leads the blinded populace to Piccadilly Circus, shouting ‘Here we are ladies and Gentlemen, the hub of the universe!’ The Dilly is now more like its exhaust pipe. Its nature will never change, but the massive influx of gawkers means that it is no longer a safe or desirable place to be at night.