London Without Its Londoners (Updated)

Christopher Fowler
  So, after trawling through comments on this site going back some twelve years and stumbled across Snowy's description of a statue of a man in a lead tricorn hat who functioned as a rain gutter on the roof of a London house. He
thought it was boring and apologised for mentioning it. If Snowy thinks he's boring, God help the rest of us.)
It inspired me to head out into the bitter cold and look for more London bits and pieces. We found the High Walk above Lower Thames Street that goes from the Barbican to Moorgate, and headed down to see some winter lights on the South Bank. There I was overjoyed to find a Barcelona-style bar open ands able to have a socially distanced beer with friends overlooking the Thames and St Paul's Cathedral. I also took a few shots of our journey. Postman's Park is not a park at all but a tentative space lost in shadow and wedged between buildings, but it still amazes for its short sheltered wall of tiles detailing lives tragically lost trying to prevent deaths in quicksand and burning buildings (a key element of it featured in the disturbing Patrick Marber film 'Closer'). The new level of pandemic closure (soon to be increased to Tier 27, in which we are all rolled in clingfilm and left in ditches) has ensured that London sights which could not be visited or photographed for years because of traffic and tourists are now cleared of all crowds. It's the perfect time to take landscape shots. It's not like this in the sticks, where my brother assures me the high streets are packed with shoppers, but in hollowed-out central London you can now walk miles without seeing a soul. We passed through the interchange at Leicester Square - usually a nightmare of packed bodies in narrow tunnels - without seeing another human being.The area around bank station, normally a hellish conflagration of vehicles and pedestrians, now has a stately calm, like the post-apocalyptic movie '28 Days Later' but with a few available coffee outlets. So much stonework has been water-blasted during the lockdown that the city feels too clean and tidy, a CGI rendering of a city rather than something lived in. As a friend said, 'What's happened? It all looks a bit Canadian', ie. very clean and tidy. I don't see any gaps in the photographs, but I'm re-uploading some of them for clarity here. On these cold and silent mornings with so little traffic about we can hear the bells of St Paul's ringing out, and it still thrills me after all these years, knowing that I can hear the same sound heard hundreds of years ago. I'd like to run my shot of St Paul's at the top of the post in large format as it's incredibly detailed, but the site doesn't support it.
Despite the lockdown parts of London have winter lights with colourful displays in the trees. I'm currently researching for a Bryant & May London Guidebook, which will be far more idiosyncratic than traditional guides.
Armed with my 'Nairn's London' and a 1953 reproduction of the 'London A-Z Guidebook' I continue searching for Things That Are No Longer There until the temperature finally shuts me down and I head home to King's Cross. The results will eventually appear in a Bryant & May guide to London, which will not be as other guidebooks, but will exist in the double niche of 1. strange-minded readers of the Bryant & May books and 2. People obsessively interested in London. So, dead in the water but I'm doing it anyway.


Jo W (not verified) Wed, 30/12/2020 - 10:12

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Good morning Chris,still hard at work on your research I see. Some of those shots do look like stills from old apocalypse and after type films,spooky.
Your brother has got it right,if it's anything like round here in the suburbs. All is as normal with traffic and people walking dogs etc. There are many more delivery vans around of course and it's only when you get to the shops that you see the masks and some attempts at distancing.
Too cold to do any gardening today so I'm having a bit of a clear out indoors. Plenty of files etc there that can do with some serious weeding and pruning!

John Howard (not verified) Wed, 30/12/2020 - 11:08

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Fabulous post and glad to see that you managed to find a bar that can transport you, even for a little while, to the Spanish side of your life.
Thanks for all the posts this year. It's great to get an occasional glimpse into the life of a famous writer ... :) and to join in all the rambling that goes on after each post. It's amazing what tangents we can wander off down sometimes. I hope the new year brings you all that you would wish.

snowy (not verified) Wed, 30/12/2020 - 11:41

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I remember I liked the both the hat and the 'Electric Servant Indicator', the apology was for my very pedestrian description. [smiley doo-dah]

Karina (not verified) Wed, 30/12/2020 - 14:44

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Perhaps not so oddly, I would feel right at home without the people. I've always wondered what residents think when they're bombarded by tourists (I don't live in a touristy town). I think I'd be a mixture of proud and indignant all the time. There should be an annual moratorium (say, a week) on tourist visits in every historical city so that residents could enjoy the beauty of their home city without being bothered. I have to visit DC in horrific weather just so I can breathe in the monuments and stunning buildings (to think they did everything by hand!). Never mind getting into the Library of Congress without a line. It just doesn't seem fair.

Andrea yang (not verified) Wed, 30/12/2020 - 15:50

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Looking forward to the end of the pandemic and visiting London with your Bryant and May London Guidebook in hand. Happy New Year! Thank you for your delightful posts.

Christine (not verified) Wed, 30/12/2020 - 18:24

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

One photo isn't there anymore. What was it?

Peter Dixon (not verified) Wed, 30/12/2020 - 19:07

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I like the idea of an empty London - like a Disney film set for Mary Poppins or One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing. Or better still, an episode of The Avengers, or Quatermass. I just know that by the time I next get there it'll be full of knackers and tossers again.

Helen Martin (not verified) Wed, 30/12/2020 - 19:18

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Christine, I wondered if it was a space intentionally left blank to indicate the emptiness of central London.
"It all looks a bit Canadian" refers to what aspect of an empty London? We're shut down too and while there are people around they're mostly obviously headed somewhere specific and are wearing masks. Today, in my part of the Great Dominion, people are huddled under umbrellas to keep off a very cold and driving rain.

Roger Allen (not verified) Wed, 30/12/2020 - 22:30

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Your "Bryant & May London Guidebook" might benefit from the assistance of the spirits of Lettice and Lovage and Sellar and Yeatman.

Gordon (not verified) Wed, 30/12/2020 - 23:45

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Thanks Chris, I think this might inspire a horde-free lockdown walk around central London.

Wayne Mook (not verified) Thu, 31/12/2020 - 00:15

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I missing picture too.

I quite like tourists, some times i even act like one in my home town. Although there are times I think what are you doing outside the old brewery it's not a brewery any more they moved, and then realise that it's over 150 years old still with the old signage up, I guess we sometimes take our history for granted.

Manchester has just entered tier 4, I guess that means they are closing the book shops. People were getting a bit lax on the distancing, still a minority but enough to make me uneasy.

Thanks for all the posts and hope your feeling better.


Richard (not verified) Thu, 31/12/2020 - 09:09

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Things have been a bit weird out here in the sticks over the holidays. The towns are comparatively quiet, but the beaches and countryside are full of exercise-takers. In despite of weather, bogs and it being cliff-fall season.

Jo W (not verified) Thu, 31/12/2020 - 13:43

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Unfortunately there's still a blank space between postmans park and Royal Exchange. If you can't post it Chris,just one of your most excellent verbal descriptions? Then I'm sure we'll all visualise whatever it is.
To your other readers and commenters, I hope that next year may be better than this one.
To you Chris and Pete, ROCK ON!

Christopher Fowler Thu, 31/12/2020 - 14:49

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

That'll be to do with your display configuration Jo - I've tested it here on three devices, all fine.

Richard Brennan (not verified) Thu, 31/12/2020 - 14:50

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

A Bryant and May Guidebook - yes please. Might even tempt us to start visiting London again. Trouble is when it's OK for us to go, everyone else will be back as well. Still anything B and M based is always good to look forward to. Soon as you can please.

Jo W (not verified) Thu, 31/12/2020 - 15:23

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Well I never knew I had a display configuration, Chris. Can I get ointment for it? ;-)

snowy (not verified) Thu, 31/12/2020 - 17:06

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I had made a NY resolution not to 'nerd-it-up' all over the place, [not least of all to avoid the summoning of <i>her</i> again].

<b><i>"I heard that!"</i></b>

"Shut up you!"

*Checks watch*

Six and a bit hours to go..... Ho Hum.....

<i>'The Case of the Missing Image'</i>

Viewing the post in several virtual browsers, [via Browserling - slow but you can check across platforms/browsers], it's not there.

So... *click* *scroll*.

The code in the post points to IMG_2464.jpeg, but *tippy-tap* *copy* *new tab* *click* *paste* *swoosh* *delete* *click*....

It is never going to resolve, because the file isn't there:

IMG_2463-121x91.jpeg 2020-12-29 11:31 36K
IMG_2463-166x125.jpeg 2020-12-29 11:31 40K
IMG_2463-233x146.jpeg 2020-12-29 11:31 44K
IMG_2463-263x197.jpeg 2020-12-29 11:31 49K
IMG_2463.jpeg 2020-12-29 11:31 74K
IMG_2465-121x161.jpeg 2020-12-29 11:31 11K
IMG_2465-166x221.jpeg 2020-12-29 11:31 19K
IMG_2465-233x146.jpeg 2020-12-29 11:31 18K
IMG_2465.jpeg 2020-12-29 11:31 62K

Something is amiss somewhere...

Barbara Boucke (not verified) Thu, 31/12/2020 - 17:06

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Firstly, thank you for mentioning Snowy's description of the man with the tri-corner hat rain gutter attachment. I don't know as I ever saw that one, but I seem to remember heads (possibly gargoyle type) on some building with rainwater coming out of the mouth. The idea of a Bryant and May Guide to London would be great, although I don't know when you find the time to work on all these projects. When I started reading "Oranges and Lemons" and got to the chapter about Arthur Bryant's Peculiar London walking tour guide and he started down the Strand, the street I have traveled on many times in the past came to life once again. I could see it all in my memory. Thank you for that and for the idea of a someday guide to my favorite city.

Helen Martin (not verified) Thu, 31/12/2020 - 21:10

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Thank you Snowy for helping us with our problems (as usual), even if there was nothing much we could do. I wonder what that picture was.
All liquor sales are cut off between 8 tonight and 9 tomorrow morning. You should hear the screams from the restaurant industry. I can hardly wait for our Dr. Henry's explanation and justification of that one since I rather agree with the restauranteurs who say surely people are better in restaurants or pubs with plexiglass screens and wait staff monitoring the regulations than wandering off to other people's homes where there's no regulation at all.

Peter T (not verified) Thu, 31/12/2020 - 22:43

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I look forward to the guide. Even if Covid doesn't allow me to use it, I will enjoy the read.

Have a happy and healthy 2021 everyone!

Liz Thompson (not verified) Fri, 01/01/2021 - 13:22

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Happy New Year everyone! May it be brighter, happier, and more sociable than 2020.

Helen Martin (not verified) Fri, 01/01/2021 - 19:04

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Happy New Year!! Does anything look or sound different from yesterday? No? I thought not. Oh, well, one could always hope.
Best wishes to everyone everywhere anyway.

Wayne Mook (not verified) Sat, 02/01/2021 - 17:49

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Helen things are different, I'm a year older, it was my birthday yesterday. I was second born in Urmston in 1969, in the then Davyhulme Park Hospital, now Trafford General. It is the 1st NHS hospital, Bevan opened it in 1948 . Originally it was built to keep in with the poor laws in 1928 (Hard not to thin of them as Victorian only, but even the treatment of the poor into the 50s is shocking, not good now but so much better.) which were abolished in 1929, so the hospital switched to Lancashire Council; during WWII it became a US air hospital (Glenn Miller was supposed to based here.). In Trafford (Tory council until recently still with state run grammar schools) we no longer have an A&amp;E, after all not many people in South Manchester or any big arenas like Old Trafford Cricket and Football grounds and last count 2 ambulances.

A rant already so as you are Helen. At least they are finally doing the cladding on the block of flats I live in, more than 2 and a half years after Grenfell.

At least Brexit is at least done, we are out of the European Atomic Energy Community too, actually the fishing deal is for 5 years and data sharing and financial deals have yet to be struck so it still goes on. There could e problems with sausages, really.

Oh there is something, Adobe Flash has finally ended. I did like a number of the games it created.


Helen Martin (not verified) Sun, 03/01/2021 - 00:08

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Interesting piece, Wayne. As for Adobe Flash, I thought it would end but I can still play most of my Shockwave games just by asking for it to run Adobe Flash. Perhaps it will kick in on my system in a day or so.

Helen Martin (not verified) Sun, 03/01/2021 - 00:48

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Wayne, oh, and about "state run grammar schools"? I have never quite understood all that. Here, everyone goes to the same schools from age 5 to age 18 with course choices and eligibility shifting as you go past age 12/13, although there is no 12+ exam. There are no fees or uniforms involved anywhere along the line. There are some privately funded schools, some religious, some status, but most students are in the publicly funded school system which is under provincial jurisdiction. Where do government grammar schools fit in, Wayne?

Wayne Mook (not verified) Sun, 03/01/2021 - 14:15

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Basically they will not be updating Flash so it will become less compatible as time and new windows, operating systems and computers arrive.

There are a whole raft of grammar schools Helen, state run and private (ie public - fee paying but open to everyone, or non public those linked to a trade [almost gone - a form of stonemason's still have a school for orphaned mason's children] and those linked to religion {It's surprising how many people suddenly go to church as their children reach secondary school age.}). In most areas you go to your local school then at the age of 11 you go to a secondary school, we separate primary (AKA Junior school) and secondary schools (even when they are on the same site and have the same name.), but in my borough we still retained the grammar school system, about 7 areas have them. At the age of eleven you take a test (the 11+ exam) and then either go to a secondary modern school or a grammar school having passed. Both schools have streaming based on academic ability after the 1st year and 2nd year, you choose your subjects for GCSE for the the last 2 years based on your earlier picks and academic level (There is a level of GCSE that is not considered a pass - if you are in a particular level you cannot get the top mark it's a terrible and insidious system, you can be put in a set where you can't get a pass.). At my school based on 1st year English results you get to choose a third language on top of English and French; the bottom English set had extra English.

It's all a mess and needs sorting out, we don't even have exams that are all of the same, different exam boards (companies) and some for university are not considered legitimate for funding purposes.


Helen Martin (not verified) Sun, 03/01/2021 - 21:38

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Yes, we separate the schools at year 7, with everyone moving on. I heard two grade 7 students talking about their upcoming results and one said, "Don't worry, they can't fail you until you're in grade 8." It's called social promotion to keep all of them together until secondary school. It drives me mad. If you can't cope with the year's work and you're pulled out of class for "extra help" you don't catch up, you just miss more and fall further behind.
There are ten systems, one for each province, and when you look at Prince Edward Island you'll see that that is a laugh and I'll bet they work pretty closely with Nova Scotia. There isn't a whole lot of difference between the provinces, except Quebec, where I think the French system is quite different from the English one, especially where history was concerned. When I was looking for the home of Madeline de Vercheres the man I was asking was astonished that I even knew who she was, coming from the whole other side of the continent as I did, but we'd had her in a junior school reader. I wonder if we would now? She defended her fortress against two fierce "Indian" attacks. It would have to be completely rewritten but she was amazingly brave and resourceful.

Ellen (not verified) Wed, 06/01/2021 - 00:16

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I've been sort of hoping someone would put together a Bryant &amp; May London guidebook and it would be so wonderful if it were actually you! As someone not from London, or even the UK, just from a place that gets a lot of London-produced media* and I like your London so much more than the other Londons. Truthfully, if the guidebook never gets made it's okay because it'll just be a goad to re-read the books.
*I'm from California so please know there is no judgement here because I don't live in a glass house or throw stones.