London Without Its Londoners (Updated)
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.