Today’s Nature Walk: Through Leicester Square
If you’re going to spend a lot of time at home, you’d better learn to love being there. A friend lives in a flat so small that she puts her laptop on her draining board. Can we do this for over a year without going crazy?
Not many of us live in the centre of London right now. As families move to the commuter belt to work from home with more space, we happy few remain. There are hardly any shops open because they’re geared to a workforce that no longer arrives. Most of those workers may never come back. Nothing they do requires their physical presence.
My company’s art studio used to be a sunny space full of people arguing and throwing paint around. That devolved to staff on headsets staring at screens with the blinds drawn. They had already gone somewhere else. This is simply the next logical step.
It’s so quiet here. I walk through a giant supermarket with one till open. I never have to queue. The tubes are deserted, the roads empty. The Leicester Square interchange, usually an overcrowded nightmare, the Victorian passageways no longer fit for use, can be negotiated without seeing another human being. The trains are still arriving one every two minutes, but that’s about to change.
Most noticeable of all is the lack of children. There’s no reason for them to be here. Parents wouldn’t consider a wander through the West End a healthy walk, but why should it be treated differently to a woodland hike? The air is clean, the birds are singing, there’s lots to look at. Behind Leicester Square the Japan Centre is still open because it sells food (and books!)
Even WH Smith has wangled a pass; thanks to its tiny array of foodstuffs it’s staying open. It means there’s a bookshop available, even if it doesn’t stock the kind of books I read.
I’m a city lad; the most I ever saw of the countryside was an hour spent trudging through a muddy field in Kent before the family beat a hasty retreat back to the car. It all looks the same, and makes me feel lonely.
Back in the West End I head for the old palace and the seat of the nation’s power. St James’s Palace is the most senior royal palace in the United Kingdom, and gives the name, Court of St James’s, to the monarch’s royal court. It’s always quiet around here but today there’s a heron in the road. One minute from Piccadilly.
This is a part of central London I have never knowingly taken a walk in, even though I used to work in St James’s Square. Because each part of London is so different we remain territorial to our areas. Many of the grand streets around here are used for old films because little has changed in them since Edwardian times.
There are a surprising number of alleyways, gunnels and staircases hidden between the buildings. They’re only discernible with a good guide book. I’m currently tinkering with a Bryant & May London guide. I think I’ll keep it chatty and light in tone, because there are serious guide books about every central London street.
Just behind the street above is this bucolic corner, built to house the coachmen who waited on the members of the area’s many private clubs. It all feels a bit ‘English’ in inverted commas. I wouldn’t want to live here. You must have to walk miles to find a decent Indian corner shop.