Walking around central London the day before yesterday, what’s quickly noticeable is that there are no rucksacks, no groups of teenagers, no confused couples with maps and no slow-moving walkers getting in the way. In short there are no visitors. Everywhere is quiet, the daytime population is further diminished by the numbers of people working from home.
Down the Strand to Trafalgar Square there are no buskers outside Charing Cross or the bookshop on the corner. Normally there would be a loud (too loud) wannabe Louis Capaldi or Ed Sheeran who desperately believes singing their terrible songs outside Waterstone’s will land them splash into the charts. (It won’t) I miss them, but only a little bit. Actually, no I don’t. I don’t miss them at all.
Trafalgar Square is hardly ever empty but it’s looking a little sparse this lunchtime. Again, the usual crew of singers and human statues are gone from outside the National Gallery, apart from a duo brutally murdering Bruno Mars’s Just the Way You Are. But there’s no-one here to listen. Nearly everyone in the Square is an office worker today who doesn’t care for music. The kids from Italy and Spain who’d love them are not in London any more, they’re in, well, Italy and Spain.
St James Park just past Admiralty Arch is beautiful always. The daffodils are out and so is the early spring sun – any other year would see picnics and groups of friends, couples, families and people from all over the world out in the sunshine. But there’s only a few about today, which makes it all the more beautiful to look at. Walking through the grass and flowers to Buckingham Palace, similarly empty of crowds, I notice for the first time how big the space outside the Palace looks with so few people in it.
Back through a deserted Pall Mall, Haymarket and Shaftesbury Avenue, I head for Soho and Chinatown. Gerrard Street was sadly under-populated although nearly all the restaurants were open and mostly empty. Leicester Square itself was a similar story with just one frantically energetic dancing busker trying to attract a crowd, with no luck at all. Normally this area is packed with hawkers, buskers and visitors. Today – not. It was, on the other hand amazing to see Leicester Square as a piece of architecture instead of a commercial hub rammed with crowds.
In fact, everywhere looks fabulous, bright colours splashed about and familiar buildings suddenly out in the open instead of disfigured by people. If it weren’t entirely irresponsible I’d encourage you to visit because it’s looking glorious – but don’t. Don’t come yet. We have to stay indoors for a while, but when we don’t then definitely come! Get your friends together and we’ll have a party – let’s hope it won’t be too long.
Al Barker 18/3/20