Outing to London
Yesterday, I had to go to central London. The last time I was there was in December, just before they decided that Lockdown 3 (Tier 4) would be necessary again. Tier 4 meant they shut all non-essential stores, and you are only allowed outside for exercise, food shopping or medical appointments. That last time I had gone to town was for an eye appointment. When they called me to say my glasses were ready for collection, the new lockdown rules were announced the next day. So I never got my glasses. After a month, I hatched a plan to go to London in the most safe way possible. Mask on, hand gel at the ready — I stepped outside.
My husband and I have recently been using Gett - an app for London cabs. These are not mini cabs or Ubers, but the proper black cab vehicles. They are practically designed for social distancing! You are six feet away from the driver with a plastic divider in between. The app takes the payment and tip, so there is no transfer of money. This would be my safe passage to town. It’s still really cold and a little rainy, so cycling wasn’t an option. (lucky for me, the rain didn’t happen as predicted)
The driver dropped me at the big Boots store on Oxford Street. If you don’t know, Boots is a large drug store (similar to Walgreens or CVS in the US) but they purchased D&A Opticians in the early 2000s to branch into optometry. I will say that UK optometry is fantastic, and I remember how impressed I was with the advances here in comparison to the states. Also, it is so affordable in comparison to the states! But that might be fodder for another blog post.
After collecting my new glasses, I stepped outside of Boots to the sight of an empty Oxford Street. It’s 10:30am on a Tuesday. The street is normally crammed with people on the sidewalk, and cars lined up in the road. Instead, it was eerily empty. I decided to go for a walk to experience this rare event. My goal was to snap some photos and videos for my social media, grab some lunch takeaway somewhere, and then take another taxi home — all while making sure I was safe and social distanced.
Social distancing wasn’t a problem. London is empty. The occasional vehicle, a cyclist here and there, a runner zooming by at a distance and mostly everything is closed. I walked up Oxford Street and saw that Debenhams, a beloved department store, had indeed closed its doors. I had heard on the news they would do this. Debenhams was one of those department stores that had a heyday in the 1980s, but had managed to reinvent itself enough to keep up with the new generations and trends. I loved shopping there. It’s gone.
House of Fraser also had its doors closed and looked out of business. I never shopped here, as it was more focused on designer brands and labels (I’ve never been a label-savvy shopper) but the last time I was in there, I had found their tea room with a real Cinderella-style carriage that you could book for two people! It had been on my “to-do list”, but I guess it won’t happen now.
John Lewis is still in business, but the doors are closed for now. These three major department stores are anchors on this street, and they are all suffering the wrath of COVID. As if three giants have been struck down by The Nothing in Never-ending Story. I turned and went to Cavendish Square to film some videos. There was one rubbish man working (an essential worker indeed!) and two people sitting in the park. A few cars passed, I filmed some videos and kept walking through the square and down towards the BBC offices.
The BBC offices have a large open space where you can walk and look down to see names of all of the cities where they broadcast. This area has been cordoned off and two clueless men in yellow high-vis vests stand there pretending to be important high-security detail. They got offended when I tried taking photos of the ground with the names of the cities. Um, hello? Normally people walk here all the time! We have a saying here in the UK — “Jobsworth!” It means that someone has been given a duty and they take it WAY too seriously. While I am all for safety and security, common sense was not at the forefront of Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum’s minds yesterday. I walked on.
Fuming from my encounter with the idiots, I was warm and toasty on this cold 5 degree day. So far, my mood had been somewhat happy. I was out of the house, I had my new glasses, I was feeling a little adventurous and curious to see the city in this strange situation. But after my encounter with the idiots, I was a flood of emotion. Anger. Pain. Frustration. I can’t be who I am right now. I can’t do what I do right now. I’m trying to create fun content on my social channels, trying to offer virtual tours, trying to keep my mind from going crazy — but it is really difficult. Even getting out on this day was very scary to me. I didn’t really want to leave the house because I don’t want to get sick. As I walked, I found myself crying. I haven’t done that too much, so I guess this was a needed release of emotion.
I walked to Fitzrovia. As I am working on a virtual tour, I needed to get some photos. I strolled up and down the roads, snapping as I went, thinking “If those security idiots could see me now!” This made me chuckle a little. I noticed a few new restaurants had opened up on Charlotte Street. “Brave” I thought. Opening a new restaurant during a pandemic doesn’t seem to be the best idea, but I guess it works. A new vegan burger place with buns in the shades of pink, yellow, blue, green and purple. Yep! That’s for me. But they weren’t open yet. It was only 11:30am. I kept walking and snapping and filming.
I headed towards Gower Street, then the university grounds, then across the back of British Museum and to Russell Square. My stomach then notified me that the only thing I had consumed so far was vitamins and a small green smoothie. I was hungry! So I continued to stroll to Tavistock Square to my favourite chicken shop — Wing Wing. I discovered Wing Wing last year. It is a Korean fried chicken place. Koreans love fried chicken and beer. This place sells both. (but not beer right now) They also have an unusual flavour — liquorice. It’s strange. I hate liquorice, it makes me gag. However, I tried it on my first visit and I was hooked. I was the only one there, I went inside and the guy behind the counter recognised me. If you follow me on instagram, you’ll know that I have been here a few times. I asked how he was and how is colleague was doing, if she was getting better. (In November, they had to shut the store one day. A man had come in without a mask, and the girl behind the counter had asked him to put one on, and he attacked her and the staff. It was horrible.) Thankfully, he told me that everyone was doing well. I ordered some chicken and headed into Tavistock Square to sit on a park bench and indulge. My mood had improved.
After indulging, I found a rental bike and hopped on to ride from Russell Square to Seven Dials and Covent Garden. Again, it was eerie…. ghostly. In the shops, there were clothes from pre-Christmas sales. It was as if the clothes were going out of style as time marched on. A shoe shop was promoting Grinch Sketchers. The streets around Covent Garden are small, cobbled, and quaint. On this day, they were haunting. It reminded me of a movie I once saw where some major catastrophe happened, and at the end there were only four people left and everyone else had turned to red sand.
I walked around the corner from Covent Garden station to see one place open — Floozie. I recognised this branding from instagram, it was a new vegan cookie shop. The door was open and they were selling cookies. As I had the rental bike, I just walked up to the open door and pointed to a few cookies, tapped my card on the reader, and off I went. I parked the bike and walked towards the river. I grabbed another bike and rode towards the Tower of London.
My taxi journey from home to Boots had been £45. Not cheap at all! So my theory was to get to the Tower so it would be half the journey. Using Gett, I hailed a taxi and he headed to Canary Wharf for the Blackwall Tunnel. In the cab, he asked “are you working?” and a flood of tears returned. I explained, and he sympathised. He said he had been out for four hours, and I was only his second job of the day. He dropped me at home, and the price was £22, so my plan to ride to the Tower worked. Overall, my day was great, with a few emotional potholes along the way. However, there is one saying that keeps coming to mind…… “This too shall pass.”