Looking down from my flat on a London with empty streets is sobering. This city has become what it is because of its people.
In the six years since I arrived back in the UK’s capital, I’ve never lost my excitement for its crowded hotspots. Locals often avoid the Southbank, Greenwich and London Bridge on weekends and warmer evenings but the amount of people has never really bothered me.
In fact, the one thing that connects all these great places is the people that use them.
I’m not going to pretend that crowded trains on my commute are fun; or that I enjoy waiting twenty minutes to buy a warm Pinot Grigio at a riverside bar but this wonderful city just wouldn’t be what it is without those things. If I’m honest, I like having the best of both worlds in my everyday life: the trappings and opportunity of a large, multicultural city with the option to escape into the wilderness whenever I can catch a train or a plane.
Neither option is available to me or anyone else in London at the moment.
There are few places I’ve visited anywhere in the world that smack more of community than London’s open squares, pedestrianised zones, royal parks and riverbanks. All the images of empty London circulating on social media at the moment give me shivers. Scenes I recognise so well left unplayed, their settings unused and their hubs devoid of the general public.
It’s better for me to spend my time imagining the extreme hustle and bustle of London’s hubs when this weird time has eventually passed.
If we follow Wuhan’s example (did we follow it soon enough?) and the spread is managed as well as it was there, it will be the height of British summertime when we can move freely again around our city. Candlelit performances at the Globe Theatre, Prosecco in the park and long summer nights watching Waterloo sunsets over the Thames are what await us if this lockdown works.
I took so much for granted only a few weeks ago and have vowed to make the most of everything this city has to offer when we’re all allowed to appreciated it again.
As Londoners, I wonder if we’ll become more tolerant and understanding of the crowds around us, or whether we’ll slip back into more comfortingly familiar muttering at tourists not standing on the left. Or will we forever be more wary of our social contact?
Only time will tell but as the famous Samuel Johnson quote goes: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” I’m certainly not tired of it yet, even from the confines of my balcony.