18 July 2020

Streets of London

Let me take you by the hand....



In the winter of '71 (I think - it was some years ago.....) I stayed with my second (?) cousin Jasper and his wife.  They had a flat on the third floor in Vauxhall Bridge Road and I was a wayward sixth former with pretensions towards further education...

Anyway, it became dark, and it became quiet, and we realised that it was snowing.  All of a (what's the opposite of sudden?) we realised that this was a Dickensian moment.

So we hurried to explore the city in their Ford Prefect, and soon the headlights were blinded by snowflakes and the wheels were slathering in the slurry of dying snowmen in deserted squares.  

It was an eerie, timeless experience.  I don't believe that anything similar has happened since, in London.....






Until, perhaps, now.... In a curious way, the Covid 19 blight has recreated the silence of those city streets.  I have not walked undeafened in London until now, and it is extraordinary.  This very morning I wandered across the Western centre of our greatest metropolis, and you could hear a bee buzz...





It is (almost) possible to breathe...






It is almost possible to pause and greet a passer-by without feeling it's all improper....





One could almost be enticed to catch a bus  on Regent Street (though there is the fear that that may not be all you would catch....)





And there is also the thought that you could pitch camp on the street and not really cause any harm...






Though the churches are closed, they still embrace wanderers in their porticoes....





And for those with access to wheels, it's a free paradise at the moment...








But, though you may have to crane your neck for them, there are signs that all is not well.  It's a sic-fi world.  Butterflies were trampled years ago for this....














I am about to reach out to this young woman to say beware, this road is dangerous.....  But before I make a fool of myself I see the emptiness around me, and remain a lonely cameraman....






Nearing the great pile of Gilbert Scott's St Pancras Hotel I am almost taken in by the shiny marble, but find that all is not what it seems....







And down the road I am brought back to Ralph McTell's new verse of his legendary hit Streets of London .

First recorded in 1969, the song at one point sold 90,000 copies a day and has been covered by more than 200 artists. It also won Ralph an Ivor Novello award for best song and continues to feature in folk music's "best of" playlists.

In March of this year Fergal Keane talked to his neighbour, and as a result Ralph added a verse to his career-defining hit song.

In shop doorways, under bridges, in all our towns and cities
You can glimpse the makeshift bedding from the corner of your eye
Remember what you're seeing barely hides a human being
We're all in this together, brother, sister, you and I.







Despite, or inspite of, the attempts of the gods of government, the city has lost its heart.  There are signs of life, but they are insipid, and there is no way they will pay the price of this virus.  






I know this will infuriate some, but at the Eurostar terminal things are quiet, and I cannot help but feel that this muffled disaster is like a suppurating wound hidden by the gangrenous bandage of Brexit.  





John Betjeman stands aloof on the first floor, a master of words, but a set of bones sticking through the flesh of the world he loved.  If he were here today, would he understand Dylan's Murder Most Foul?  Or would his attitude be that of amused and befuddled bystander where German Bombs were acceptable on Slough?






I have had enough of this heartless city.  I follow a cyclist down the escalator to happiness...






I wait upon the departure platform to hopefulness...






And then, on my walk home from the station I find traces of life that simply didn't make it....






In shop doorways, under bridges, in all our towns and cities
You can glimpse the makeshift bedding from the corner of your eye
Remember what you're seeing barely hides a human being
We're all in this together, brother, sister, you and I.

So how can you tell me you're lonely,
And say for you that the sun don't shine.
Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London
I'll show you something to make you change your mind

Ralph McTell





It's strange that those we miss the most 
Are those we take for granted.

John Betjeman


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