diamond geezer

 Wednesday, September 16, 2020

More postcards from the City (weekday version)



✉ Weekdays in the City are very different to weekends. There are actually people here, indeed quite a lot of people, although by no means as many lots-of-people as there used to be. Keeping at least two metres away from everybody mingling outside Liverpool Street station would be difficult... a problem I solve by diverting off through the shopping arcade, which is as dead as a shopping arcade can be. Office workers who've actually been into the office have donned their face coverings and are heading home to the outer boroughs, Essex and beyond. Taxis are queueing on Liverpool Street as usual, with some takers. Copies of the Evening Standard are stacked ready for what remains of the readership to grab, but thinner than usual. It could be a lot quieter. It would normally be much busier.



✉ The weather has been cracking, proper sitting-out-in-the-park stuff, except the City doesn't have any proper parks to sit out in. Former churchyards and itty-bitty gardens predominate, which aren't necessarily the best places to space yourselves out across limited benches. At least Finsbury Circus, as the City's largest public open space, permits some welcome sprawl. I'm pleased to see that Crossrail's former worksite has moved on, returning the grass (if not yet the bowling green) to public use. And yet hardly anybody is taking advantage, other than a few lone tanners in the sunlit corner, perhaps because there's little point in traipsing into the office only to sneak off for some lazy rays. That massive tower in the background is 22 Bishopsgate, the City's latest tallest building, which has finally filled the hole in the ground where the Pinnacle was supposed to rise. Its 62 storeys easily outshine the 47 of the Nat West Tower, and from this angle almost echo it in form, but not in an especially enthralling way.



✉ How I've missed a wander through the Barbican. Its concrete walkways and labyrinthine steps are always a delight, the floral displays tumbling over its layered balconies especially so at present. I head up to the highwalks in an attempt to cross from one side of the complex to the other, but am temporarily thwarted by several sets of locked doors into the Barbican Centre... because only one entrance is currently being used and you need to have pre-booked. Instead I spiral down to the Lakeside Terrace where a handful of tables have been spaced out for the benefit of phoneswipers, bookreaders and the generally relaxed, each labelled with a fresh laminate reading 'Maximum six people'. And then I weave my way out to Aldersgate Street without taking a wrong turn, because practice makes perfect.



✉ Beech Street was the very last place I visited before the PM popped up and advised against all non-essential travel... six months ago today. It was just about to be made the City's first Zero Emission Street, right on the cusp of lockdown, but the City pressed ahead and banned non-zero vehicles anyway. I note that full signage is now in place at both ends, including a 'No motor vehicles' sign with ten words of explanation underneath (because nobody's yet devised an official Zero Emission Street graphic). The restrictions did appear to be working, however, the only vehicles in sight being a white (electric) van and a lot of bicycles. If you don't like the way it's been done, don't expect the City to shift an inch.



✉ Some readers are only here on the off chance I might mention public transport in passing, as proven yesterday when three of you read everything I wrote about the City but could only manage to pen a generic Crossrail response. For your blinkered benefit here's another purple-tinged photo, this time of the station entrance on the Smithfield side of Farringdon with its fully-bagged roundel, etched glass panels and a protective ring of City bollards. The station might actually be finished now I thought, given it was supposed to have opened 92 weeks ago... and then three workmen in Crossrail overalls walked out and disavowed me of that notion.

✉ I was in the City for a purpose which was to meet up with Former Work Colleague for a drink. We last met for beers in the first week of March, at which point discussing potential foreign holidays still seemed a rational topic of conversation. Now here we were back again, in my case my first visit to a pub in six months and in his, I suspect, very much not. Trying to work out where to meet up had been a pain, being uncertain which pubs were actually open, which required you to pre-book and whose tables were already 100% reserved. In the end our chosen City boozer was nowhere near busy and our reservation entirely unnecessary, the after-work pint being a tangential casualty of the current working-from-home situation.



We were welcomed at the door of the pub by one of the bar staff who pointed at a Test and Trace QR code and invited us to wave our phones at it. Former Work Colleague went first, without being entirely certain what was supposed to happen, which seemed to be nothing. I followed on, and would have been equally baffled had we not been suddenly summoned inside to our corner table. Here FWC was asked to provide a name and mobile number, despite having pre-booked on the pub's app where the same information had been taken, and I was completely overlooked. If by some tiny chance the pub is struck down by an unfortunate viral outbreak in the next week I am not anticipating a call. Also I noted that we'd been closer to the barmaid during this introductory shenanigans than we'd ever have got with a bar between us.

Picking a beer to drink was harder than usual because you couldn't peer behind the bar to scan the bottles. Our orders were handed to us, rather than delivered on a tray, which I suspect didn't follow best practice. But there was tons of space for everybody inside what would normally have been a cramped pub, with the nearest other group two tables away and the loud cluster of beery blokes safely ensconced in the bay window. Even my trips to the gents were a breeze, despite the narrow staircase, which was just as well because with two-thirds of the urinals covered over a fully-bladdered queue could easily have built up.



I did not at any point feel especially at risk... but only because the pub was losing money hand over fist through lack of patrons which meant hardly anyone was exhaling nearby. Indeed it was a very pleasant evening with a tangible whiff of normality about it. I do not expect to be permitted to attempt anything similar by this time next month.


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