diamond geezer

 Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Postcards from the City

✉ It's nine o'clock in the morning and Guildhall Yard is completely empty. The City always used to be quiet on a Sunday and suddenly it is again, at least this early, without even any security personnel or coffee seekers in sight. The Guild Church of St Lawrence Jewry recognises this and only undertakes services on Wednesdays and Fridays. I take a seat on the Queen Mother's memorial bench and survey the sunlit scene. The crazy mix of history on show includes a medieval Guildhall, a loop on the ground representing the site of a Roman amphitheatre and a Brutalist concrete turret circa 1974. I consider re-enacting a bit of gladiatorial combat for the benefit of an unseen guard watching via CCTV, but decide my continued presence is probably unnerving them sufficiently.

✉ Leadenhall Market is only slightly busier. A man who's been sleeping here overnight is packing up his belongings and preparing to leave, but not before he's hidden his slab of polystyrene bedding behind a utility cabinet where nobody'll nick it before nightfall. A father and son wander in with cameras in hand, taking advantage of the emptiness for a few ornately symmetrical photos. A sign declares We're open again, although nobody ever bothers on a Sunday and some businesses plainly haven't traded since closing unexpectedly in March. What used to be The Pen Shop is being used to store bollards. The door of the University of Sushi is very firmly padlocked. The New Moon pub has one door for in and one for out. The cheese boutique has almost as many bottles of hand sanitiser on display as wedges. The City centre economy is indeed in unprecedented trouble.

✉ One thing I'm unprepared for, having not ventured into the heart of the City for yonks, is the wholesale reclamation of roads for pedestrians and cyclists. The streets of the City weren't built for social distancing, quite the opposite, so several have had their pavements widened by means of posts and cones. On a Sunday morning this is entirely unnecessary, as you could jaywalk merrily and only risk collision with the occasional bus. But come Monday when (I assume) pedestrian density increases somewhat, anything that helps you dodge an oncoming banker is to be welcomed.

On Cornhill a large chunk of tarmac has been temporarily fenced off to contain a job lot of new signage. I count at least two dozen No entry except cyclists, a clump of Max speed 15s, an overflowing stack of bright yellow Diversion signs and an even higher pile of Diverted traffics. The most numerous signs are small, red, arrowed rectangles for the benefit of Pedestrians, maybe two hundred in total, in pristine condition fresh from the sign-making factory. As for raised kerbs, or "Interstate Grade Modular Longitudinal Channelizers" as the manufacturers call them, two dozen cardboard boxesful await opening. This is behavioural modification on an immense scale, or will be once everything is dished out to wherever it's meant to go. How much will remain once all this is over is another matter, but the motor car car may never quite regain the dominance it once enjoyed.

✉ Beneath the Cheesegrater, in the security-prowled escalator zone, official vandalism is taking place. Three of the yawning ventilation filters are being painted in various shades of blue (and occasional other colours) as part of the London Design Festival 2020. The resulting patterns are pleasingly geometric - an outbreak of tangrams across a curved surface - and seem to be being painted on a whim. But closer inspection reveals that every boundary line has already already chalked on and every shape individually identified, like some giant game of Spraypaint By Numbers. The end result at least looks fun and refreshingly unstarchy.
When I get home I try to search the LDF website to discover precisely what I was looking at, but give up after ten minutes because #designfail

✉ St Paul's Cathedral looks dazzling in the September sun. It's not being overrun by tourists, mainly because the vast majority have stayed at home but also because on Sundays services take precedence. Worshippers intending to attend Matins queue patiently outside, aided by the fact there are hardly any of them either. They pause at the top the big steps, face-covering previously administered, then walk forward to have their bags checked, their hands sanitised and their names recorded on a pad of paper in case of epidemiological incident. Attending a service in the City's pre-eminent place of worship used to be a breeze, and a privilege, but today requires much the same rigmarole as you'd expect before a sit-down meal in your local Nando's.

✉ The London Stone is now safely ensconced in its new home opposite Cannon Street station. To be fair it's been inside its new Portland Stone enclosure since October 2018, but I hadn't previously wandered by at a time when the sun was shining on the front of 111 Cannon Street. This historic lump of oolitic limestone looks a lot better cared for than when it was stuck behind a grille in front of W H Smith, but can report that the glass front makes scrutiny of the stone as obstructively frustrating as it ever was. I last blogged about the London Stone in 2011, so there's a millenniumsworth of backstory there, but the listed monument now has its own website londonstone.org.uk so that'll be your better bet.

✉ Some readers are only here on the off chance I might mention public transport in passing, so the eventual appearance of a roundel will have been just reward for ploughing through seven tedious paragraphs of mundane observation. Even better the roundel is purple, which means the potential to pen a snarky comment about elongated timelines or skyrocketing expense, permitting an almost orgasmic level of self-satisfied release. The photo also showcases the split personality of the troubled brand, one disgraced by project overruns and the other attempting to maintain its commercial allure by going very quiet while all the bad news rumbles on. Anyway, all I wanted to say is that a lot of the worksite in Liverpool Street itself has now been removed, greatly improving pedestrian access, and the wedge-like glass entrance canopy is now visible (if still inaccessible). That'll do you.

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