diamond geezer

 Monday, May 17, 2021

It's an exciting day today as we're finally allowed to do all sorts of things we haven't been able to do for ages. Travel is go, pubs and restaurants are go, theatres and museums are go, even picking up five strangers for casual sex is back on the agenda again. So hurrah for step 3, the next stage in the government's cautious but irreversible roadmap, which will bring joy to everyone who's got wet outside a cafe recently.

So it's the perfect time to take advantage of the Mayor's new Let’s Do London campaign, created in partnership with the city's hospitality, culture and retail industries, which aims to encourage Londoners and visitors back into central London as soon as possible. The heart of town has been pretty much dead for months as Londoners stayed in their own neighbourhoods and international tourists were kept at bay. Now the need is for as many people as possible to abandon the suburbs and return to the West End, and for god's sake spend some money while they're here.

It turns out arranging lots of chairs outdoors didn't really cut it, except in that first giddy week when people were so desperate for social contact they'd meet anywhere. A record-breakingly cool April followed by an unseasonably damp May swiftly put paid to al fresco nirvana, because nothing dampens outdoor sales like chilly wind and heavy showers. So it's excellent news that the West End's surplus of hospitality venues is now available to soak up the punters who've just discovered their local restaurants are fully booked for weeks.

Those who've tired of watching boxsets twice will find solace in a smattering of actual films in actual cinemas, of which the West End has dozens. Live theatre can also be guaranteed to deliver an emotional punch that months of lockdown lacked, and all at eyewatering prices which'll feel reassuringly familiar. And let's not forget London's empty museums, whose curators have had nothing to do since Christmas except tweak their displays to perfection, so you should pre-book now before furlough ends and market forces close them down.

Perhaps most importantly, Oxford Street is desperate to see you again. Britain's premier shopping experience has been echoingly empty of late and very much needs footfall, punters and genuine customers. Please try to wean yourself off online shopping and return to a street where all your favourite goods are freely available at higher prices. Not only are there fewer buses on the road but also substantially fewer pedestrians on the pavements, so your visit may be unlike anything you've ever experienced before.

Most will want to flock to the big department stores, if only for the unfamiliar thrill of riding on an escalator again. But don't overlook the big brand flagships, the fashion outlets and the souvenir merchants flogging fridge magnets that look like phone boxes. Better still, while you've been away at least a dozen units have transformed into American Candy stores selling Cheetos, Gatorade and Hershey bars from unpriced shelves. Nothing quite says Oxford Street like swiping your contactless card and discovering you've just paid £10 for a small packet of sour cherry jellybeans.

It's already too late for Arthur Beale, London's oldest yacht chandler, whose shop on Shaftesbury Avenue has been supplying sailors, adventurers and explorers for nearly 500 years. A lack of customers during lockdown has finally forced them to close their physical store and a clearance sale is now underway. Arctic socks, splicing kits, knot-tying handbooks and headtorches are now available at a very respectable 20% off, but please be aware that 'ropes are not included' in the special offer.

Once you've done your shopping why not take a break in one of the Royal Parks? These look much like the parks in your part of town except more royal, but most importantly they have paths you haven't jogged round umpteen times during lockdown so have untapped novelty value. Hyde Park for example has more than enough space to accommodate the entire population of Hillingdon, should they all turn up, plus a load of kiosks who urgently need you to buy a coffee, a pastry and/or an ice cream.

Whenever you're ready to return to central London, the tube is ready to whisk you safely into town. Scientists have categorically proven that every surface is virus-free, and hand sanitiser is available everywhere just in case they're not. The only potentially dangerous thing would be other travellers in close proximity, but there are hardly any of those at present so it's entirely safe for everyone to surge back into trains and stations. You may not have missed travelling on the tube but our accountants have been screaming at you to come back for several months, so please do.

As lockdown eases today remember how important it is to refresh and reignite our city by spending money in the middle of town, not closer to home. Until millions of international tourists can be persuaded to return, or are legally allowed to, kickstarting the capital's economy is basically down to you. Come see a show, eat a meal, tour a museum or browse a store and Let's Do London, preferably repeatedly.

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