Pissed-off Toff presents a series of images recording another long walk around an eerily empty London … including photographs of Bond Street and Oxford Street on a weekday without a single vehicle in sight.
[Later note: This piece is the second of a pair. What follows is a shortened version of the original.]
The following photographs were taken during a long circular walk that I did in London on Monday 30 March, a week after this ‘lockdown’ came into force. They are probably the most eerie set of images I have so far published on this blog.
My walk takes me from Westminster through Green Park, up St James’s Street and up Bond Street, westwards along Oxford Street, then back again via North Audley Street, Green Park and Buckingham Palace.
The whole capital city is entirely deserted. It is difficult to take it in. It’s already a cliché to say so, I know; but this was one post-apocalyptic scene after another.
Here are some of the photos I took, in strictly chronological order. The images speak for themselves, so I will keep the commentary to a minimum. Here goes.
* * * * *
Here is Birdcage Walk (running along the south side of St James’s Park), deserted:
Here is the Mall, looking towards Admiralty Arch:
Here is the car park by the side of the Mall which is reserved for the staff of the Royal Household and which is normally full. No longer.
In the next photo, we are standing at the bottom of St James’s Street, looking north.
Now we are at the top of St James’s Street, looking south towards St James’s Palace and the tower in which my ancestor Charles I spent the night before he was beheaded.
In the photo that follows, we are at the west end of Jermyn Street, looking east.
We now look east along a deserted Piccadilly.
Now up Old Bond Street, where Tod’s have a new high-net-worth customer who is waiting for them to reopen.
Now we are at the bottom of New Bond Street, home to numerous global names. Chanel on the left, as you see, and Louis Vuitton on the right, looking north.
Now we are further up New Bond Street, still looking north towards Oxford Street.
We now find ourselves on Oxford Street, looking east, with the iconic façade of Selfridge’s on our left. At four o’clock on this weekday afternoon there is not one single vehicle in sight.
At no other stage in the history of post-WW2 Britain could this photograph have been taken.
Heading south down North Audley Street, we come to the Mercato Mayfair in St Mark’s Church. Remarkably, it is still open from 9am to 9pm seven days a week, selling every sort of Italian staple and delicacy, even though these are unavailable in many other shops, due to panic-buying. But there is not a soul there … apart from the beggar sitting on the steps outside.
Next, we are in the south-west corner of Grosvenor Square, looking down an abandoned South Audley Street.
We are now further south, at the intersection of Mount Street and South Audley Street, looking towards the tower of the Hilton Hotel at Hyde Park Corner.
Now we are standing outside Farm Street Church, London home to the Society of Jesus. Like all other churches in the country, it is closed.
We now walk back across an entirely empty Green Park.
Here is a solitary soldier standing guard outside Buckingham Palace … wearing the uniform of my father’s old regiment, I note.
And here, a few yards away, we walk past my mother’s old London home, now owned by people of middle-eastern appearance. Like many other foreigners here, they have returned to where they came from. So the house stands empty.
* * * * *
Back in the flat, I struggle to digest what I have witnessed. Is it all a strange dream from which I will soon wake up? But I fear it is all too real.
I sit down at the piano for my evening practice, G&T and solid 18 carat gold pencil to hand (1963 Parker Presidential barley pattern, since you ask). For some days now, I’ve rather lost enthusiasm for this exercise. Disconsolately, I rehearse the various types of seventh chord: major seventh, minor seventh, diminished seventh, of course … then the augmented major seventh, the augmented dominant seventh … and (my favourites) the minor-major seventh and the half-diminished seventh.
But my heart is not in it, and I take another sip of my G&T, still unable to believe that we have, from one day to the next, become something not far off a totalitarian society.
Perhaps, on the other hand, we had been heading that way for a while.