We had a brief encounter with the lurgy AKA COVID when we arrived in the UK from Australia – the day two government-required test came back positive for one of us, inconclusive for the other. Go figure! No symptoms whatsoever though, but of course we had to isolate for the requisite 5 days. By day 5 the test was negative and has been since. No symptoms – phew! Either we’re incredibly fortunate or, as I’d like to think, we’re protected by being double vaccinated and boosted.
So, given we were a week in iso, we’ve been raring to get out and about around the UK, and in London Town.
COVID has clearly taken its toll here in London. The crowds and tourists are missing – which I guess on one level is a good thing, but of course for those retailers and purveyors left standing, it’s a disaster. There are many small shops, cafes and bars that didn’t make it – particularly noticeable in the working areas of town where the commuters have opted to continue working from home – so the once thriving sandwich shops, tapas and sushi bars seem sad and shut up, perhaps for ever – until such time as people return to working in town.
You need to book ahead for everything, even if the venue is free. We went to the newly renovated (re-opened November 2021) Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House early one morning – it’s one of the greatest art collections in the UK, from the medieval to wonderous impressionist and post-impressionist paintings, some of which I’d never seen before. Founded in 1932, The Courtauld was formed through the philanthropic efforts of industrialist Samuel Courtauld, along with many generous donations and bequests, and now houses over 530 paintings and 26,000 drawings and rare prints. On the day we visited there was hardly anyone there, enabling us to wander freely over three floors, up close and personal with some truly magnificent works of art. I can’t help think just how crowded this space would have been without COVID. https://courtauld.ac.uk/gallery/the-collection/
In contrast, we went to a special exhibition at the British Museum, ‘Peru – A Journey In Time’ which ends on the 20th February. It includes some truly stunning artefacts spanning millennia and marks Peru’s bicentennial year of independence. It should have been wonderful but alas (and surprisingly) it was also jam-packed – I noticed at least three guided tour groups struggling to move together through what was already a rather compact space, diligent seniors mostly making up the crowds. In these times of social distancing? Really? People were largely masked but there were unmasked people too. It was so cheek-by-jowl that I’m afraid I raced through the exhibition – call me chicken, but this was the first really crowded space I’ve been in since the pandemic began some two years ago. So instead we roamed the empty gallery spaces of the museum, soaking in random displays of what has to be one of the greatest collections from ancient history anywhere in the world.
So our precious time out and about in London has been largely spent walking around town. From Whitehall to Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden to Bloomsbury, The Strand to Piccadilly – London is looking good but rather empty. Gone are the heaving double deckers full of tourists. Gone are the mass tour groups with the raised umbrellas shouting in Spanish and Italian into tiny chin-strapped mics. Gone are the hordes of shoppers raiding the department stores in the New Year sales. And gone, perhaps for ever, are the commuters that once packed the tubes and busses, disgorging en masse at the mega stations of Victoria, Kings Cross, Waterloo and Euston.