Saturday night London, what will it hold this City of more than seven million souls on this first evening of reimposed lockdown?
Taxi’s here shouts Sam, I am the last out of the house & into the taxi, it’s a nine mile journey from a North London house into Town, we are all in masks – three of us in the back seat – son – his girlfriend – me, the driver in the front, no words exchanged or necessary, booked online, destination already there on his satnav.
We drive through a Checkerboard of City Postcodes, N17 with its Turkish shops and restaurants, skirting Stamford Hill N16 and into Clapton E9 with its Hasidics in full on Astrakan, it’s thirty years since I was in this part of the City, I lived here when I first came to London, a lifetime ago now, how much had changed in those decades, last time I was here I was younger than my Son is now, was that really possible? Jesus how time has flown.
Saturday night and this City I think of as so full of life, so bustling and busy is a shadow of its normal self, we pass Bars and Restaurants almost empty, streets stripped bare of folks, like some great storm has blown in and carried them all away, leaving just the occasional figure behind, the relics of another age, out & about or waking a dog.
On a street corner young folks, a boy and a girl say theirs goodbyes with an elbow bump, then the girl seems to think better of it & pulls down her mask and plants a smacker full on the boys lips, he hugs back and they break into laughter before going separate ways. Corner shops with neon hoardings invite custom, fruit and veg displays at their best, stores overflowing and full of wares but empty of customers.
On we go through trendy Shoreditch, last time I remember being here was when? – Ah yes, three years ago maybe – With her, I wonder what she’s up to now? Probably watching Strictly on the Box, she was always a sucker for Strictly.
Soon we arrive in Aldgate, get out of the Cab, our first words exchanged with the Cabby are the last, a thank-you and goodbye, it occurs to me it would be perfectly possible never to talk to anyone again.
We walk the couple of hundred meters to the cinema through a pedestrianised area, the last time I was here again a couple of years ago and another Saturday night, but that one thick with people. The bars and restaurants that lined the street overflowed & now they’re empty. We enter the Cinema, the reception and bar area are ghostly quiet save for a solitary woman that seems to be running the whole joint. On a festival night, a Saturday night this place should be buzzing with a couple of hundred people, queues three deep at the bar and a bloody long wait to get a drink, but instead nobody at all.
We sidle up to solitary Sindy and swipe a phone for tickets then each take a pump of hand sanitiser which dollops a jet of jelly into waiting hands.
Into Screen 2 for the show, there are no more than half a dozen others there, two hours of movie, uninspiring but with graphic rug-munching scenes from Saoirse Ronan & Kate Winslet in a film called Ammonite fail to rescue a rather dull movie. We leave at the end of the showing, perplexed and fairly unfulfilled by the thespian antics of the cast.
In the corridor other movies from the Festival are advertised, I pause at Greta, now that’s a movie I’d preferred to have seen. Another harbinger of the doom that surrounds us, Bloody love Greta. That girls got class.
Tracing our steps back to the roadway the pedestrianised area is even quieter than when we arrived, like some military curfew, or pandemic, oh yes the pandemic, for a moment I had forgotten.
A taxi summoned from the ether waits on the street and whisks us back one postcode after another only in reverse. Empty streets and closed bars and restaurants – its after ten. Only once we reach the Hasidic part of town do things become busier, Sabbath is over and it’s chucking out time at the Synagogues for all good Hasidim, and they still tied to an older World are nowhere near ready for Covid 2020, still living four hundred years away somewhere in Mittel Europe, maybe Covid will pass them by entirely.
As the Turkish shop signs become more common I know we’re nearly home, and then the taxi pulls up & the driver gets a thank you & a goodbye.
Then Keys in the door, kettle on & a cup of tea & a fag before bed.
Thats Rock and Roll in London Town.