Coronavirus suddenly seems closer with my friend and neighbour Bridget’s brother hospitalised, and one of he nieces unwell too. Some music just works at these times, and for me Bob Dylan, someone who I like but I wouldn’t say I was his biggest fan, somehow hits the spot. Currently listening to Hard Rain which I have been thinking about since Celia and I were caught in a small hail squall during our constitutional today and Shelter from the Storm from that album began to go round my head. Perhaps a taste of the April showers due to start next week.
Not sure what MasterB was up to while I was out, but he seems unaccountably tired right now. That’s just tired, not knackered. Celia said she was knackered as we neared home. It was a good walk though. I anticipate that we shall shortly be confined much more strictly due to the number of people still behaving as though somehow the current restrictions do not apply to them. With that in mind I suggested a walk to the City so we would see the Thames and St Paul’s. Just typing that makes me realise how much of a Londoner I have become.
We saw both. We also did some shopping. Now for you who don’t know London, the City is the oldest part where the financial centre is, but it has a very small residential population, so at the weekends it is always quiet. Today it was even quieter. We gazed upon empty streets, upon empty buses and buses carrying at most two passengers. Our walk from our homes brought us few sightings of other people. The market at East Lane was closed. Unthinkable for a Sunday.
We crossed an empty London Bridge and looked at a Thames devoid of pleasure craft.
My friend Nadia, who I visited just over a year ago in Wellington, NZ, used to work in Adelaide House, an office block on the north side of the bridge opposite Fishmongers’ Hall. There’s a little Waitrose next door. No queue. I went in, Celia having said she’d like some milk. I was after bread. We have now perfected our shopping technique. Celia stays outside so as to avoid accidental contact with shoppers who appear suddenly round the corner of an aisle. I collect the things she has asked for plus anything I think she might like and return to the entrance where I hold each one up for inspection. I explain to security staff what I am doing. Celia signals yes or no, and the items either go into the basket or back on the shelves.
I waved some hand sanitising wipes at her. Thumbs up. How many? I asked. Two? Her face was a doubtful question. We are being restricted to buying items in ones or twos. They have loads, I said. She held up four fingers. At the till I asked if they has cleaning products as I hadn’t seen any. I knew Celia was after washing liquid. I was directed to a corner of the shop I had avoided on my first sweep as there were people there. I returned to the window with washing liquid and kitchen rolls. Both went into the basket. Buoyed up we continued our walk.
I wondered aloud if M&S on Cheapside might be open. It’s my favourite to place to shop for food if I am working in the City at the weekend. We walked down Laurence Pountmey Hill and gawped at the house that sold a few years ago for £6 million or so. The lights were on. That was my first Property Envy spot on this walk. Only the cost of curtains and carpets consoles me. Though I suppose if I had £6 million I probably shouldn’t be too worried.
Up Walbrook on onto Queen Victoria Street where Celia was decidedly sniffy about the artwork commemorating the Walbrook River. I was shocked. Still, I had taken my picture of St Stephen’s and had had an inner ‘moment’ so I got over it, more or less.
However, the Cheapsde entrance leads directly into the lower ground shop via an escalator. We walked on round to New Change and a second escalator that leads to an open area. The shop was empty. Again no queue. There’s some fish reduced, I reported. Into the basket it went, along with fruit, chocolates for her wedding anniversary next week, and other sundries. It was the most stress free shopping experience either of us have had since this crisis began. Not just shopping, M&S shopping. I bought so much I had to add a carrier bag to my purchases. I can’t tell you how many years it is since that happened. Outside, I passed Celia her spoils to stow in her rucksack and the bag she had fortunately brought with her. We probably looked like a couple of shop lifters.
Actually I nearly did shoplift in Boots. We passed it and Celia asked if there was anything I wanted inside. Not really, I said, then spotted packets of Strepsils. If I am unlucky enough to succumb to coronavirus Strepsils will be wanted. How about you? I asked. It turned out there was something. In I went. Just me and one other customer inside the shop. Celia and I did the window and door routine again, as it turned out there was a Buy-One-Get-a-Second-Half-Price offer on what she wanted. I had carried the Strepsils around since first entering the shop, and only at the last minute remembered to present them for payment.
Celia duly admired the Arthur Philip memorial which details how the site of Sydney was chosen on a Wednesday and established the following Saturday. By now we were fairly laden. But St Paul’s. Oh St Paul’s.My father was born and grew up in London, St Paul’s had a special place in his heart. I wasn’t born here, but I came here in my early twenties and I have become a grown up here.
However, it was as we were about to descend Ludgate Hill I realised I had lost my glove. Retracing my steps, including Boots and M&S, still didn’t restore it to me. I had just said “Bugger” quite loudly – there was no one to hear – when I spotted it. Warmth restored.
We walked along Carter Lane to my second Property Envy house. As luck would have it, the owner was on the Juliet balcony attired in shorts and a blanket. We had a chat. I didn’t take photos. Then onto and over Blackfriars Bridge. At the Elephant we saw a queue outside Sainsbury’s. I can’t speak for Celia, but I felt pretty smug despite carrying my shopping. Then maybe six people, which seemed a crowd after our City walk. As we headed to the Walworth Road I realised I was very hungry. I said so. So am I, said Celia. She expanded this statement: “I am hungry, thirsty and knackered.”
As we approached the point which meant we should part, I asked Celia what she had enjoyed most about our walk. Marks and Spencer, she answered with only the slightest hesitation.
I knew it.