I really, really, really don’t want much for Christmas … really. Right now, I just want the whole wide world to return to normal. That’s not asking much is it? Just put it under my Christmas tree, in a beautifully wrapped parcel – here delightful, here is the world returned and all is good with the universe.
This lockdown has been brutal. Twelve months ago, the city was vibrant, alive with festive merry spreading. Lights were inspiring and the best excuse to go into the city, have dinner, or to a show. A glass of wine at the Stafford after a brilliant tour, so different to now. So now we are trying to capture Christmas a whole month early, and who can blame us? Houses are being draped in lights, trees are up and it is only November. Along with the November moustaches and early pretend it’s Christmas, all looks altered again.
To still the anxiety which creeps regardless, and kill the boredom of not having to go to my favourite place for an early morning coffee, I walk. If anything, to hear the sound of buses going, to seek life, to find nature. The tube seems like the last ride to a scary place, all masked and suspicious. Some are mask defiant and we scowl at them. I try and sip my second choice coffee furtively and not draw attention – sneak under mask and repeat. Said before, outings now are governed by the acute need to know where to pee – route according to toilet facilities, ah, it has come to this and I guess I am an expert now on where to go when you have to go, when in London.
The walk today had me at a few ago. Regent’s park. It is Sunday, a sunny day, and the entire world is here. Finding a bench to sit becomes a silent war, as is the pushing and queueing for a takeaway, as if we use ration stamps. The roses are confused – budding and blooming as leaves fall. I feel their fuzziness. The sense of unnaturalness permeates, but we are blessed for sun and budding roses.
Walking along Regent’s Canal is a always a thrill for me, but it is packed with others thinking the same. We pass, we shimmy alongside, we dodge the puddles and hope not to end in the drink. Armies of the anxious out in the few hours of light. We marvel at the duo paddling on the icy water, actually no. Fawn over the mansions with a view and a silent resolve to try the Lotto once again. The weather is indeed, great, so great I am sweating in the double layering of maybe winter.
And then the light happens. It’s only four in the afternoon, but the light comes to the water. It is astonishing, brilliant and sharp and magnificent on swans, duck feathers, house boats, spilling down from glass buildings and into liquid. Gushingly gorgeous. We all, collectively, swoon and click. This is the reward for the cloying, claustrophobic living lockdown.
The light is dancing on the Paddington basin. Houseboats are smoking and show piles of firewood on their roofs. It must be cold on the water. The Grand Canal is a triumph of development behind Paddington station. Now office blocks are eerily quiet and the many restaurants closed, but the odd ‘essential’ offering open to ply fish and chips, pastries and coffee. It is modern and eclectic and smatterings of old London, given credit and offered to cheer us up. Love the statues, the messages, the poems on walls and the neon lights.
The station is deserted.
Then it is to London, my style Christmas delight. The Angels on Regent and Jermyn Streets. Burlington arcade, quiet but glittered.
Lashings of copper, gold and green. The tree in Trafalgar Square is still missing, a gift from Norway to the English in thanks for the support during the war and always delivered, every year. Will she appear? Still walking, still not ready to go home, I cross to Southbank. There are no stalls, no Christmas music and steaming Mulled wine.
She has survived many times, did I ever imagine myself to see her wounded so? She shoots shards of brilliance still.