Saturday night in Shoreditch has always meant queues to get in, and tonight is no different. A line extends across the front of a Vietnamese restaurant and, a few doors down, another dotted strip of figures reaches towards Rolling Stock, the nightclub under the bridge. The doors to both are firmly shut.
In their place, two unlikely weekend hotspots experience a resurgence – Sainsbury’s and The Grocery, the latter complete with outdoor hand sanitising station – bringing the crowds in.
I’d left my flat half an hour earlier without much of a plan or daylight left to play with, just my headphones and a disjointed need for a quiet Saturday night out of the house. Seen from the top of Kingsland Road, the glass towers of east London usually signal precisely the opposite. But this is London stalled, a city in reverse. The A-roads of Zone 1 are calm and dead, but I look both ways in the local park.
So music on, a bad mood to shift, the enthusiasm for group video calls wearing thin: I walk, percolating the day’s non-events, until the food shoppers and early evening strollers thin out somewhere between Liverpool Street and Shoreditch.
It would be easier to walk past the boarded up pubs, the empty restaurants, the shuttered bars, without an intimate knowledge of what Saturday night in east London is normally like.
But the dissonance is distracting, and by the time I’ve turned right onto Threadneedle Street my headphones are hanging around my neck. Near Bank, traffic lights tell an empty road when to stop and go. Only a recorded voice echos up the steps of the station, where two old Evening Standards rustle on the steps below.
I wanted quiet, and here it is: just a distant hum with seagulls – seagulls? – calling over it like a token sound effect.
Tonight an ambling, vaguely cyclical walk to St Paul’s and back is what passes for progress. What else can you do when everything else has stopped? The nights out, the social life, the holidays, the career plans, all the markers I use to assess how I’m getting on. I might have always preferred not to look too far ahead, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a plan.
Saturday night is drawing on and my feet are starting to hurt. Somewhere by Barbican the realisation dawns that there’s no transport home, and I’m tired, it’s getting dark. The buses aren’t for me, and a Boris bike from outside St Bart’s Hospital doesn’t seem like a good idea. The sun sets as I cut back towards Old Street roundabout, and begin the long, slow walk back east and home.
This first appeared in my newsletter, which goes out around once a week at the moment because let’s be honest, not much else going on is there? You’ll get something like this, plus a few links to good, London related stuff I’ve found on the web. I’ll get happy someone’s signed up. Win-win. Sign up here.