My last visit to London was in February 2021, just prior to Britain’s first lockdown. We were travelling back from Rome and stayed over one night before catching a train home to East Yorkshire. I believe that my wife was already planning a return visit to one of our favourite cities, but then the world was plunged into chaos.
London is a city that I have come to love. I admit that on our first visit we did all the usual tourist things, sight-seeing and such, but these days our visits usually take us away from those sort of places. Like others before us we have discovered that the actual ‘City of London’ is quite small, only 2.9km square. It is full of fascinating places to visit if you are willing to wander off the main thoroughfares, which we try to do.
Another thing that we try to do is avoid using the underground. It is generally crowded, noisy, too hot and occasionally cold. It is also rather unfriendly. Yes, the underground does provide the quickest means of getting around London, especially those places that lie outside the City of London, but the busses are also quite good at this and you get to see more than you do on the tube.
Like many capital cities, London has a vibrancy that is characteristic, but on this visit its energy was noticeably subdued. It appeared that things were trying to get back to normal, but that they had not succeeded as yet. On public transport it is mandatory to wear a face mask, with the proviso that some people are excepted. It seemed to be hit and miss whether people did or did not wear a mask, but we did not see anyone being taken to task over the issue. I suppose members of staff are not paid to police such impositions.
We did see one theatre that was insisting on all customers providing proof that they had been vaccinated, which was disheartening. People stood in a line providing paperwork to be inspected by members of a private security firm, all of who were dressed in black, wearing conspicuous earpieces and armbands. It was difficult not to recognise the imagery that this evoked. Fortunately, we were had tickets for a different venue where such draconian methods were not in force.
The world has not returned to normal yet, and it very well may not return to what we once knew, but it was good to be doing something that at least felt normal. Some of the pubs and restaurants have re-opened, some were just beginning to, and some looked as if they were going to be permanently closed, which is a pity. There is a long way to go yet, no doubt, but this brief visit to one of our favourite cities at least increased our hope that one day in the future we might enjoy something not too far removed from the London that we knew only two years ago.