Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Friday afternoon in London

Flew off to Stansted last Thursday and returned yesterday. Four whole days in London. Went there to attend a briefing (work stuff) on Friday morning in Covent Garden. Meeting lasted about an hour or two, so, come lunchtime, I was back on the streets and the world was my lobster. Decided to become a tourist and amble around Covent Garden, Leicester Square and Soho and simply enjoy the buzz of being in the centre of the great metropolis on what turned out to be the hottest day of the year.

Strange walking around one's old stamping grounds - I worked for a couple of decades in Covent Garden, and later freelanced for a few ad agencies in Soho, so I know the areas well. But, being there as a tourist, it was almost as though I was seeing them for the first time. Changed a lot, of course. For example, there are coffee shops everywhere and there's a big Marks & Spencer store on Long Acre where the old artists' and designers' materials shop used to be. Seems the 'big boys' have moved in and all the little people have moved out. I guess that's progress. Mind you, I remember being one of the first wave of designers who 'set up shop' in Covent Garden in the early '70s when the market was still there. At that time, the market porters and fruit'n'veg sellers probably said the same thing about us trendies invading their patch. Evolution and economics. Lot of it about. Same thing must be happening in many other cities throughout Britain. Regenerating Liverpool's dock area and Newcastle's riverside, as prime examples. So where do all the one-man-band freelance designers work now? Well, I suppose they all work from home with their new-fangled computery things. No longer any need for proper offices with shared receptionist and presentation rooms. Er..., I'm rambling, I know, but I only mention the above 'cos it was the sort of stuff I was thinking as I idly ambled around in the hot sunshine, occasionally stopping off in a cool cafe or bar. Downed four coffees and three ciders that afternoon.

Another thing that struck me was the fact that pedestrians seem to have taken over the streets. Maybe it was simply because it was a hot day and the tourists were out in force. Or maybe because the many bars and cafes had put tables outside on the pavements so their customers had spilled out into the streets. Or maybe because Ken Livingstone's plan to rid London streets of cars had actually succeeded. I certainly noticed there were far less cars around than there used to be, and far more bicycles. Good thing. Well done Ken.

One of the hostelries I popped into for a swift half (and a free lunch - a few delicious garlic and tomato olives from a dish on a window table, covered in germs I suppose, but when one's a bit peckish, what the hell) was 'The French House' in Soho. Used to occasionally go there in the good old days. Thankfully, it hasn't changed much but, to be honest, I can't remember it being thus named. I rarely remember pubs' names - I just used to walk in and stagger out. Anyway, unlike 99% of the population I don't have a mobile phone (well, I do but it's years old and I can't remember where I put it) and I wanted to phone Georgie at her Covent Garden workplace and arrange to meet up after work (she doesn't have a mobile either). Asked the landlady if the pub had a public phone. Pub instantly went quiet. Man without mobile from dark ages. She said "no, but there's a public phone across the street". Ambled over there and pulled Georgie's work number from my rucksack while staring at a gallery of hookers' cards and standing in a ridiculously confined space that stank of piss. Then tried to figure out how the phone worked and how much it cost. My estimation of 10p was way out. Apparently a phone call from a public box now costs 60p. That's twelve bob in old money. How the hell are mobile-less old people supposed to be able to afford this extortionate rate? Complete bloody rip-off.

Eventually got through, arranged to meet up at 5.30 (she normally leaves work at around 8ish) and then wandered off to kill a bit more time.

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