The streets of the City of London seem more abandoned than usual on the Sunday between Christmas and New Year. Walking between Liverpool Street and Holborn out-of-hours is my favourite place ‘to get away from it all’ any time of year – on balmy summer evenings it has the feel of Madrid in August, empty streets, closed bars. But life does continue to lurk on odd corners mopping up the tourist trade and servicing the small but growing resident population of the Square Mile.
But when I went wandering early evening on Sunday there was barely a sole around save for in the vicinity of the transport hubs. Once I had breached the London Wall at Moorgate I had the City to myself (under the watchful gaze of CCTV). It threw up Daniel Defoe’s descriptions of London during the plague years when people fled the City, and the post-apocalyptic images in The Day of the Triffids and 28 Days Later. You sense the buildings starting to breathe once more free of the insect hoards.
The ancient Watling Street lit a path in Christmas lights to the dome of St. Paul’s where folk scuttled around. Cross the road to Carter Lane and the people disappeared, whatever traffic there was inaudible, the bells of a distant church chimed.
It was only when Fleet Street conjoined with Aldwych did I move among the herd – up Southampton Row, the traffic lanes of Gower Street, popcorn munchers at Odeon Tottenham Court Road – but here a sense of loneliness gripped me – I missed the quietude of the hills and valleys of the Walbrook and the Fleet.