I had a few potential subjects lined up for my latest post, but given the events earlier this week in London (and later in Manchester, Birmingham and Wolverhampton, among other places in the country), I felt there was really only one suitable option.
The riots have provoked as many different reactions and opinions as there are people in this city. But, at the risk of sounding mawkish, the image that has stood out most for me among all the violent scenes on our TV screens and in our newspapers is that of volunteers of all ages, backgrounds, genders and ethnicities coming together to clean up the mess afterwards. (The councils have undoubtedly done amazing work too, but I am speaking of course of the grass-roots Riot Clean Up movement that sprang up overnight on Monday.)
Londoners don’t have the best reputation around the world, or even the country. We’re accused of being unfriendly, aggressive, rude. All these things may seem true, may even be true at times. But actually, we’re very proud of our city, and pretty fond of each other, when it comes down to it.
And, in addition to the usual checklist items, you might like to bring a broom, and some sturdy gloves and bin bags. You never know, we might encounter some London wombles in need of another pair of hands.
We’re going to vary the route a bit this time, to keep things interesting. Map 2
Stop 1) Camden
We’ll follow the same route as last time until we reach Camden Road, at which point we’ll turn right and walk all the way along to the end, past playgrounds, cafés, pubs and Camden Road overland station.
Anybody in London in the days since Monday night can’t have missed the sirens in the background of every conversation, in addition to a greater number of police men and women and community support officers out on the streets. But in general the atmosphere now is calm, and here we pass a young man joking with a pair of police women and plenty of people chatting out in the evening sunshine.
Hippy Camden was one of the areas targeted in Monday night’s riots, but today almost all the shops are open as normal, the street is clean and the tourists are back out in force.
Disembark here for market stalls selling a range of merchandise of varying quality, trendy clubs and shisha cafés, or a chilled-out drink by the lock.
Stop 2) Albany Street
Crossing over to Parkway we’ll move quickly past these men drinking and chatting through the window of the Dublin Castle pub, trying to ignore all the delicious smells emanating from a wealth of restaurants, and keep going straight until we reach a left turn onto Albany Street. This road runs along the outside of Regent’s Park (passengers should, of course, alight if they wish to take a stroll through the beautiful park). It’s a long, straight and – yes, OK, then – rather dull street, so now seems a good time for a car game. Or maybe a singalong? Perhaps ‘I Predict a Riot’ by the Kaiser Chiefs (who, incidentally, joined in with post-riot clean-up activities), or ‘Panic’ by The Smiths, to keep our spirits up?
We do pass the Territorial Army’s Regent’s Park barracks, which were once home to the Royal Horse Guards, so it’s not entirely without interest.
Stop 3) Great Portland Street
Over the road and past the exclusive, high-end shops and restaurants of Great Portland Street, which was developed by the Dukes of Portland and forms the boundary between Fitzrovia and Marylebone.
There are lots of pretty buildings and window-shopping opportunities here, but unless anyone needs a break for ‘powdering noses’ (as my tour guide on a school trip to Greece insisted on calling it), we’ll plough on.
Stop 4) Oxford Circus/Soho
Right, any passengers wishing to disembark here should do so as quickly as possible, before hoards of determined shoppers mow the rest of us down.
I, for one, can’t get down Argyll Street and into Soho quickly enough. Here we will have a well-earned refuelling break in gorgeous Flat Planet café and pick up our first ever non-virtual passenger! Isn’t she lovely?
Carnaby Street is, to my mind, a much more pleasant shopping experience, though still a far cry from it’s origins as a market in the nineteenth century, and an alternative hang-out for quirky, liberal types across the mid-twentieth century.
Soho itself has a long-standing association with the entertainment business (which extended, in the last century, to include the sex industry). It might have lost its edgy crown to the likes of Shoreditch and Dalston, but it remains a very pleasant place to pass an evening.
Crossing over Beak Street, we’ll pass through the romantically named Golden Square, turn right onto Glasshouse Street and then left onto Regent Street.
Passengers for the salubrious neighbourhood of Mayfair should alight here and cross over the road. The rest of us will continue down to hectic Piccadilly Circus.
Stop 5) Waterloo Place/The Mall
Turning right onto the continuation of Regent Street, we’ll follow the road all the way down as it becomes Waterloo Place (ooh look at the newly-weds!), and admire the statue of the Duke of York at the top of the steps by the same name.
Descending the steps (passengers for the endlessly diverting Institute of Contemporary Arts may hop off here), we’ll cross the dramatic stretch of The Mall, with its Union Jacks billowing in the breeze.
Stop 6) St James’s Park/Horse Guards Road
All is mellow in St James’s this evening, with groups sitting around enjoying boozy picnics, and the peace only occasionally disturbed by the screech of geese on the lake.
A sudden roar from Horse Guards Parade makes us jump, but it’s only the crowd at one of the beach volleyball test events ahead of next year’s Olympics.
Stop 7) Westminster/Millbank
Turning left off Horse Guards Road onto Great George Street and then right onto Little George Street we get our first clear view of what is surely the most iconic London image – Big Ben himself. Passing the statue of George Canning (eighteenth/nineteenth century statesman), his cloak slung jauntily across one shoulder, and then skirting the edge of the Democracy Village camp, we’ll turn onto St Margaret’s Street, passing the Jewel Tower on our right and Parliament, of course, on our left.
We could keep going along Millbank, but I suggest cutting through the peaceful Victoria Tower Gardens.
From here we can see across to our pretty Albert Embankment, which, as I have just learned from Bill Bryson’s At Home, was created in the late-nineteenth by Sir Joseph Bazalgette as part of the development of London’s first proper sewage system. So it’s not just a pretty face!
Final destination: Lambeth Bridge/Lambeth Palace
Thank you for travelling on the walking camper van. Please make sure you have all your possessions before disembarking. We would like to wish you a pleasant onward journey and look forward to seeing you again very soon.