London at night
by Lynda Archard
©: April 2002
Today's Metro had an article stating that a tour guide has described Trafalgar Square as 'nothing more than a sunken road island infested with scruffy pigeons.'
That, as Londoner's know, is a blatant lie - not all our pigeons are scruffy! Anyway, how do they know? No one can see Trafalgar Square through all the road works!
As I sat watching from the van while Gary did his delivery outside Liverpool Street station there was a man in the back of his van, which was in front of me. I watched as he spent a lot of time shifting pallets and crates of bread into different positions. I couldn’t help wondering why he didn’t put the last drops of the day at the back and the rest in order to the front in the way Gary does. Gary spends a couple of seconds opening the door and the order is ready to grab and deliver. Anyway, having trained as a chef back in 1976 and with a good understanding of food and hygiene, I was filled with horror as he dropped a loaf of bread out of its plastic bag, picked it up with his hands and put it back. An unsuspecting customer will eat it at some point without ever knowing it was handled by a man who has touched a dirty van door handle, steering wheel and had been lifting crates that are probably never washed as well as other things that I don't even want to possibly imagine. As if this was not bad enough the morning actually got worse…
At Euston Station I was feeling tired and watched a car pull up in front of our van. A woman got out and walked to the station and I closed my eyes. I opened them a few seconds later feeling silly to have risked being seen asleep in the van. It was 5.45 am and just turned to daylight.
The driver of the car, an Asian man wearing some sort of white dress with baggy trousers underneath, was now standing to the left of the back of his car, looking around as if making sure the coast was clear. He was so taken with his search of walkers that he completely missed me watching him from about 6 feet away. I wondered what he was doing and thought he might be checking his petrol cap was tight. to my horror I noticed urine splashing around his feet. He was urinating up the side of his own car (some sort of F plate Nissan), outside of a busy train station with loads of empty toilets inside. Can you believe what some people do!
When Gary pointed out prostitutes I had to look closely to see them. Most wear black and lurk in the shadows of nearby doorways and were difficult to see if you are not looking for them. Others are blatantly swinging handbags or standing in the road...
Today we only saw two in Kings Cross. We thought there might have been more considering it was a very warm day yesterday and a fairly warm night for April. Of course the rest might have been working or otherwise engaged in the maze of dark, creepy side streets.
I forgot to tell you yesterday that Gary was just about to place the order of sandwiches to an underground station when a rat jumped out of a box of cakes left by an earlier delivery man - Who ate cake yesterday? Yuck!
Can I be sued for libel? Nah - it's all true and I'm a witness!
Road works and street closure signs litter the City. Some road works in the busiest streets have been going on for years without anyone knowing why. I've heard a theory that it is done to keep people in work but I’m not so sure. Gary thinks it is done to give him as much hassle as possible during his deliveries. I think it tests his knowledge of London and its many side streets, he has learned every back road in London since starting this job.
Today I took my camera, in case we came across anything interesting and I was reminded that to be a photojournalist seconds count. 5 minutes from home and the traffic was at a standstill on the Northern approach to Blackwall Tunnel. We were on the South-side at the time and had to join the queue to the Tunnels Northern approach for about 50 yards to get around the central island when I missed the opportunity I had waited for since 2am. I had my camera in hand when the tooting of horns behind us revealed two large lorries that had collided with both of their wing mirrors in pieces on the tarmac. I was just about to click when Gary pulled away because the traffic lights had changed to green and we ended up having a row because I missed the best picture by a second. It happened seconds after the picture beneath was taken. Okay so I know we couldn’t hold up traffic that was eager to get 6 feet closer to the next 5-minute wait for a second or two. Good photo Journalism is about seconds not minutes!
The morning had started off uneventful but finished with a bang!
We did not see anyone tonight. Perhaps the ladies of Shoreditch and Whitechapel have suddenly remembered that this area was, during the late 1880’s, the haunt of the infamous ‘Jack the Ripper.’ He was thought to have been a doctor who ripped the insides of 5 prostitutes out in order to find out more for his work. Some sources claim he stopped after being caught for an unrelated crime while others claim he was just careful after being disturbed while cutting up his last victim. A recent documentary on TV claimed the murders all happened every time a certain American was in time, said to be a failed medical student. I wonder why he failed?
The whole area is still extremely creepy in the daytime, let alone at night. It is riddled with dark alleys and side walks. The sight of one or two police cars in the area might have caused a bit of a problem for the usually busy streets.
Gary gets his things together and sits in the van waiting while I drag myself out of the door. When I got to the van he was laughing and explained, “I just saw a clump of fluff pass the window and realised Millie tried to jump on the bonnet. Then she just slid off.”
Millie is one of our cats and is not the brightest of creatures. Take a look at the shape of the van and picture the animal (in front of the van) trying to hang on!
Our third delivery takes us into the border of Kent around 3.30am. Nothing much happens here at night and I was on the lookout for foxes. We saw a dead one in the road, killed by a speeding driver who must have thought he was the only creature on the road that early. When will drivers learn that it is at this time that the most horrific accidents can occur? My memory flooded with the sights and sounds of a crash outside the house we used to live in on a main road in Greenwich. The two cars speeding from different directions killed two teenage girls and put two young men in hospital for months. The impact caused the girls to fly through the back window across the street and the second car was pushed backwards in a curve to be impailed onto a 2 feet high concrete post at the edge of a car park.
On the return journey we saw a very young fox carrying a late supper or early breakfast – A rat big enough to share with his family.
Gary was not happy when every other van or car driver tried to pass him in narrow streets or at traffic lights. He did smile when a car overtook at speed and got flashed by a speed camera – twice within 50 yards.
The absence of girls out again is taken place by the presence of a police car. There were a couple of girls wandering about looking at passing cars though and one wearing big headphones seemed to be chatting to herself at 3am.
There is a lot of traffic about this morning – and teenage boys in shorts walking in the Old Kent Road. It is a waxing moon so I can only assume it gets better towards the full one on Saturday.
The first fox of the day crossed the road heading towards the riverbank in London’s Dockland area around 3am. He looked scruffy and in need of some decent food. One morning Gary might stop for me to take a picture of one of these night creatures. I was told that country foxes are rarely seen by humans and are much smaller. A couple of years ago one stood outside of my house as big as an Alsatian in the middle of the afternoon. He had no fear at all and stepped back while I placed a dish of cat food behind the fence for it to eat. Two young boys delivering papers stopped in between the food and fox to watch. The fox was about 3 feet away from them and sat down. He looked away and yawned as if saying, “have a quick look and then let me eat.” I hoped he would come back at the same time the next day but he didn’t.
Talking of brave foxes reminds me of the amount of people out on their own tonight. The bus stop near The Houses of Parliament, Westminster, were packed at 4.30am. Who are these people? Where are they going to or coming from? It’s the middle of the night.
Opposite Parliament are banners protesting that we stop killing Iraq children and start buying their oil. From what I have been told about this it seems the West have refused to buy their oil until Sadam Hussain stops killing his own people. I think that is clear enough to understand. Instead, apparently, Sadam is stocking his ammunition with what little money the country has and letting his subjects starve to death.
Now forgive me if I am wrong but aren’t the children of Iraq tomorrows army? Why would someone let them starve by spending money on ammunition to fight the world with people suffering malnutrition? And why is the West to blame for it?
I’ll leave that for Politicians.
The first lady of the night was standing on a street corner in Holborn. We only saw 1 in Kingscross and 1 in Shoreditch. There were at least 4 walking towards Shoreditch and the sudden sound of police sirens probably meant they kept walking.
It wasn’t until I jotted a few notes onto my paper at 2.30 am that I realised the Old Kent Road could be abbreviated to OK Road. It is not quite as trendy as it was back in the 70’s and 80’s when there were more nightclubs and discos in the road than there was in the rest of South London. It was still fairly busy with young drunk people and police cars containing policeman waiting to deal with any trouble that might occur. The many boarded up shops and buildings stood out among the heavy metal mesh guards that protected closed shops from vandalism and thieves.
My mind was taken off the street life for a moment by Gary complaining about the slippery dashboard of the van that allowed his lighter to slide onto the floor as he drove around the corner onto the roundabout at the Elephant and Castle.
Gary knows the phasing of each set of traffic lights now. He gets amusement out of pretending his finger is a magic wand as he points to them shouting ‘change now’ at exactly the right moment. These games keep him awake until we arrive at the kitchen and have our first cup of coffee of the day.
We expected rain before daylight. A few drops fell by 6.30 am – daylight came around 5.15. The weathermen on TV were close enough with their predictions. I bet it rains all weekend now that we will be awake in the day to enjoy the sun the day people have been enjoying all week.
Having said that, we did stay up all day yesterday just in case the sun stayed out. I had to wear sunglasses to protect my eyes from the glare of bright sunrays. I think I am starting to feel like a bat or a vampire that belongs to the night now. Did I call London night people weird on the intro page? I take it all back!
Prozzy watch was good tonight, 1 in Kings Cross and 5 in Shoreditch, a few walking around.
You might wonder how I know who is a prostitute and who isn’t. Well they are aged between 16 (possibly younger runaways who have no other way of earning money after arriving in London under the age of legal employment and so-called responsibility. They usually end up befriended by London pimps), and about 40 years. They mostly wear flimsy tops made of see-through lace or skimpy vest tops under black open jackets – in all weather. Some look as if they would not know how to use a hairbrush or soap, could easily fight a large rough looking truck driver, and they stand alone on street corners without showing any fear. Other give-a-ways are the expensive looking cars with blacked out windows slowing down close to where the girls are and if they have a bag they usually swing it. They are the same girls, in the same place, at the same time that we have seen regularly.
Other girls who are not working in these particular jobs are in groups or have rucksacks that make them look like tourists on route to the local train or coach station. They are dressed in smart clothing and do use a hairbrush and are usually foreign. Local women know the streets are unsafe at night; Kerb crawlers do not always care who they pester and can easily frighten girls on their way home at night.
I hope you have enjoyed the first week of 'Lynda's London.' Next update on Monday morning, April 29th.
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© Lynda Archard