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London at night
by Lynda Archard
©: May 2002

Week starting May 13th 2002

Monday 13th May

Shortly after leaving the house it started to rain and kept raining until around 5am. Traffic was light and we only saw one fox and one cat all night. The shadow of a paper bag in the centre of the road looked like a rabbit. It prompted me to remember other times that I have thought an animal or person was lurking in the distance only to find a pile of rubbish, control box of some sort or unusual shape that are seen every day in daylight.

I did see something that I wish was my imagination though. Two women were out with either family or friends at each end of a London Street carrying babies. Both babies looked under six months old, neither in a pram, being carried through the rain. It is sad to think they might have been going to or from work and couldn’t get a babysitter, selfish if they were on their way home after visiting friends.

Gary called me into the kitchen to show me why he usually swears and gets angry two out of five mornings per week. A large stack of boxes, each with 60-wedged sandwiches, was ready to fall.

Gary started the morning very calm and determined not to get angry with the two men in the garage. He walked in and said good morning as usual and was ignored as usual. One man took the book from him and signed the invoice and Gary took it back and said goodbye. Once again there was silence. He said goodbye twice more before walking out vowing never to try and make contact with the two Asian men again.

Not far from there is Lower Lea Crossing, a bridge that goes over the River Lea. Each time we go onto the bridge, driving at 20 – 30 mph, the van has slid slightly on the surface of the road. We can only assume that the butter factory close by under the bridge has something to do with this. It was more noticeable this morning with a combination of rain with the slippery surface.

When we arrived at Victoria Coach Station a pigeon stood on one leg in the forecourt. I thought it was a victim of the cruel use of electronic deterrents used on London buildings that leave many birds maimed. It then walked off on both legs and seemed okay. Toward the end of the morning Gary noticed a large dome on the inside of the entrance at the Embankment Tube Station. Four-inch spikes had been placed around the base to stop birds from sitting there but some resourceful pigeons had found a way inside and sat or slept in between the spikes.

Outside a few buildings are bundles of mail and newspapers. These have been thrown by lazy delivery drivers and often land in puddles or are strewn across the pavement to be trampled on.

‘Prozzy watch.’

One girl headed towards Kings Cross and a man called to catch her attention. He laughed as another man, older than the first, looked embarrassed and seemed to want to keep a distance. I assumed the girl was for the older man. Another girl stood waiting under an umbrella in Shoreditch. She was chatting to a middle aged man old enough to be her father. The road works in the High Street are growing longer every day and soon the girls will need to go elsewhere to find trade.

Tuesday 14th May

On the way into the City an old dog scavenged in the road for food. It was tempting to stop and rescue the poor animal but that creates a dilemma – if the dog is a much loved pet that has wandered out and got lost then I would break the heart of the owner. If I left it then it could end up in Battersea Dogs Home with little hope of finding a new owner because the dog was old. We decided to leave it and if we see the dog again we will bring it home. A TV program about the dogs home assured viewers that they do their best for older dogs by caring for them. We have 6 cats and a dog that are all rescued from various people who don’t want them but won’t get their animals neutered. There comes a time when we must stop in order to ensure our animals are not neglected and we have time for all of them. Two dogs could create a problem for my pampered dog, pickles.

It was windy around the kitchen today and the trolleys that carry sandwich boxes to the fridge had rolled into the forecourt. Just as I was about to collect them and prop them against the wall Gary called me into the fridge. I thought the stacking was bad yesterday but today was much worse with one box of sandwiches (second from bottom) crushed at one end.

Two vans over took us to go through red traffic lights at Lea Mouth around 3.50am. Where are the police patrols cars when these drivers break the law?

Major road works are about to start at Blackwall Tunnel on May 20th. A sign announced it will be for two weeks and our local newspaper said 2 years. It will cause a few major problems in the daytime no matter who is right.

‘Prozzy watch.’

Three girls at Kings Cross seemed happy about something, perhaps that the rain had stopped or it had been another good night for them. One girl danced around one of them while another sat on the concrete against the wall laughing at her. All wore summer clothing again on this windy morning. Further down from Shoreditch, two more stood in White Chappell looking very fed up with one swinging her arms as if trying to find something to occupy her while waiting for a punter.

Wednesday 15th May

I had to turn my head and laugh as the sandwiches started rolling across the forecourt as Gary loaded the van. He was already bad tempered after cars had been over-taking him and then slowing down all the way to the kitchen. I made it worse by telling him to concentrate on his own driving instead of always shouting at other drivers. I don’t think most drivers are even aware of our van on the road. If they are then they should seriously consider giving up driving before another driver commits so-called road rage on them.

Two policemen and 2 policewomen seemed to be having a tea break in the garage this morning. They stood laughing; chatting and drinking coffee inside the shop while their two cars were parked outside taking up space on the forecourt.

Once again the homeless slept in any place they could. One person can be seen wrapped in a white blanket in a shop doorway while another man, in Charring Cross, had risen early and was walking along with his sleeping bag draped over his shoulder.

A police car was beeped near Westminster for turning around in a one-way street to follow a red car into Whitehall, where he should not have turned either.

‘Prozzy watch.’

Two girls in Kings Cross stood close to a police van. Further along in Shoreditch three men stood around waiting, possibly for prostitutes to arrive or as lookouts for the girls. We have seen men standing around before, always just along the road from girls. Today the girls of Shoreditch had moved along to stand close to bus stops and doorways in White chapel and Stepney Green, perhaps to avoid the ever-growing road works in the area.

Thursday 16th May

London was busy this morning. Student types were out shivering in their summer clothing. The hot sunshine of yesterday obviously meant they thought summer was here now and it would be hot through the night too. A couple of stretched limousines cruised around and the people from the anti-graffiti unit were scrubbing writing off London bus shelters, telephone boxes and walls. It was still only 2.45am.

We arrived at the kitchen around 3am to find a stack of boxes had fallen. Luckily this stack did not contain any of our orders, which meant no swearing and stamping about from Gary.

Outside we could see the outline of the major star constellations. Birds sang and the foxes had stayed in. It was freezing cold without the blanket of cloud that would have kept the heat in.

As we travelled through Shoreditch, a person lay on the ground in the middle of a side street, strewn across the road blocked off by road works. I knew he or she was alive when the person lifted their head and laughed. Lots of nightclubs in the area ensure that activity abounds at all hours.

On the other side of the River Thames a black woman wearing black clothing was walking along the kerb in Shooters Hill. She was extremely difficult to see in the dark and seemed to be just out walking. On our way back we saw her hailing a taxi near ‘The Sun in the Sands’ roundabout, which is really a pub but became the local name of the area after the motorway was built around the 1970’s. The sun was starting to rise in the East and by 5.25am it was daylight.

Around the area of Charring Cross Road, a homeless couple walked carrying blankets over their shoulders. I saw two walking separately were both limping close by. Not far from here is ‘Centre Point,’ a place for the homeless to shelter, sleep and get food. Instead some sleep in shop doorways and under bridges only to be disturbed and moved on when the shops open. The homeless are seen around this area delving through bins and searching for lost coins in the gutter. Some beg and follow you down the road in a menacing way. Most sit around watching wealthy tourists all day, while others drink themselves into a stupor to block out their days and nights.

‘Prozzy watch.’

I don’t often see the girl in Deptford each morning. Gary concentrates as he drives and sees her hiding close to the telephone box or sitting on the bench everyday. The two in Shoreditch were easier to see as they wander closer to the kerb now they can’t stand in the doorways at the other end of this road work laden area. Kings Cross was buzzing with tourists and their rucksacks. I assume it was another good night for the street girls who were nowhere to be seen.

Friday 17th May

We woke to a lovely silver crescent moon this morning. At Waterloo Station the smell of burning wood suggested someone, probably the homeless in the area, was having a bonfire. The rest of the morning was calm until we hit Shoreditch, where a large group of young men stood around in the road outside a nightclub. They looked as though an argument was in progress and a fight was about to break out.

Around Kings Cross several men rested on concrete steps around the station. This is a high drug use area and some looked rough and as high on drugs as you can be. The usual tourists were also weaving through the drug users and prostitutes wearing shorts and carrying rucksacks.

The man supposed to be working in the garage was as ignorant as ever. Gary drops the order on the floor and walks out in silence now. As usual, the man at the till was eating while making a telephone call and the other sweeping the floor.

In North Woolwich a tiny and very scared creature scurried in the road not knowing which way to run. As we slowed down approaching it we could see huge ears and it became apparent that it was a cute baby fox smaller than any of my cats. The largest I have seen near where I live was the size of a small Alsatian dog. Before I could pick up my camera it had run up the hill and dived through a railing. I think they have radar alert inside their ears telling them if my camera is ready or not. The foxes I have photographed disappear when I process the picture because they blend into the background. I am determined to picture one even if it takes ten years!

A man sleeps under Charring Cross railway while a tourist walks by both oblivious to each other. The road works on the right of the picture lead all the way to Trafalgar Square.

‘Prozzy watch.’

The Deptford girl was wandering close to the road this morning and so was easier for all to see. I have been told that there are lots of prostitutes on the outskirts of London where there is not so much competition. In Kings Cross a girl walked the lonely side street and two more wandered around Shoreditch. The man we often see in Shoreditch was there again this morning. He looks middle aged and nothing like the pretty rent boys we have seen on the odd occasion around Liverpool Street. We have no reason to assume that some of these men in these areas are not also prostitutes trying to earn a living. I have seen them chatting with the girls before so they could be prostitutes, pimps, lookouts or punters waiting for their favourite girl to start work.

Next update will be Monday 20th May

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© Lynda Archard