London at night
by Lynda Archard
©: May 2002
Coming up to Waterloo Road, at 2.20 am, a policeman was attending a situation in which a white van had mounted the kerb and parked or halted two inches from a telephone box. A car was behind the van and two men stood near by. I didn’t see if someone was actually inside the telephone box. If there was then it was a good place to be to call for help.
Our arrival at the kitchen revealed road works surrounding the entrance. Last week the door to the fridge was broken and Gary wondered if it had been fixed yet. The door was left wide open, still with a broken lock, and only luck meant the orders were still inside.
After leaving the kitchen it became obvious that today is when the dustbin men come and take the bags of rubbish from doorsteps. There were some unusual things for them to collect today with bits of furniture and two mattresses outside one house. Bin men don’t shift this type of stuff and the owners are supposed to contact the local council so there is a high possibility it will still be there tomorrow. Outside of St. Mary’s University in Mile end is a recycle centre. The usual bins are for waste paper, glass bottles, tin cans and clothing. The weather was very hot yesterday and lots of people would have been in the garden sorting out rubbish in preparation for sunbathing and barbecues and so someone had dumped two unwanted lawnmowers.
On the way home we passed a car carrying four men ready for work that had stopped at traffic lights. Gary approached as the lights changed to green and we went straight through. It must have angered the driver that we got through first and he put his foot down and swerved in front of us like a child throwing a tantrum if someone had got a sweet before him. He didn’t take a chance of being beaten at the next set of lights. He drove straight through a red light at a very busy junction!
The area from Euston Station, passed St. Pancreas Station down to Kings Cross Station was crowded with tourists. A prostitute stood outside the McDonalds Burger bar and a young man made a beeline to talk with her. Further along a pretty girl stared inside our van as we drove passed. She was unusually pretty for this area and it led to a debate on the safety of the girls and ways to improve a prostitutes’ lifestyle. We thought that if prostitution was legal then men could pay by credit card and if anything happened to any of the girls the authorities could trace their last client through the credit company. It would at least give some deterrent to the men who think these girls should put up with anything they want including violence.
In Shoreditch a woman stood in a doorway wearing a black bra and knickers under a short black jacket. I think she must have thought summer was definitely here. At the other end of the road two more walked around trying to keep warm while they waited.
After torrential rain yesterday evening there were huge deep puddles across South East to West London. It must have stopped some time between midnight and 2am in Greenwich. The rain didn’t keep many Londoners in though. We saw a young man being tended by an ambulance driver in New Cross at 2.50am and the city was as busy as ever. An Internet café in Marylebone Road was full and lots of people walked or waited close to train and coach stations. Two young men were pasting posters to the walls under the bridge at Old Street while people waiting for the night bus looked on. The puddle in the picture is under the aptly named ‘Waterloo Bridge.’ It is about 6 inches deep after collecting all the rain that had run down the hill and as wide as the road.
On the A40 a police jeep was travelling at a cautious 30 mph. A speeding car joined the traffic from a slip road and the jeep sped up appearing to give chase. Both vehicles disappeared into the distance and we sped up to the 50 mph speed limit.
The same black woman that we saw in Shooters Hill Road last week was trying to hitch a lift. Once again she was wearing all black clothing and was difficult to see until she steps close to the kerb after seeing a vehicle heading her way. When she is spotted there is no mistaking her, she is at least six feet tall. Last week Gary said she tried to flag him down but I saw a taxi pull up behind us for her and said he must have been mistaken. This time there was no other traffic on the road and she was travelling in the opposite direction, which made me wonder if she is a prostitute.
The homeless are waking earlier as the day arrives sooner. It is noticeable how many are limping about or sitting rubbing their aching feet as early as 5am. For many years the UK press has led us to believe that most of these people do not need to be on the streets and that some are living in lovely houses, drive lovely cars and begging all day to pay for it. This has caused Londoners to think twice before giving anything to the people who beg. Some own dogs to get more sympathy with people who will give money rather than see the dog starve. Most are seen during the day drinking lager and spirits from bottles and cans. People are right to be dubious about some of these daytime beggars who waste the money even if they are blocking out their sad existence. It occurred to us that some might be drinking as a form of medication to block out their aches and pains instead. One of my daughters teachers has a good idea for school tripping children to London, he asks them to collect all the left-over sandwiches, crisps and chocolate from packed lunches and hands it over to the grateful people who want food instead of money and sympathy.
Before this lorry could deliver equipment to Guy’s Hospital at 6am there was a bit of a fuss made. Orange and white tape that blocked the delivery are and a security guards car had to be moved.
In London yesterday the police decided to crack down on prostitution by collecting up millions of calling cards from telephone boxes. Apparently, people known as scouts and touts get paid £30 per 500 that they distribute. At 3.30am opposite King’s Cross station, two prostitutes were filling up the telephone boxes with cards again. Another girl looked on as she walked passed.
In Shoreditch a woman walked towards us but was turning back to watch something. As we drove around the corner two police cars had stopped to question an Asian driver. Further along another prostitute headed in the other direction and was also looking back to see what was happening.
There was one girl walking alone in Mile End this morning.
The road works are gone from around the kitchen and must be the quickest work I have seen in London. There are only remnants of roadwork around Russel Square, which were due to end in two months ago in March. Trafalgar Square road works just moves a few feet along each day and is spread like tentacles in all directions.
The morning seemed cold after another evening of heavy rain. When I asked Gary why his glasses had steamed up he told me it was probably from walking out of a cold fridge into the warm air. He is so used to the cold now that he takes his jumper off around 5am and only wears a T-shirt. I am still wearing my fingerless gloves and thick jacket that makes him think I am related to the reptile species.
The man at the news stand was ready to give your newspapers and magazines by 4am.
I fell asleep and woke up when we pulled up at Victoria coach station. To my horror around ten of about thirty people were all staring at me as I stretched my stiff neck and then watched Gary to see where he was going. Two young men around the age of twenty years started playing with a skateboard in front of us. Others stood around sleeping people spread over the ground.
Around the Shaftsbury Avenue Theatre, 5am, a gay club had just finished. A young man staggered across the road carrying a bottle of red wine in one hand and a bottle of coke cola in the other. It seemed like a strange combination and he looked as if he preferred to drink the wine.
An abandoned bonfire was left by homeless people trying to keep warm. This is close to Waterloo Station where we could smell smoke last week.
As we arrived back through Blackwall Tunnel into Greenwich the top half of a car lay on the grass at the side of the road. I assume it must have been from an accident the night before but we hadn’t seen it earlier this morning while it was dark.
Four girls were out in Shoreditch, standing well away from each other as usual. One girl in her thirties did a strange crouching and stretching movement and laughed straight at the driver of a van on the other side of the road, in a similar way to a mother trying to make her baby smile playing peek-a-boo. This might be a tactic to get her noticed but the driver didn’t stop – at least not as we passed by.
After yet another evening of rain The Strand was exceptionally busy this morning. People of all ages were walking in all directions until after 5am when the workers also begin to emerge from their beds.
The morning began with two girls and two boys of about 16 years old walking through Greenwich at 2.20 am. They stood out because one girl had a large bath towel draped around her shoulders. It was a cold night and she must have left her coat at home.
The major works has started in Blackwall Tunnel. Yesterday it was closed and we had to travel to Rotherhythe tunnel instead, today we were escorted through the cones by a van with flashing yellow lights at 20 MPH. We wondered if anyone was working after a while of watching a trail of cones then we came up to around ten workmen who were covered in soot and dirt. It appears they are stripping the panels from the walls and replacing them all. London is waking up earlier as the days grow longer. More people means earlier traffic jams and more road works and delays.
I have finally got a picture of an urban fox, not a good one but the best so far. I take pictures of foxes every night and if the flash is on I get something that resembles the headlights of a car from the eyes and if it is off they blend into the background. It must be the yellow glow of the street lights that does it. I have seen foxes and their cubs as clear as any other animal at night but when I render the pictures they have dissapeared completely. I will get a good one eventually.
Nine were out between 2.30 and 4am, one in the Old Kent road, one in Marylebone Road, three in King’s Cross, one in Shoreditch and one at the end of Mile End Road under the Bow Flyover. The later was a nuisance, waving at any driver stuck at the traffic lights to get attention even if their wife was with them! When we didn’t stop she opened her coat and placed her hands on her hips to show what we were missing, screwed her face up as if we were wrong not to stop, shrugged and started waving to other drivers. This would not have been the reaction from someone needing help.
A young man was busy painting graffiti on the walls of a tower block in Deptford. It is usual to see volunteers in the day time scrubbing the walls clean, which costs Londoners thousands of £’s each year.
The forecourt of a pub that had sectioned off just passed Kings Cross was swarming with police officers. There was a lot of rubbish around so it was difficult to see what the problem was. Around the corner is a nightclub that had turned off its lights for the night and once again people were everywhere. I dread to think what they might look like turning up sober at the office at 8am. As we reached North Woolwich I made the mistake of opening the van window as we passed the lager brewery. The disgusting sweet sickly smell of a drink that I hate stayed with us for ages.
Opposite Westminster are new banners beside the Iraq children protest. These are asking for freedom in the countryside. Our government are about to ban the bloodthirsty hunting of foxes in which the animals are terrified after being chased across the acres of land owned by the rich and then ripped to shreds by hunting dogs. The so-called hunters then celebrate by drinking at a party after the murder is committed. This is done for nothing more than ‘fun’ and is a tradition in England’s upper gentry classes. Foxes do cause a problem by hunting for food and spreading litter from people’s bin-liners across pavements in London but they do not deserve to die in this cruel way. If you can’t buy a dustbin and only use the flimsy liner for it then expect a hungry animal to try and get the bones of the chicken or leftover food that you threw out. Strange that I thought ‘gentry’ might be associated with the word ‘gentle’ rather than barbaric. (NOTE: This is purely my own opinion and I don’t care who it offends so please don’t email telling me I don’t know the economics of hunting and murdering animals for fun. I am a meat eater but I don’t agree with killing other than to eat it or in self-defence. Yes, I would try to kill a dog that was ripping the throat of one of my family – but only if I couldn’t reach the owner of the animal first!)
Articles on Westminster protests
For Fox fax, welfare and cute pictures click here
One girl in King’s Cross wandered up and down on a corner and three stood along Shoreditch High Street. Along one of the creepy side streets a van driver had stepped out of his van to casually urinate in the already filthy area.
Next update will be Monday 27th May
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© Lynda Archard