Wandering around London during work hours is like going to the country. I marvel at the freedom of movement, the freedom of access that I have, when I occupy the city when everyone else is at work. Stress levels, down. The pushiness and desperation as everyone struggles to get to where they think they need to be, gone. You can see the horizon. You can stop suddenly in the middle of the footpath without someone running into the back of you.
Small concerns granted, but notable in comparison to a normal day of trying to maintain your own course, as others – many others – try to maintain theirs.
I arrive at the gym this morning at about 8:55. By 9.30, the place has emptied. Myself and the other person still there are outnumbered by the personal trainers about 3 to 1, as they wait for their first appointments.
No waiting for a weight machine; no fighting for a space on the yoga mats. Everything comes to me as I require it. I can stretch, heave, pull and push without fear of elbowing or being elbowed, without kicking or being kicked.
Post-gym I walk up to Borough Market, a favourite London spot, set next to the picturesque Southwark Cathedral. We had come here the weekend just past, the place seething with people. The queues are long on a Saturday, and you have to be protective of your food and drink, in case it gets jostled out of your hand. A seat of any kind is a small miracle, and an impossibility on a wet day when everybody needs shelter.
Today, a Monday morning, something completely different. I walk through the market to get to Monmouth Coffee. It is practically deserted, the stall holders setting up for their day. One of them even says hello; I laugh as the baker shoos a hopeful pigeon away from her goods. I am able to make contact with people – able to say hello; able to meet their eye. I could not do this on the weekend, as the interactions are so fleeting and fraught in the crush.
I can breathe again. I don’t have to queue, or fight, or feel defensive or protective. I don’t trip over hidden prams and wheelie luggage that become visible only when you are right upon them. At the cafe, I even find a seat at a table, where I rather enjoy my pastry and filter coffee. I sit and read for 30 minutes, without feeling rushed to vacate my seat for the next customer.
I finish – in my own time – and head back out onto a quiet street, into the briskly cold but sunny London morning, my breath hanging in the air.