Thursday 3 September 2020

Real City

Michael Portillo's seemingly endless series of railway journeys – in which the unfailingly dapper and charming ex-politician travels the world by train – always make for pleasing, relaxing, and often informative, viewing. He began his peregrinations in Britain, and the TV channel called Yesterday is currently rerunning these British journeys every evening. Yesterday (not the channel, the day before today) he was exploring London by underground train, emerging at intervals to look about him and chat to all and sundry. His travels took him to the West End and Soho, to Covent Garden and the Strand, to Theatreland and the National Gallery, and to the thronged streets, buzzing with human energy.
And it was like looking at something from another world, from a past already becoming remote – a past when the city was heaving with humanity in all its maskless variety, crowds of people close-up and hugger-mugger, face to face, without fear of their fellow human beings or a perceived plague walking among them. This was the city as it should be – a frenetic, teeming, human city, not the anonymised, atomised, nervous ghost town that we see today. And only a few months ago we would have taken these scenes completely for granted: that was the ways cities are, were and always would be. Who knew that it could all be undone so fast and so fatally?

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