Lockdown Blog 11: London to myself

The funny thing about being a King’s Singer is that, after a while, you start developing an abnormal sense of familiarity with lots of places that are a long way from home. For instance, I can tell you the layouts of numerous famous world airports, expound on the finer details of Manhattan’s grid system (even when it gets complicated below Houston), and sometimes even successfully navigate the escalators of Hong Kong. The flipside is that, occasionally, we can’t really tell you our way around our own hometowns.

Thankfully, this is changing. You see, while we’ve been on lockdown, I’ve also not been able to work out in my usual way. Yes, I’ve been doing barre, yoga and HIIT classes at home, but in the absence of an exercise bike, I’m having to get my cardio fixes in forms that aren’t spin classes. Cue lots (and lots) of runs around my neighbourhood. Now, I live in Shoreditch, on the edge of Bethnal Green and just north of Whitechapel in East London. Before these past three weeks, I had barely ever walked East from my home. Occasionally, I’d have made my way to Victoria Park for brunch on a Sunday or up to buy flowers on Columbia Road, and very rarely I’d treat myself to a trip to my favourite London wine bar in Dalston, but that was about it. There’s no way I could have told you how London Fields connects to Cambridge Heath, even though they’re only about 500 metres apart along a single, straight road.

For the last two weeks, however, I have run everywhere: as far West as King’s Cross along the canal from Haggerston (save one run to Soho, which was a mistake); up to Hackney Downs and Stoke Newington in the North; over to Mile End in the East; and right the way down to Camberwell in the South. I’ve learned of the existence of places like the Mare Street Market and Dalston Lane, and realised that Clapton wasn’t at least a half an hour drive away (as I previously thought). For someone whose sense of geography in this part of the world was essentially informed by the contours of the tube map, this greater understanding of what connects to where, and perhaps most importantly, how I can walk home from almost anywhere (particularly late at night when there’s a surge on Uber…), is such an unexpected gift, and I’m going to be spending a lot more time out of public transport and on foot instead when our routines return slightly more to normality.

My favourite runs, though, have been those like the one I went on today: along the river. To get to the river from our house, you have to run either south down Bishopsgate to London Bridge, or down Commercial and across Whitechapel High Street, to get to Tower Bridge. Usually, these routes are packed with people walking to or from work, and the roads are heaving with traffic. Now, not so. Today, I made my way to London Bridge and then ran East down to Water Lane, to be right on the river. To have such unrestricted, peaceful access to the Thames right by the Tower of London, with the sun shining down on the water and me gazing up at the Shard, back towards the South Bank, and out east towards Canary Wharf, is breathtaking. I love having moments like these, that feel private in places that are usually so public.

Of course, this isn’t to say that I’m not looking forward to when lockdown ends and we’re able to head outside more freely with other people. But, given that we’re in these “unprecedented” times (some of my favourite memes at the moment relate to the funny fact that one of the most unprecedented things in this time of coronavirus is the frequency with which the word “unprecedented” is being used), it’s nice to find the positives in what is, temporarily, a much quieter London.

As always, I hope you’re all still staying safe and healthy, and that we emerge on the other side stronger than ever. xx


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