Three weeks ago I ventured into a London restaurant for the first time since February. Things could have been much worse: the waiter might have been surly, the spinach might have been cold and my dining companion might not have been Dish of the Day. I still feel bad that it was she, rather than me, who crossed the road to see if the body lying face down on the forecourt of a church was alive or dead.
For all the charm of my company, it was Corona City evening. En route to meeting my date I saw that the shanty dwelling around the front door of a boarded-up house had become more elaborate since the last time I’d walked past it, suggesting that its occupant expected to sleep under cardboard and plastic sheeting for some time. The streets, though not deserted, had that vaguely feral, slightly overheated feel that’s made me watchful when out walking for some while. Masked shoppers outside a mini-market queued miserably.
The restaurant staff were pleased to see us – business was not exactly brisk – and the feeling was mutual, but the usual energy of the place was absent. Even the carnival of street life outside lacked its customary vim, with only a trio of vintage shop fashion victims catching the eye. And then I saw the body. It wore a bright green top and it appeared to be face down in the grass. Dish of the Day and I debated what to do. People outside just walked on by. Then, suddenly, she was out of the door and crossing the street and peering at the prostrate form.
“He’s sleeping,” she reported on her return. “He has his bottle near him.” Five minutes later, I saw him get up and continue on his way. Dish of the Day and I shared cheesecake for dessert.
Last Monday, we went to the same restaurant again, this time with three other, younger folk. Every table inside and outside was taken, encouraged by the Eat Out To Help Out scheme. The service wasn’t great and the spinach was slightly cold, but maybe that’s the price of recovery. The night was warm and the street life was livelier. There was no one lying face down before the church. And for an hour, it was almost like London.
John Vane writes word sketches of London. Sometimes he makes things up. Follow him on Twitter.
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