Wednesday 22 July

A Grand Day Out! Or that is what it felt like, as I ventured forth to London for the first time since the beginning of March. Mask on, I took the train to Charing Cross. There were very few passengers so social distancing was a given. When I arrived at Charing Cross there were more Network Rail employees, wearing high vis jackets saying here to help, than there were passengers.

The only outlet open was W H Smith: as you can see, everything else shuttered. The sad advert for Mary Poppins: the theatres are really suffering. I made my way to Trafalgar Square where I was meeting Vanessa, who I have not seen since February. Usually we meet regularly and go to an exhibition and have lunch. Today we were booked in to the National Gallery. The square was spookily quiet.

Pigeons, fountains, but no pavement artists, no musicians, no tourists. A few families showing the kiddies the sights.

We had booked a ticket for 11.15 for a visit to the National Gallery, following carefully marked out routes. First of all we joined an orderly queue to gain entry.

It was, as Vanessa commented, a cross section of middle England, not all retirees, I say in self defence. Inside the routes were well marked with arrows to indicate the one way system. First of all we went to see the Nicholaes Maes exhibition, a painter I knew nothing about, but a Dutch master known for his genre paintings: domestic scenes very often, like the girl threading a needle, or several which involved eavesdropping which were very funny as they made the viewer complicit in the overhearing. Because so few people were permitted to enter at any one time, it was in fact amazingly refreshing as you could linger wherever without being jostled by the crowd, wanting to snap everything on their mobile. We followed the green route past Rubens, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, all masterpieces and in some cases old friends. I felt like shouting, at last I’m back you see! We were there for an hour and half, which nowadays is about my limit for a museum or gallery. I think you cannot take in much more after that.

So we walked down to the Embankment Gardens to eat our picnic. Sad going down Villiers Street as only 2 places were open, and my favourite restaurant, L’Ulivo, was full of builders’ rubble. Whether it is being refurbished, or destroyed, was unclear. There are no office workers, so no demand for the little snack bars and coffee shops. The gardens were beautiful and well watered and well tended. It was a delight to sit there and chat about our lockdown experiences. Luckily we both have come through pretty well so far. Often we meet at the British Museum but this remains closed.

I even succumbed to a selfie in front of St Martin in the Fields. I was so excited to be there.

Returning to Charing Cross, there was no sign of an impending rush hour. Just notices reminding you about face masks and distancing. I am beginning not to see them any more because there are so many. Overkill, like the cigarette packet ads which I am sure smokers never read.

And so home, ready to plan another Grand Day Out.

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