London Lockdown Lowdown

The skinny goblin Santa still suspended from his rope off that house in Kingsbury Road is looking increasingly like a hostage waiting in vain for a rescue from being trapped out of season.

One of my neighbours down the hill comes out of her house negotiating a shopping list over her shoulder with an elderly relative, gets to her car and calls to the toddlers strapped in the back seat- in a voice half way between forced jollity and grim determination – “Right. Who wants to go to ASDA?” – as though the tone would make it sound like Disneyland. From the back seats…silence.

Sadly, one of my downstairs neighbours – Mum, Dad, daughter, are moving. All COVID related. The landlords – who are getting on – have left for Ireland to quarantine in a quieter, sparser, greener place and are selling it out from under them. At the end of the first furlough period, both the Mum and the Dad downstairs were made redundant from their managerial roles in a hotel. Luckily, the Dad has found a job deputy managing a store – a rather posh one in Chelsea – and says he is the one member of the management team that hasn’t contracted the virus even though the streets are like a ghost town. This makes both him and his boss very nervous. Unfortunately the Mum has not and has had to claim Universal Credit. That makes them unacceptably precarious renters for far too many landlords; unwilling to accept tenants on benefit or solely dependent on one job in an uncertain environment. They have nevertheless found an unexpectedly affordable flat in Fitzrovia, near Regents Park, as the expected rent has dropped by 40% since last year – a sign of how much the centre of the city is hollowing out. This is part of the zone in the West End that is dead at the best of times, as so many houses and flats are owned as investments by absentee, often oversea, landlords and often not even rented out; so there are empty, lifeless streets lined with dark flats, and the occasional pedestrian scuttling nervously through the shadows.

All through the night, the foxes scream in the snow.