Giles Coren embraces the simple pleasures of a city summer.
It’s usually around this time of year that my wife reminds me of my promise to get the family out of London for August. Not just a bit of August, but the whole of August. It’s been her dream since childhood, she claims, to exit the dusty capital silently on the last day of July, repair to some whispering rural glade or twinkling beach, and not return until September.
'It’s what the French do,' she says. 'They fuck off as soon as the school term ends and leave Paris to the tourists. London is ghastly in August. Everyone who is anyone leaves. It’s so un-chic to stay behind. And so depressing knowing that everyone else is away. You promised me we would leave this year. You promise EVERY year!'
And it’s true, I do. In fact, I honestly think it’s why she decided to marry an older man in the first place, because she imagined I would have both the money and the professional flexibility to whisk her away from these scorching streets and give her the idyllic August of which she dreams.
But I can’t. I simply won’t. I love London in August too much to leave it behind.
For a start, there are the roads. Completely empty of traffic. All the journeys that used to take 20 minutes when I was a child but nowadays take an hour, take 20 minutes again. I can hop in my car in Kentish Town at 12.45pm and be necking a Tom Collins in Quo Vadis by 1pm. With my car parked on that meter opposite the Groucho, which is bound to be empty because all the people who know about it are on yachts. It’s like 1975 all over again. And when I drive home pissed – like it’s 1975 – I’m not going to kill anyone because they’re all away on holiday. And I’m not going to get stopped, because so are the police.
And it’s even more like 1975 on my own north London street, where the general exodus to Chiantishire means that the usual metal hedge of dented people carriers disappears, with only the odd parked car to spoil the kerb. And no moving cars at all. So my children can play hopscotch in the road like it’s, well, not so much 1975 as 1955.
And then, as if it were the ‘50s, you see kids everywhere playing cricket in the parks, jumping in the Serpentine or playing on the Embankment beach at low tide. And it’s not just kids who unwind: with all the rich people gone, there is not that sense of inequality, no withering standard-of-living gap. The sun shines on the rich and poor alike. We burn and sweat the same. And the shade is as cool for all of us. In August, we are truly in it together.
And since nobody is doing any work, nobody has any status anxiety, resentment or stress to speak of. We’re just hanging on the stoop with a newspaper and a beer, so who really gives a fuck?
And the human aesthetics are great too. Everyone’s lost a bit of weight, either in the hope of ending up on a beach or just because it’s too hot to eat. And even ugly people look okay in shades. And everyone has that holiday coconut smell because they’re slathered in last year’s Hawaiian Tropic.
And there is almost no football on telly, which is blissful. And then in the evening, if you do have a few quid saved up, you can get a table at any restaurant you like – The River Cafe, The Ivy, Gymkhana – because all the celebs who have the managers on speed dial are in Chipping Norton or the Dordogne. And if you can’t afford restaurants, screw it: August is what they reinvented street food for.
August in London is just the best. So good, in fact, that I think I will take my wife and kids to the countryside like they want. Then come back alone and have it all to myself.
Rus in urbe? Tweet him @gilescoren
Want more reasons to stay in London this summer? Here's 56 fantastic free things to do this summer.