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Here’s what we’ve learned about London in this Very Weird Year

It’s been a year of rainbows, Zoom calls and debates over substantial meals. As it crawls to its end, we reflect on the ways the pandemic has left its mark on the city

Chris Waywell
Written by
Chris Waywell
Photograph: Andy Parsons

Back in March, as the prospect of London going into lockdown loomed, my neighbours Creepy Jon and The Shrieker sprang into action. They got a massive fridge-freezer delivered by AO, and they added a Kryptonite D-lock to the metal security gate across their front door. Then they settled down to wait for the apocalypse.

That seems ridiculous now. I mean, it seemed ridiculous then. Still, at that point no one knew what was coming. My neighbours feared the worst: after the inevitable collapse of society, hordes of zombies on noz would roam the streets, slavering after their frozen Cauldron sausages.

In the round-up shows and end-of-year articles, 2020 will be the year of the bog roll, the stockpiler, the face mask and the Zoom call. It will be the year of the NHS, the rainbow, the takeaway pint; of the graveyard daily walk, the park heatwave and a lot of dashed dreams, shuttered businesses and isolation.

I’m not surprised that most Londoners have turned out to be decent, kind, and community-minded. I knew that, I’d just taken it for granted. What I am surprised by is my capacity to be moved by it. As a cynical lifetime Londoner, the thought of loving strangers for banging pans and dropping off groceries discomfits me. It’s like I’ve been given an inchoate baby, and I’m not sure what to do with him. Tell him I’m there for him? Put him up for adoption? Send him to the shop for wine?

In London, against a backdrop of suffering and sadness, there have been innumerable acts of kindness, love and assistance; righteous anger at the Black Lives Matter protests, huge sacrifices by our frontline staff. Everything good that has come out of this year has been about solidarity, sharing and society, and everything bad has been about division, selfishness and blame.

So, yeah, in 2020 I haven’t made best friends with my neighbours (not those ones anyway, thank Christ), but I have got an exciting new relationship with London and its people.

Which, all things considered, isn’t too bad.

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