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Illustration: Bryan Mayes

London’s back: damaged, quieter but also kinder

After months in lockdown, our city is reopening. There’s no doubt that things are different, but are some changes for the better?

By Joe Mackertich

What was your immediate reaction to lockdown? I’m not proud to admit that mine was ‘annoyed’. Annoyed at the universe for unleashing a devastating pandemic at such an inconvenient time for me personally. Being made editor of Time Out just as all of London’s restaurants, pubs and venues shut felt like getting a job as chief dodo correspondent or manager of the chocolate teapot factory.

My grotesque self-interest was fleeting, however. It vanished as I watched a coffin being carried out from my next-door neighbour’s house. Annoyance was replaced by something new: fear. Fear for my parents. Fear for my friends. Fear for my city.

Make no mistake: London has suffered a serious blow. But like a York Hall prize fighter who won’t stay down, it rises from the canvas, battered but not beaten. Something has changed, though. This city has been humbled. Even the estate agents look a little bit less cocksure.

Warped within the crucible of illness, London has emerged with new, positive qualities. People are supporting local businesses and, judging by the surge in donations to food banks, looking out for the vulnerable. Covid has ravaged the capital, but it has also produced a quieter, gentler, kinder city. Some of us are even chatting to our neighbours, unthinkable only four months ago.

My advice: find a mask that complements your eyes, accept that sneezing in public is now a horrifying taboo and get used to having the waxy, over-washed hands of an embalmed chimp. Remember also: no one knew how this would pan out. We all have that one friend who, in April, was mentally prepping for The Fall, asking which you’d do: join a gang of scavenger cannibal bikers or begin a new life off the grid in Norfolk. Having to book a table for a pint down the pub is a pain, but it’s a small price to pay to save lives.

Covid is an absolute shitter, but it won’t beat London. Nothing ever does. Our New Normal isn’t perfect, but as long as we look out for each other, take a bit of extra care and, yes, occasionally even talk to the people next door, we will create a different London that we’ll be still proud to call our home.

Read the stories of our Lockdown Legends.

Or read the experiences of the city’s frontline workers.

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