A London Olympic Diary – Dateline August 1st, 2012

So, is London a ghost town? Are merchants, restaurateurs and theatre owners cursing the day in 2005 when the IOC said “London” instead of “Paris”? In the spirit of research, I set off yesterday into the City for the first time since the Games started. Here’s my diary of the day (omitting the couple of meetings which were the more formal reason for my visit...)

1030       Arrive Waterloo station. Train and station a little less busy than a normal weekday mid morning. Consider testing the queue in Marks and Spencers (mid-morning snack required) but station is crawling with people giving away strawberry mivvi iced lollipops with a Stagecoach / Virgin  promotional wrapper. Many thanks to Sir Richard Branson!

1045       I’m one of 5 people on the Tube (Bakerloo South) platform – not a busy route but nonetheless surprisingly quiet. Arrive at the beautiful tree lined streets of historic Elephant and Castle, full of tourists gazing with awe at the architectural masterpieces of that beautiful part of London (warning – sarcasm alert). Elephant and Castle is as windswept as ever and sparsely populated.

1245       Embankment tube is busy but again probably less so than a usual tourist season lunchtime. And there is a definite lack of business people buying their lunchtime sandwich. The local drunk is still trying to raise the price of a packet of fags in the station newsagent however...

1300       Victoria tube station has the first real crowd I’ve seen today. But just outside, a group of about ten “games makers” (volunteers) in their Olympic uniforms are chatting amongst themselves – they have only two “visitors” asking for help in the several minutes I observe them.

1305       Games Makers outside Victoria Station start giving me funny looks as I try to take picture of them chatting to each other..  I make a hasty exit.

Oxfrod Circus 4pm yesterday

1600       Oxford Circus – not deserted by any means but perhaps 30% fewer people than usual (see picture). Am able to stride out at full 4.5 miles per hour power walk pace and only trample two small Japanese tourists over the half-mile length of Regent Street.

1610       HMV Piccadilly – “we’re doing OK” says nice Aussie girl assistant. Seems pretty busy actually.

1620       What’s this? A queue to get into the National Gallery? But its only because they’re doing full bag searches for security reasons. “We’re really quiet” says the chap marshalling the queue. Not surprising really, the main entrance is shut off, it’s all rather uninviting and I’m not going to hang around.

1630       National Portrait Gallery round the corner however has a more cursory search procedure – shine torch in general direction of bag – and no queue. But perhaps because of this, it’s really quite busy, well up to what I would expect (I often pop in for a bit of culture and a cup of tea when I’m between meetings in London).

1645       Lord Moon of the Mall – huge Wetherspoons Pub on Whitehall just off Trafalgar Square – is busy but about 20% down on usual. The normal clientele is 50% tourists, 30% civil servants, 20% local drunks and characters. (There is some intersection between the latter two categories...)  I’d say two thirds of the civil servants are missing. Despite the reduction in customers, the bar staff are still pulling off their “we’re far too busy doing things to actually serve you” performance which I particularly enjoy in this pub – worth persevering for the great selection of craft beer (real ale) though.

1650       Trafalgar Square is a huge disappointment. Nothing going on, no big screens, no atmosphere, not many people. Seems like a missed opportunity, but “they were worried about overcrowding with the beach volleyball on just down the road” says the lady in...

1700       Bedford and Strand – my absolute favourite wine bar and one of my favourite casual restaurants in London, just off the Strand. Great selection of interesting wine by the glass, good food from nibbles to full meals. I am the only customer from 5pm to 5.20. Have a nice chat to lady behind bar. “We do better when it’s raining” she says. Business was terrible end of last week, has picked up a bit. Will pick up more now we’ve recommended them of course.

1730       Strangely, the South Bank around the Festival Hall is buzzing. Las Iguanas, an OK Mexican type restaurant just over the Embankment footbridge has a queue of a dozen people snaking outside! Other places nearby also busy. No idea why.

1741       The 5.41pm Waterloo to Basingstoke is perhaps a touch less busy than usual –but not much. Probably fewer business people, more day trippers.

So, what have we learnt?

1.  London isn’t deserted , but it is quieter than usual so this might be a good time to get into that exclusive top restaurant, trendy bar, or busy shop. But not the National Gallery.

2. The Olympics isn’t going to generate an economic boost for the UK on this evidence.

3. And if you have business in London, you shouldn’t be too afraid of travelling into or around the City if you need to while the Olympics are on.

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