A year ago you could order a home test kit from a private clinic to see if you had coronavirus – price: £ 400. Last Saturday, on a street corner in London’s Soho district, they were handing out rapid antigen kits for free. Hundreds of boxes were offered to anyone who wanted one. It has been a hectic week for virus watchers in the UK, with the number of cases on the rise thanks to the so-called Indian variant and as a result Germany, France, Switzerland and Austria have instituted quarantine measures for all Britons wishing to surrender. But sometimes you also have to lift your head and celebrate successes.
And how about this: in England if you are 30 or older you can now book your jab date. Many of the Monocle crew have come this week and there is no hesitation. This is because when people come back to the office after their needle appointment, everyone wants to know what vaccine they received and how they are feeling. There is excitement; a sense of duty. Our cultural editor Chiara and Carlota from Monocle 24 have theirs a few hours apart in the same center. To support each other, they organize a “vaccine brunch” between the two. And it’s only been six months since the UK inoculation program started.
Although, sadly, the first man to be trapped here died this week – nothing to do with the vaccine I hasten to add. In a stroke of luck for the PR campaign in December, the octogenarian was called William Shakespeare and he helped inspire some very funny headlines; recalling them this week over lunch, we agreed that “Taming the Flu” was hard to beat. “All’s well that ends well” was good enough too – although Mr. Shakespeare’s story ended less happily. There was also some debate about how long it would take before you could open a curry restaurant called The Indian Variant or a beach bar called The Third Wave.
More good news. London is on the move. From new restaurants to gallery openings, all of a sudden it’s busy. On Wednesday I went to dinner at the newly opened Nomad London Hotel, which occupies the former Bow Street Police Station and Magistrates Courts, where famous appearances on the Quay included Oscar Wilde, Bertrand Russell and the Krays. It is an incredible site, opposite the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, and the hotel has been nicely inserted into the building. Sure, it’s a scary time to start a hotel – there are no tourists to be found – but the feeling of ambition and the desire to move makes you wish these businesses very well. And the food is excellent. (A quick aside: if you want to see what Covent Garden looked like in the 1960s and 1970s – when opera divas, gangsters, and fruit, vegetable, and flower vendors all had prominent appearances – find a copy of the great photography book by Clive Boursnell Covent Garden).
On a roll, Thursday I went to dinner in Fitzrovia. The weather has finally improved and, to make the most of it, many restaurants have colonized parking areas for outdoor dining facilities. Although you can finally eat inside a restaurant, many diners and drinkers seem to prefer being outdoors – residual fears? It was just nice to walk around seeing so much frivolity and bonhomie at play. Again a few weeks ago the best you could hope for was a coffee to go.
We are not there yet, I know. There is always swirling anxiety when the rules suddenly change or when the numbers seem to be going in the wrong direction. There is still frustration with the way it went and the government’s failures. But every now and then you just have to stop and look around. It’s a story that had more twists and chapters than we bargained for. These are well-established plans and thwarted dreams. But there are good people and good ideas at play and if you don’t recognize the progress, you will feel defeated or uncomfortable. It will happen. And, in London at least, you can now wake up with a sore head and, while you’re there, decide to savor the dull consequences of a nightcap at a dazzling new hotel bar.