London Ramblings #5: An Early Morning Stroll in Covent Garden

Dear Reader(s),

I know, it’s been a terribly long time since I’ve last made an appearance on the blog and it feels almost like I’ve become the sidekick on my very own show. I’ve properly fallen off the wagon this time – I shall reassure you, only the blogging one, that is – but I think I’m ready to board this midnight train again. (Can you guess which song they just played on the radio?*)

The past four months have been (almost too) rich in trials and tribulations, including a parental visit nonetheless, and as such my blogging efforts had to take the backseat. (I have a feeling this sentence *might* upset my parents and I really shouldn’t toy with half of my readership.) While life has certainly been hectic in this part of the world, I’ve also launched a new Hidden Mayfair tour and some exciting projects are in the pipeline, so stay tuned for more info soon.

Alright, let’s see if I can still do this blogging malarkey. Today I invite you to join me on a 5am adventure around Covent Garden. (Yes, late sleepers, I’m afraid that’s not a typo!)

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Covent Garden as many of you have probably never experienced it: completely empty!

A couple of weeks ago my alarm clock went off ridiculously early (yawn) and, still half asleep and in need of a strong cup of coffee, I found myself briskly walking towards Covent Garden for a little guiding adventure. As I was navigating the capital’s unusually empty streets around 4am, I was surprised by how strange and beautiful London can be at this rather unforgiving hour. Somewhere in between day and night, this might be one of those rare moments when the city can be truly found at its most unguarded self?

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Yes, the clock reads 4.54 am, in case you are doubting the veracity of my account!

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The sober exterior of the Freemasons’ Hall hides lavish Art Deco interiors.

On this particularly haunting morning I had been summoned to Covent Garden by the lovely Payal Wadhwa (@comeconspire), founder extraordinaire of Inspire Conspire Retire, a design, engagement and interpretation studio based here in London. A few months ago, Payal asked me to help her create a tour based around the history of the telephone box and we’ve been collaborating on this project ever since. In fact, we just officially launched the walk last week, as part of this year’s London Festival of of Architecture 2014 programme, and I’m glad to report it has been well received.

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Apple Market? Is this place where one can buy second-hand electronic devices in London?

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I have a feeling ‘Punch and Judy’ are still enjoying their beauty sleep at this time of the day!

Our plan for that morning was to photograph telephone boxes and the buildings that surround them for our project and as I arrived a couple of minutes before Payal, I decided to snap a few photographs of the area. When I approached the market I couldn’t believe my eyes: usually teeming with people, I had the piazza mostly for myself. Let’s face it, many of us Londoners tend to avoid Covent Garden at all costs and this was a wonderful opportunity to rediscover its charms. (Of course, there were a few workers here and there, but I’ve managed to keep them out of the shots to keep up the illusion!)

Oh drat, two birds managed to sneak into my shot. How very rude of them!

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Will @AboutLondon be able to spot one of her favourite Moomins? They like hiding, I’m told!

While researching the history of the telephone box, I coincidentally came upon this interesting quotation by Alexander Graham Bell which seems to be exemplifying what tour guiding is all about: ‘We are all too much inclined, I think, to walk through life with our eyes shut. There are things all round us and right at our very feet that we have never seen, because we have never really looked.’ Oh boy, I have a feeling Mr Graham Bell never had to visit Covent Garden on a busy Saturday afternoon. The horror, the horror …

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With all the shops closed, there’s not one soul in sight. Spooky!

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I must admit I never had a chance to have a proper look at the intricate ceiling.

Although our morning stroll around the Covent Garden Piazza was all sorts of loverly (I had to get that one ‘My Fair Lady’ reference in there somewhere, right?), it was also very sobering to note the presence of many rough sleepers who were passing the night under the shopping arches and the colonnade of St. Paul’s Covent Garden. While it’s a fact we often like to forget, it’s still a London reality also evidenced with the ‘anti-homeless’ spikes scandal of late.

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Payal hard at working photographing one of London’s iconic telephone boxes.

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Even Ladurée, purveyor of macarons, was closed this early in morning. Mais c’est impossible!?

After finishing our task, Payal and I slowly approached a slightly busier Trafalgar Square where we were greeted by Lord Nelson and a magnificent blue sky looking down towards Whitehall.  Just after 7am, commuters were slowly pouring in from Charing Cross Station and filling up the arteries of the West End and transforming the city into the busy London we’ve all come to  know …

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Lord Nelson. Always watching over us from his pedestal!

And, Ladies and Gentlemen, that’s a wrap! It seems it wasn’t so difficult to get back in the blogging saddle after all and I hope you’ve enjoyed my humble effort. If you’re interested in getting a diploma in ‘How to differentiate a K2 from a K6’, make sure to join our interactive London Telephone Box Tour. Digital national treasure @MarDixon and others have already graduated summa cum laude!

Take care and see you soon,

y.

*Nope, I just made that up and they didn’t just play Gladys Knight and the Pips. ‘Midnight Train to Georgia’ was the one and only train reference I could come up with at the time of writing. Where’s Lana when you need her? Besides, who is still using a proper radio these days? All jokes aside, if you know a song referencing a train, let me know in the comments below, as my curiosity has now been piqued and I must be missing an obvious one.

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13 thoughts on “London Ramblings #5: An Early Morning Stroll in Covent Garden

  1. It has definitely been too long since your last loquacious offering, but as ever the best things come to those that wait!

    • Hi Emma,

      Thanks for your message and being so kind about the long delays in between my posts. It seems contagious, as now it took me a while to the comments. Oh dear, it seems I never learn …

      Take care,

      y.

  2. I wasnt aware that you were a blogger! And a brilliant one at that!
    Your photos are wonderful and of course I’m looking forward to a phone box tour… also educating yourself on the wonderful iron boxes must have been a fun journey, I loved the Alexander Graham Bell quote as well… I also remember reading something similar from Helen Keller, she was amazed that people could go through life only seeing the ordinary… when everything to her was extraordinary.
    I look forward to reading more posts,
    Tammy

    • Hi Tammy,

      Thanks you very much for leaving your first comment on my blog and your general support on Twitter – I can’t wait to meet you once you come to London.

      Glad to hear you enjoyed the post. There are so many things around for us to see that we often don’t see the most obvious. Must look more into Helen Keller’s writing.

      Take care and meet you soon,

      y.

  3. Hi Yannick

    Welcome back, fabulous blog post. I adore Covent Garden and I have never seen it look so enchanting, your beautiful photos make it look surreal. Equally enjoyed the commentary which you always make it appear so effortless as though you are just sitting next to the reader talking with them and that’s a real art (and a lot of hard work to achieve it). Thank you I so enjoyed reading it X

    • Hi T,

      Thank you very much for your comment. Visiting Covent Garden at 5am was very surreal, indeed, and I can’t wait to repeat the experience. There is something magical about that time of the day/night.

      Take care,

      y.

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