It’s my first day back after a couple of weeks away and I pick up a family at the bottom of Dean Street, Soho, in the pouring rain. They want to go to the Abercrombie & Fitch shop at the corner of Savile Row and Burlington Gardens. Dean Street is just up Shaftesbury Avenue from Piccadilly Circus; Abercrombie & Fitch is just off Piccadilly Circus on the other side. You could walk it in five minutes:
But it’s raining, and they’re fed up, so their valiant cabbie starts driving – in the wrong direction, because I’m in a one-way street. The first chance I have to get out of it is Old Compton Street, which is also one-way in the wrong direction, but the alternative would be going all the way up to Oxford Street via Soho Square, which is even more the wrong direction, so I take Old Compton Street and do an immediate right into Frith Street, then right again into Shaftesbury Avenue, and about four minutes later we’re passing the bottom of Dean Street and we can see through the drizzle just a couple of metres away the place where I picked them up.
For a few moments at least we’re now going the right way. But Piccadilly Circus looms in front of me, and I have to go around it. It’s either all the way down Haymarket to Charles II Street and then back up lower Regent Street, or right into Great windmill Street to cut back through Soho again out into Regent Street above Piccadilly Circus. The problem is Abercrombie & Fitch is at the end of two further one-way systems that both run in the opposite direction to where we’re coming from, so either way I’ve got to go a long way past it and then come back.
Are you still with me?
Now if I go the Haymarket way I’m going to end up going all the way down to St James’s Street, which seems insane, and then go around the ridiculous one-ways on Albemarle and Old Bond streets – all the way up one, back down the other:
So I plump for Great Windmill Street, which turns out to be a big mistake.
Because Lexington Street is closed, isn’t it? Lexington Street was my direct line to Beak Street, which would have taken me to Regent Street, from where I could have gone up to Conduit Street, from where I could have turned left into Savile Row, and then gone all the way down to the other end to Abercrombie & Fitch. You see? So now I have no choice but to turn right into Brewer Street and go back up in the direction we just came from, parallel to Shaftesbury Avenue. We turn left into Wardour Street, which we passed when we went down Shaftesbury Avenue about five minutes ago, and which is parallel to and a stone’s throw from where I picked them up in Dean Street about ten minutes ago.
Next I do a left into Broadwick Street thinking I’ll go back down into Beak Street from there, but then I think since I’m quite high already and I’m going to have to go back up to Conduit Street once I get into Regent Street anyway, I might as well just stay high, and go up Poland Street to Noel Street and get to Regent Street that way, as Conduit Street is only around the corner from there, isn’t it?
So Noel Street it is. But here of course I find that we’re sitting in stationary traffic for ten minutes while we wait for the pedestrian crossing outside Liberty and the lights at the junction beyond it. It’s at some point during the despairing stew in this jam that I remember you can’t turn right into Conduit Street from Regent Street at the moment anyway because of the streetscape improvement works.
So we go straight across Regent Street, passing where we would have turned into Savile Row a street down, and we pass Mill Street too, because that’s also one-way against us, and finally we do a left into St George Street. Then it’s left into Conduit Street, and back up it, parallel to the street we were just on but in the opposite direction, until we get back to Savile Row, which we can now turn into, and I put my foot down and get to the other end as quickly as I can, because I can hear them counting out their coins in the back, which is never a good sign. Finally I drop them off what feels like half an hour after I picked them up a five-minute walk away, with £12 on the meter.
I tell them to give me £8 because I’m embarrassed and appalled at what we’ve all just been through. Amazingly they give me £13.50 and go happily on their way, offering their condolences as I slope off into the rain like a mortally wounded wildebeest.
That’s London at her magnificent, bewildering best, that is.