In all the murmurings you hear about London, two phrases stick out: the London rain, and the London fog.
Luckily, my visit has so far completely lacked the latter. Instead, following at the heels of the recent UK heatwave, the London rain has soaked into the city’s routine once again.
It began with on-and-off rain throughout the day. Then without warning, a downpour began at about four-thirty. Judging by the sudden appearance of umbrellas walking about the exiting work crowd, no one seem to mind or even be surprised.
But then the rain fell thicker and harder, and froze into bouncing hail on the sidewalks. The herds of office workers and their umbrellas vanished from the streets. Bus and cab wheels churned through inches-deep water, looking very awkward and somewhat amphibious. Tiny waves started creeping over curbs and across sidewalks – it was as if Mother Nature planned to turn London asphalt into Italy canals.
At first, it was fun to watch the thick rain arrive in windy waves up and down the street. It was even fun to watch it turn to dancing hail. But when water crept to the lobby door, the situation grew a little less comical. The question that came to mind was, how are we all getting home?
The moment the rain let up, throngs of umbrellas surged into the streets. But while we all waded towards Victoria station, we were greeted by a most unwelcome sight – sirens, alarms and flashing lights. “EMERGENCY: DO NOT ENTER” signs were lit above the entrances, and like a strange, slow-moving stampede, Tube and train-goers were evacuating the station.
Bright yellow-vested staffers guided the crowd around a growing river, formerly known as a walkway – London talk for sidewalk. Stranded office workers and train passengers alike searched for high ground – which is hardly as dramatic as it sounds, since “high ground” was only a difference of a few vertical inches. But the driest grounds ran out quickly as they swelled with numbers. Some simply gave up staying dry and simply snagged their shoes off their feet and pattered about in the walkway river.
Cellphones appeared. Office executives both male and female, students of all ages and even some of the elderly began chatting or texting into their mobiles. Some asked friends or family at home for weather updates, others chatted nervously as they eyed the DO NOT ENTER signs. It was the anniversary of 07/07, or the day suicide bombers blew apart the buses above and Tube below of the London transit system. Perhaps 07/07 was more fresh in their minds due to the unveiling of a memorial for the victims, opened just that day.
But this 07/07 was simply wet and soggy – Mother Nature having fun, cutting back and letting loose after the heat wave the week before. So while some commuters chose to hang about Victoria station in hopes that services would resume soon, others simply left. Barefoot commuters trudged through the streets, while others stubbornly kept their shoes on as if they simply didn’t care.
Near Buckingham, finely dressed couples hopped over puddles as they entered the streets. Couples young and old eyed the skies and some laughed. Meanwhile, Buckingham horses hung their heads low, and accepted the occasional pat on the head by sympathetic passers by.
The next afternoon, free newspapers claimed that a “month’s worth” of rain fell in only two hours – or approximately 1.3 inches. Perhaps only a meteorologist can confirm whether that’s true.
The only assured thing is that I walked two hours through flooded streets and walkways to arrive home with mud still squished between my toes.