Fog of London

It’s starting to get toward that time of year where I get up in the dark, ride to work through dark tunnels, work all day under florescent lighting, leave work after dark, and arrive home in the dark. This is not my favorite thing.

But London in darkness can be a wonderful city to behold, as I have written before. This evening I came out of the Royal Society and my breath was taken away by the view up Regent Street towards Picadilly Circus. Majestic already, the buildings flanking the road had a heightened air of mystery from the fog, made luminous by the spotlights picking out architectural features. There was an air of super-reality about it all; they weren’t muted but somehow augmented by the mist, as though I were looking at them through a magnifying glass. Beyond, in Picadilly Circus itself, darkness was banished by the neon signs, every beam caught and defined by the mist.

There is something about this fog that evokes the past. Walking through a dark London fog, suddenly the 18th-century-nuss of the buildings in Holborn becomes more apparent than it ever is on an ordinary day. You expect a raft of Dickensian characters to appear as if from nowhere; to find you’ve suddenly left behind a world of motorcycle couriers and fire safety officers and entered one of pickpockets and costermongers.

I was musing on this as I walked under some gas lamps (converted now to halogen lights, of course) through an unassuming doorway and down some stone steps, along a pedestrian path that runs along the edge of Gray’s Inn Gardens. I perceived a shape in the mist: a man. As I drew closer it became apparent he was wearing a bowler hat, nearer still and I saw his pinstripe trousers. It was as though Oliver Hardy had appeared from nowhere and he were walking nonchalantly before me.

I scurried under the streetlamps, along the large flagstones, between the discreetly lawyery buildings. I made a right turn through the gate with the growling dragons. There is something about London in the fog.