Back to Central London

Yesterday I ventured back to work in central London for the first time since the 16th of March, 2020. Obviously, the student-facing or facilities management staff have been going in fairly regularly already, but from September this year, all of us in professional services as well are required to spend at least 40% of our working hours in the office. I will not quibble about the wisdom of that, other than to say that most of the courses I support and deliver are still online, which I can support better from home, while the other half of my work is content creation, which again benefits from quiet focus. However, I have missed the leafy, academic atmosphere of Bloomsbury and the iconic building where I work. With sunshine and relatively quiet streets before the students return (and ignoring the building works), it was very pleasant indeed to be back.

Senate House Library kindly waived my enormous fine for overdue books. They are celebrating 150 years since the foundation of the library this year, and will have a virtual exhibition of 150 of its most interesting books and artefacts. These include one of the first printed edition of Copernicus’ work, a manuscript of Don Juan by Lord Byron, a first edition of one of the first slave autobiographies, the Nazi Black Book for the British Isles and much more.

Guess where? Yes, the back entrance to the British Museum.
The old building for Faber & Faber, back when T. S. Eliot was working for them. Poor Vivienne, his first wife, would come looking for him here, but when he refused to see her, she apparently dumped rubbish through the letter box. The building is now part of SOAS.
The insect hotel in Russell Square seemed a bit empty – hopefully, that just means the insects were all out and about, enjoying the sunshine.
This quaint sunken garden has on occasion been used for summer parties by the university, but is currently locked and only used as a play area for the French school nearby.
This lovely little ‘cabbies’ cafe’ in Russell Square is one of the few remaining ones in London. Serves excellent bacon batties, at affordable prices.
Shakespeare welcomed us back inside the building.
It wasn’t exactly heaving with people inside the office…
It would have been rude not to stop at Waterstones Gower Street on the way back. (I still call it Dillons from my own university days.)
And I did not come away empty-handed. (Even better, they cost me nothing, because I had enough points on my loyalty card.) I have yet to read Magda Szabo and this one promises to be an interesting look at the conflict between generations, while Sybille Bedford seems to be one of those global citizens that I know so much about.

Although it was quiet, cool and very safe inside the building, and it was nice to wander around the streets nearby and discover my favourite Greek deli The Life Goddess was still making excellent traditional Greek desserts, the commute was as bad as I had remembered: busy, maskless, insufficient number of coaches on the train, long waits on the Underground. Add to that a very long day (so that I could avoid rush hour). the ‘novely’ of wearing respectable shoes and carrying a heavy backpack with a laptop while going up and down stairs, and you will understand why I collapsed for 45 minutes on my bed when I got back home.

In time, it will no doubt become more manageable. In the meantime, I have one very contented customer who is delighted that I am working from home still on most days.

33 thoughts on “Back to Central London”

  1. You do have a lovely place to work, Marina Sofia. I can see how you’d enjoy being there. At the same time, I couldn’t agree more about the benefits of working from home. I find the same thing. It’s quieter, one can focus more easily (well, this one can, anyway), and one can be really productive (no need to build in time for a commute, for instance). It’s not for everyone, but I like it.

    1. I have to admit on a hot day it was certainly cooler in the old Senate House building than it would have been in my study at home – so another bonus there.

    1. I have to admit that one of the decided perks of the job was working in that building and getting to attend all of the events that the various research institutes put on.

  2. I also work in Central London (Old St) and absolutely hated my commute. I’m not sure when we’ll be regularly back at the office – if ever- but there are enjoyable aspects as you mention. I’m very fond of Bloomsbury too!

    1. My children really dislike the noise and bustle of London, which I find strange at their age. When I was young, the bigger the better in terms of cities! But I find all of the concrete and glass quite tiring now.

  3. My family are getting used to being back in their (big city) offices for up to half their weeks. I think they value the time to meet more informally with colleagues – but home tends to be better and more productive.

    1. There was only one other colleague in the office – and we were hotdesking even before the pandemic, so there is no way that we can all be in at the same time. But yes, I do miss the serendipity of discussions on the hallway.

  4. Well, being back in London in the sun must be just lovely (and I envy your book purchases). But the commute must be hell – I’m extremely nervous of going on trains again because of all the unmasked. I think common sense has gone out of the window…

  5. I used to love visiting Senate House Library when I worked for one of the King’s College London libraries. I took full advantage of both library memberships! London is certainly looking lovely in the sun in your photos, but I don’t envy you the commuting. I turned down a chance to go to the Wainwright Prize ceremony last night because I couldn’t face the train into London and multiple Tube changes. By the time I do finally make it into London for a rescheduled gig in December it will have been two years since my last trip there (and last time on a train). I hope you manage to settle back into in-person working life.

    1. I did my Ph.D. at King’s College so I know that library well too (although I spent a lot of time at the British Library and the Senate House Library as well). I think I need to figure out a time of day when it’s not too busy on public transport and then it might be easier to commute (but of course if I run events, it’s not always going to be possible to take into account my travel preferences!)

  6. Great pictures! Lucky you to work in the city centre, even if the commute is uncomfortable.
    We’re almost all back to the office like before.

    1. Yes, I do love that part of London. I used to be a British Museum member and pop to the Members’ Room for lunch or a change of scenery in the afternoon – it is just across the street from us.

  7. If you have to work in central London, Bloomsbury is one of the nicest areas but I don’t envy you the commute. Every time I had to go to London for a meeting I’d arrive back home feeling utterly drained just from navigating the busy streets and crowded tube trains.

    1. I got used to it after a while, but it might explain a lot about why I was suffering from insomnia, exhaustion and was often short-tempered when I was commuting daily.

  8. The University of London is where my father earned his B.Sc. so I made a pilgrimage there the first time we were in Bloomsbury. It was hard to imagine my dear old dad as a fresh-faced young man studying there!
    We like Bloomsbury. We always stay round the back of the British Museum at the Montague because we always visit the BM, but we’ve also done two self-guided ‘literary walking tours’ so your photos were a nice bit of nostalgia for me.

    1. What a lovely connection you have then to the place! Bloomsbury is probably one of my favourite parts of London (and was before I ever moved there, because of Virginia Woolf etc.) – and at some point I blithely thought I might be able to afford living there. But even back in the late 1990s it was impossible!

      1. I bet it is, even staying at The Montage for a few days costs an arm and a leg, for the smallest rooms we’ve ever stayed in too. But the location is great, the service is wonderful and when you’re tired out from a hard day’s tourism, their restaurant is very nice indeed. So we kid ourselves that we’re saving money by being close to everything we want to do…

        1. I’ll tell you a secret – best option for a slightly more affordable central London stay is to book a room in a student hall. They have improved tremendously since I was a student, almost all have en-suites, but of course are only available during the holidays.

        2. I’ll bear that in mind if they ever let us out of here!
          They say that they don’t anticipate opening up international borders until the middle of next year. ATM, would-be travellers have to apply for a permit to go, and they have to pay for 2 weeks quarantine when they get back, *and* (more significantly) there needs to be a quarantine place for them in our overstretched system.
          People find ways around it of course. In Lockdown, you can’t visit a new grandchild or attend a funeral or go interstate to see family, but you can fly overseas to do it. You have to close your f2f business here and/or operate under severe restrictions but you can fly overseas to attend to business interests. And of course if you are a sports star, anything is possible!

  9. The photos suggest the streets are still a lot quieter than usual? Can’t understand why people are so reluctant to wear mask on public transport – I hate them but I’d hate catching Covid more. They’re still compulsory up here, I’m happy to say.

    1. It was a strange mix of nearly as busy as usual and quieter than usual: at lunchtime, Russell Square was packed with people sunbathing, there were no benches free to sit on, there were lots of people walking about the streets etc. The Tube was not jam-packed but reasonably busy even at 7:30 in the morning or 7 in the evening. With the students not back yet, however, the university buildings and areas immediately around them did feel quieter.

  10. I much prefer working from home, even though my commute to the office is a drive through the countryside and over moorlands. That said, I have missed my yearly visit to London. One day soon hopefully!

  11. Back to the ‘new normal’, I guess. I wish you a smooth transition (while envying your proximity to Waterstones) and hope you’re able to stay safe.

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