Lockdown Diaries: Day 7 (Dead London)

Locked Down in London, Day 7: The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker…

The online delivery services now appear to be completely collapsing and there are long – socially distanced – queues outside the supermarkets. But our local tradesmen are bearing up heroically – the little corner shops are full of fresh fruit and vegetables, while our local butcher happily supplied us with 2 pounds of Cote de Boeuf for our Sunday roast after our online shop failed to deliver the topside… (And well he might have been happy, given what Cote de Boeuf costs!)

In any case: we’re having our traditional roast beef and Yorkshire pudding on Sunday.

Our family 1 – Coronavirus 0.

Virtual Escape: Dead London

I had to go to Central London today to attend a hospital appointment; and this did remind me, very forcefully indeed, of Dead London, a chapter in The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells.

The London Lockdown in Pictures

Minus the black powder and the dead bodies, it’s eerily reminiscent of H. G. Wells… (Click on the gallery to enlarge the pictures.)

Although I can hardly call reading Dead London a virtual escape for us Londoners, it’s still an escape for everybody else, so we’re going ahead with reading it.

Where there was no black powder, it was curiously like a Sunday in the City, with the closed shops, the houses locked up and the blinds drawn, the desertion, and the stillness. In some places plunderers had been at work, but rarely at other than the provision and wine shops. A jeweller’s window had been broken open in one place, but apparently the thief had been disturbed, and a number of gold chains and a watch lay scattered on the pavement. I did not trouble to touch them. Farther on was a tattered woman in a heap on a doorstep; the hand that hung over her knee was gashed and bled down her rusty brown dress, and a smashed magnum of champagne formed a pool across the pavement. She seemed asleep, but she was dead.

The farther I penetrated into London, the profounder grew the stillness. But it was not so much the stillness of death—it was the stillness of suspense, of expectation. At any time the destruction that had already singed the northwestern borders of the metropolis, and had annihilated Ealing and Kilburn, might strike among these houses and leave them smoking ruins. It was a city condemned and derelict. . . .

In South Kensington the streets were clear of dead and of black powder. It was near South Kensington that I first heard the howling. It crept almost imperceptibly upon my senses. It was a sobbing alternation of two notes, “Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla,” keeping on perpetually. When I passed streets that ran northward it grew in volume, and houses and buildings seemed to deaden and cut it off again. It came in a full tide down Exhibition Road. I stopped, staring towards Kensington Gardens, wondering at this strange, remote wailing. It was as if that mighty desert of houses had found a voice for its fear and solitude.

“Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla,” wailed that superhuman note—great waves of sound sweeping down the broad, sunlit roadway, between the tall buildings on each side. I turned northwards, marvelling, towards the iron gates of Hyde Park. I had half a mind to break into the Natural History Museum and find my way up to the summits of the towers, in order to see across the park. But I decided to keep to the ground, where quick hiding was possible, and so went on up the Exhibition Road. All the large mansions on each side of the road were empty and still, and my footsteps echoed against the sides of the houses. At the top, near the park gate, I came upon a strange sight—a bus overturned, and the skeleton of a horse picked clean. I puzzled over this for a time, and then went on to the bridge over the Serpentine. The voice grew stronger and stronger, though I could see nothing above the housetops on the north side of the park, save a haze of smoke to the northwest.

“Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla,” cried the voice, coming, as it seemed to me, from the district about Regent’s Park. The desolating cry worked upon my mind. The mood that had sustained me passed. The wailing took possession of me. I found I was intensely weary, footsore, and now again hungry and thirsty.

It was already past noon. Why was I wandering alone in this city of the dead? Why was I alone when all London was lying in state, and in its black shroud? I felt intolerably lonely. My mind ran on old friends that I had forgotten for years. I thought of the poisons in the chemists’ shops, of the liquors the wine merchants stored; I recalled the two sodden creatures of despair, who so far as I knew, shared the city with myself. . . .

I came into Oxford Street by the Marble Arch, and here again were black powder and several bodies, and an evil, ominous smell from the gratings of the cellars of some of the houses. I grew very thirsty after the heat of my long walk. With infinite trouble I managed to break into a public-house and get food and drink. I was weary after eating, and went into the parlour behind the bar, and slept on a black horsehair sofa I found there.

(H. G. Wells: The War of the Worlds)

The War of the Worlds is out of copyright, so you should be able to download it to an e-reader if you’ve got one; otherwise you can read it online.

The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells (Project Gutenberg)

Now one of the great things about The War of the Worlds is actually that it has more than one version. I’m not necessarily a fan of adaptions because I’ve seen too many done really badly; in the case of The War of the Worlds, however, I  whole heartedly recommend you the following two:

In 1938, Orson Welles created a radio drama which was broadcasted on CBS and allegedly created a panic among listeners who believed a Martian invasion of the US was in fact taking place. This might be an urban legend (but if it is, it’s one of the more entertaining ones), but the show certainly was presented as if it was a live newscast, therefore if you missed the introduction to the programme, you might, conceivably, have become quite alarmed…

Orson Welles’s 1938 Radio Drama of The War of the Worlds

And finally, let’s have it with a bit of music – Jeff Wayne released his version in 1978 – it was his debut album and it became a world wide hit, having since sold 15 million copies. If it wasn’t for the lockdown, you could go and see it in the West End!

JEFF WAYNE’S MUSICAL VERSION OF THE WAR OF THE WORLDS

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