Sunday, 7 September 2014

The end of the summer in the city

On our recent holiday we arrived in Paris in the middle of summer. During the summer months, particularly August, Paris sort of shuts down. Parisians, along with plenty of other people across France, clear out of the city during the hottest time of the year and head to the beach. Offices wind down, shops shut, and museums close up. For a local it must be nicely peaceful - a time when one can claim the city streets for one's own, when the office is a less stressful place, and one has longer evenings to enjoy a post-work apero or two. As tourists, there is still plenty to do and see in the city, but a few attractions are disappointingly closed and the city feels a little different. It is quieter, emptier. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. While we were there last month we tramped cobbled streets, delighting in how we had the place to ourselves; and then we'd turn a corner and find ourselves surrounded by an Ecuadorian tour group, and it would feel crowded and busy again. 

A Parisian friend asked whether we experienced anything similar in London - a sort of city summer holiday period. I said no, not really. But then I came home and realised I might have been wrong. Wandering through my neighbourhood in the last few weeks I noticed a number of signs in the windows of shops and cafés, declaring that businesses were closed for the summer and would reopen at the end of August or the beginning of September. Everywhere from the flower stand at Tufnell Park Tube station to the greasy spoon cafés that line Kentish Town Road was en vacances. I remember my favourite cafe near home shutting up for the summer before, but this summer, while I've been working from home, I have really missed it. (I've been forced into a new rival instead, where the coffee is excellent but the screaming infant to cappuccino ratio is a little high for my liking.) Is this a new thing? Or have local businesses in North London always come over a bit French in the summer and I've just never noticed it before?

This week, things have felt like they are getting back to normal however. With each new day, the high street has welcomed back another shop or cafe, ready for the autumn. The apologetic signs in the shuttered windows are being taken down. Outside homes on the quieter residential streets I have watched cars being unloaded of holiday detritus; sunburnt children, bags of dirty laundry and brand-new flippers and boogie-boards, purchased in a fit of sunstroke-induced madness, used once or twice then bought home to languish in the cupboard under the stairs.

It feels as if the spirit of summer is passing. The leaves are starting to drop from the trees and brown in the gutters. I have already busted out a couple of thick jumpers as the temperatures drop. Hell, my wellies even made an appearance before August was out. Whilst I remain (for now) blissfully free of formal office hours, I am rising earlier and leaving the house with the commuting hoards. London feels fuller than it has over the past few weeks. Londoners look greyer; they are back in their workwear, out of their shorts and flip-flops. I followed a little group down the street sometime before 9am this week. In the middle walked a forty-something man in glasses and a grey pin-striped suit. He held a briefcase in his left hand and a small skipping child in his right. Beside the briefcase walked an older child, looking up at his father, earnestly explaining something that sounded like a homework project. He dragged a book bag behind him as the group progressed down the road. His father looked as if he was only half-listening as he dodged the commuters queueing for the bus, and the Royal Mail cart, and people clutching paper cups of coffee to themselves. Farewell, Summer! London has started a new term.


  1. I Flora! I am very pleased to see you this Tuesday! Everything shuts down in August in France. I couldn't do anything for my business..Anyway, as you say, it is time to start a new term...

    1. Yay, I can't wait to catch up, Muriel! We can compare notes on our summers - both English and French...!


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