So I’m hoping to sit on the steps beneath Eros and experience a rare treat. I want to be able to say that I am the only person in Piccadilly Circus this morning.
Approaching up Piccadilly itself, I’m beginning to wonder. It’s 4.38 and things are lively. There are some folk about. Silver-haired businessmen emerge from the Mayfair Club and climb into shiny black cars. Two Polish labourers are waiting for a bus, gabbling excitedly to one another. A Chinese girl pedals by on a bicycle with some kind of instrument case strapped to her back. Then a man who looks like he’s from north Africa stops me and asks if this is Regent Street, so I direct him round the corner.
And Piccadilly Circus? It’s noisy. A team of men is dismantling the skin of scaffolding on the front of the Lillywhite’s building. Clangs of metal and raucous shouting compete with the revving of the crane on the flatbed lorry as they move the pieces, hand to hand. There’s a rubbish truck grinding its contents over by Shaftesbury Avenue. Buses, black cabs or delivery vans lurch forward to race the empty lanes each time the lights change.
This is the hour when those who are ‘coming from’ cross paths with those who are ‘going to’. You can spot them. They’re either listing unsteadily, not knowing quite how they’re supposed to get home any more, or they’re walking purposefully across the paving, having seen all this before, most days probably.
A group of young men stands about, chatting and smoking, on the top of the steps by the fountain. They’re dressed as if they’ve just come from the office, slightly dishevelled now. One of them still carries the umbrella he used against yesterday’s rain. At the back of the news-stand a girl in high heels and a short skirt is tottering dangerously, shrieking to her male friend about how funny it was, whatever it was. Then a pair of German guys in their thirties sway past, say something lewd to her and wave drunkenly into the headlights as they hail a cab. And still, every five minutes or so, someone will wander up, hold out a pocket digital camera and take a snap of the famous scene.
Today’s forecast said white cloud. The sky is growing lighter now, but there’ll be no sunrise to watch, no chasing shadows this morning.
I can’t sit down on the steps because the place is so scuzzy – butt ends, spilled drink, chewing gum.
I walk up Great Windmill Street into Soho. On the corner of Brewer Street, I almost bump into a young black guy with a girl who looks like she’s just finished her shift. She stares at me, uncomprehending.
‘Fine, thanks,’ I say without stopping.
Soho has emptied. Brewer Street’s dead, the bright neon lights switched off, sex no longer for sale. Wardour Street is deserted except for the man with his bucket and rubber blade washing the Ann Summers’ shop window. In Old Compton Street the only action is a man delivering a large bag of onions. I head on to Frith Street for a cup of coffee to sharpen me up, but even the Bar Italia is closed. Bar Italia never closes – only between the very late and the very early, when the guy in the white jacket has the door locked while he mops the floor.