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May – Flowers and Fairs

Just as April showers bring forth May flowers, the further relaxation on the 17th May of the UK’s months of social restrictions will bring good cheer to those working in the hospitality industry. Nowadays, you can already see signs of revival when you travel through Central London, which was harder hit than the outer areas by the pandemic. During the last year, it was very sad to see so many restaurants and pubs boarded up and the so-called entertainment district wearing such a bereft, deserted look.

The opening of hotels and indoor dining areas in the third week of May will coincide with the opening of museums and galleries in London. Hoteliers are eagerly getting ready to welcome guests to their ‘staycations’. This relatively new term has captured the zeitgeist of a pandemic that has largely disrupted international travel. In pre-pandemic times, Londoners flocked to other cities in Europe and America, and people from those overseas cities loved to visit London. Hoteliers are now counting for their survival more on guests from other towns in the UK than these international visitors.

Offering a wide choice of hotels and restaurants, London is undoubtedly a great place to meet up with visiting friends and family members. You can find restaurants in London serving a wide variety of cuisine from Eritrean to Peruvian. May is a perfect month for outdoor life. In the 17th century, a fair was hosted in May that has lent its name to the neighbourhood known as Mayfair. When I started to work in a London corner shop I associated this name with a cheap and popular brand of cigarettes rather than an area known for its luxury hotels.

The freedom this month provides, in comparison to the months of restriction, brings a French proverb to mind:  ‘En avril, ne te découvre pas d’un fil; en mai, fais ce qui te plaît’ (‘In April, don’t take off a stitch; in May, do as you please’). The Royal Academy is hosting a much-anticipated exhibition, ‘The Arrival of Spring’, based on paintings created by David Hockney on his iPad. Big names in the art world such as Hockney can usually attract thousands of people to the cities where their exhibitions are held. When I moved to Hampstead more than two decades ago I hadn’t heard of this renowned British artist until an elderly Scotswoman who happened to be my neighbour told me stories about him.

Art can certainly play an important part in our post-pandemic recovery. Small-time artists have suffered more than most during the pandemic. Many hotels in London often hired artists and musicians. For instance, the hotel where I worked hired a guitar player once a week to entertain guests in its bar. He would sometimes, at my request, break into a rendition of George Gershwin’s Summertime. The hotel also hired a female artist at weekends to paint the faces of children. Also, a number of florists in London created grand flower arrangements for display in hotel lobbies. The reopening of hotels will certainly benefit such small ancillary services.

Around 50 hotels, including the Corinthia and COMO Metropolitan, are participating in Hotel Week London at the end of May to bring visitors back to the capital. These hoteliers are pushing the boat out to entice visitors since there has never been a better time to explore London. Not only can you explore the town on foot or by bike but open-top sightseeing buses are running again. 

There is a footpath encircling London known as the Capital Ring Walk and it covers 78 miles. I live close to a brook that forms one of the sections of this walk and have promised my son to take him for a stroll along it to show him the reservoir popularly know as Welsh Harp. I had assumed that this reservoir was in the shape of a harp but later learned that until 50 years ago there was a nearby pub that had given its name to the reservoir. A veritable hinterland, the topography of the entire metropolis can be traced in its contours.

Meteorologically, spring begins in March and ends in May and its tail end is usually a lot more pleasant than its beginning. Queen Mary’s Rose Garden in Regent’s Park is in full bloom in May. There is no festival in London to celebrate cherry blossom time, as is the case in Washington, but the flowering trees in Kew Gardens and Holland Park are a feast for the eyes. 

The transatlantic air corridor may open sooner than other routes and bring Americans to London again. There are some Londoners who travel as far as New York to do their shopping. While New York is getting ready to open fully in July, many New Yorkers would love to board a plane and visit London. 

The pandemic has changed the landscape of work. The work-from-home (WFH) phenomenon means that some city dwellers have retreated to the countryside to work remotely.  Many of them will soon return to London to occupy their offices. When I moved to London more than 25 years ago I was curious why more offices were being built in The City of London when so many offices there were unoccupied. Then I heard an insightful remark – ‘if you build it, they will come’. Construction is about the only activity that has carried on unhindered in the Square Mile during the last year. These days you see men in hard hats and high-vis jackets rather than bowler hats and pinstripe suits.

Many hotels, normally open 365 days a year, closed their doors for the first time ever during the pandemic. But more than the usual sense of renewal is in the air this spring, at least in London. Hoteliers are currently sprucing up their properties in anticipation of throwing open their doors on the 17th of May. All they need now is their loyal clientele to arrive.