Day 1 of 80 — Trafalgar Square

Around London in 80 days.

Today is January 11th. In exactly 80 days, we will be in April. In these uncertain times, I need a lifeline and a horizon, so I have — somewhat arbitrarily I’ll admit — set a date. April 1st will be my horizon; my lifeline will be those 80 days. And

as I cannot go around the world right now, I give you A Mad Belgian’s “Around London in 80 Days” : eighty impressions of London, eighty stories, places, thoughts from my experience of this wonderfully mad and maddening city.

Day 1 : Trafalgar Square

November 2018. I leave the National Gallery quite late (it stays opened until 9pm on Fridays and I am taking full advantage of the extra time — I have an exam to prepare after all). I step out onto Trafalgar Square, ready for a brisk walk to the tube and its reassuring warmth. But I’m stopped in my tracks by the spectacle in front of me.

A man is standing just outside the gallery, facing a beautiful retro microphone. He is well-dressed, though perhaps not adequately for a late November open-air performance: a simple three-piece suit, no coat. Yet he does not seem cold. Alone on the emptying square, he performs like a real star for a large — if invisible — audience. He sings, he claps, he dances. I know the song, as does everybody: Happy, by Pharrell William.

I realise that others, like me, were compelled to stop and listen; where busy people were anonymously crossing paths just a moment ago, there is now a little crowd. Not a coherent one, mind you: tired office workers, tipsy students, distracted tourists. All strangely brought together by this song, this place, this instant.

On the side, I notice a homeless man, and I wonder what he makes of the scene. A bunch of well-to-dos timidly dancing to the Happy song before going back to their warm homes and cosy lives: he could easily be angered, or at the very least annoyed at the sight. A bottle in his hand, he’s clearly drunk, which rarely helps.

Suddenly, he shouts :

“Yeah ! Be happy ! Clap along ! Yeah !”. His enthusiasm is unmistakable.

The song ends, the group disperses.

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