We've seen no progress over finding the murderers of the local boy. He was from a Somali family, and had been at Paddington Academy, where he had just finished. Sadly, it appears to be, as they say, "gang-related".
One of the striking features of the lockdown was how the beggars disappeared, but now they have returned to all their normal positions. The man who comes and sits outside Royal Oak Station was one of the first to resume (he commutes regularly to his pitch), but now there is a person back by the cash machine at the Chippenham as well. The purveyors of hard-luck stories (and habitual visitors) have returned to my doorstep as well. One of the hard-luck stories actually lives in Archway, so I really don't know what he's doing here. I used to have a regular hard-luck story who was also known to a fellow priest in Winchmore Hill, so I get the impression that some people have a fairly wide radius in which they ask for help and seem to spend much of their time travelling around doing so.
It's worth pointing out that most of the street beggars are not homeless. Westminster City Council did a fine job of getting homeless people into temporary accommodation when the lockdown began, and no doubt that suited the hotels in which they were placed, but I admit to some anxiety about what is going to happen next. I wouldn't fancy being the council official who has to tell the homeless that it's time for them to get back out onto the street, nor indeed being the local politician who has to announce the policy. Perhaps it won't happen? But, then, where will they put the homeless?
Soon after the lockdown eased some drug users started using my church porch. I opened the door and surprised them one day, but they claimed only to be rolling cigarettes. Not true of course. Tiny little plastic packets and paper torn into little squares, as well as bits of foil were the detritus left behind. It became evident to them that I did not welcome their presence, and I scowled at them each time I saw them, which was fairly often since that porch is opposite my front door. The upshot was that they moved round to the north porch, which we have opened up as part of our conservation and development works. That porch had been bricked up in the 1950s when Clarendon Crescent, which it opened onto, was gradually falling derelict. Unfortunately, the configuration of the porch was such that it was very hard to close it up, and a space had been left that they tried to close with netting. Over time the netting failed, and the porch became a great place for pigeons to roost. When I came, we had a portaloo out there, but it stood on at least six inches of pigeon guano and was covered in filth; it was one of the nastiest spaces in London. So, we cleared it, and restored the door, and cleaned up the steps.
It has always been our intention to construct a glass pavilion over the north porch, but this proved to be the most controversial bit of the whole plan for the new building, and so we took it out, having spent eighteen months discussing it, and so the new building received its permissions. We then made the case for the glass pavilion separately, and were duly granted permission, though too late to get it built as part of the main contract. Had the contract been finished on time (or indeed anything like on time, or even properly) we should have had the pavilion by now. The work was going to be instructed this spring, but of course did not happen.The reason the porch was bricked up sixty years ago was the same reason we insisted we needed the pavilion now, the likelihood of anti-social behaviour; and so it has proved. The drug users not only consume their drugs nicely concealed at the bottom of the steps, but feel able to defecate there as w ell. Clearing away human excrement does not put one in the best frame of mind for the Sunday Mass.
The man at Church House Bookshop asked me wistfully how it was in Paddington, because there was absolutely nobody about in central Westminster. I had to tell him that things were almost back to normal here. The quietness of central London is not something we are enjoying here. The Council have even removed all their paraphernalia for wider pavements, though we still have some bike lanes left. Sadly, though, my favourite restaurant has not re-opened. We would like to help them out!