An angel of peace descends, riding a bronze chariot of war high above us on top of the subtly lit Wellington Arch; its scale difficult to gauge in the mid-winter darkness. We are in a part of London that I don’t know very well. Stone monuments to the war dead hidein the shadows here. Waiting for the inevitable new names to be inscribed on their cold hard surfaces. Dark red poppy wreaths lay on damp stone as remembrance to the fallen, and this somehow seems at odds with the time of year; where just a few streets away people are “shopping till they drop” in; Selfridges, Harrods, and Fortnum & Mason.
We walk along Constitution Hill, its tree lined avenue now void of cover, the bare branches pointing crazily, picked out against the city lights; reflected by the low clouds. Gradually to our right hand side emerges Buckingham Palace, and we stand at the golden gates trying to see if there are any lights on behind the curtains. It seems nobody is home, except the armed guards that we can just about pick out in the darkness of the Palace grounds. Although there are other people around, we are essentially on our own. There are no crowds, no tourists nearby - It’s a London unlike any other I have known. Just a short walk away is the busy streets, bars and pubs of the city, but here it feels quiet and abandoned.
Dodging between black cabs and red double-decker buses, we again cross the road, and head down The Mall, while Queen Victoria’s statue stares at our backs from her memorial. My girlfriend and I hold hands together - hers always warmer than mine – as we walk together, our way lit by old Victorian lamp posts. It’s hard to imagine the millions of people who have walked this way, taken these same steps. Perhaps it’s the mild night air mixed with a glass of Mulled Wine, but I feel melancholy and romantic all at the same time. There is a weight of history all around us, unseen and partially hidden, but there none the less.
I have always loved the architecture of Admiralty Arch, but tonight the sight of its ghostly Portland Stone saddens me, as it means the end of our tranquil walk. From here on, the crowds wait in Trafalgar Square to intrude on our route back to Waterloo Station. Moments like these pass so quickly in our lives and I wonder why there are so few. They are rare and beautiful, and stay with you, lodged in the memory between wonder, and the regret of not making the moment last longer.