From the westerly direction, black cabs and red buses compete to flatten you, the pedestrian scum. At the north point, a tidal wave of discombobulated tourists laps between the ex-Virgin Megastore on one side of the road and, facing it, a horrible glittering picture of Freddie Mercury outside the Dominion Theatre. In the south east, behind Centre Point, a road leads to Covent Garden – a useful shortcut, if only you didn't have to get to it through a stinking, urine-stained subway tunnel. Finally, to the south of this hellish convergence, lie three lanes of traffic thundering up Charing Cross Road.
This is the worst junction in London. What it needs is a really good scramble.
A scramble, in case you're not familiar, is a type of multi-directional crossing, famously used in Japan, which eases the flow of pedestrians at busy junctions. Lights hold the traffic all at once, temporarily turning a the street into a pedestrian zone, allowing quicker, diagonal routes across the road. On holiday in Tokyo last week I joined the busiest scramble in the world, the Hachiko crossing in jam-packed fashion and electronics district Shibuya.
For 50 seconds, hundreds of people advance towards each other, briefly merge, pass and then flow on to the other side. It's such a remarkable sight that a Starbucks at the junction has set up a special viewing window from which skinny-capp sippers can watch the elegant swarm. As a piece of ergonomics, the scramble really works. At Hachiko you're more likely to be bumped by a Western film crew recording the scene than get jostled by another person, let alone hit by a car.
In the next few weeks central London will get its first scramble, at Oxford Circus, just half a mile down the road from my least favourite crossing. It's about time. There's been lots of noise and PR about the capital's efforts to befriend cyclists, but sometimes, as a humble walker, bothered by tramps, toxic fumes and traffic, I feel like I'm at the bottom of the food chain.
Tokyo pedestrians don't have it entirely easy, either: over there, cyclists speed along the pavements with impunity. But those on foot can be trusted not to abuse a special button at crossings that prolongs the red lights holding the traffic, intended for the use of elderly or disabled only. That, obviously, could never happen here.
Lacking the X Factor
Pity the residents of Golders Green, north London, specifically of the street where the X Factor contestants are bunking up for the duration of the competition. This week the fantastically irritating duo John and Edward pranced around in the window dressed in just their boxer shorts, causing a hormonal stew of young female fans gathered outside to reach boiling point. A neighbour, Madam Fu Ying, who happens to be the Chinese ambassador, has now complained to the British Government. I agree, Ambassador. John and Edward must be stopped.