Lockdown at the lowest ebb

I haven’t resurrected my diary for this third, and hopefully last, in the series of COVID-19 lockdowns. Well, I didn’t for the short second lockdown either, but sometimes I do still feel the need to write something about the experiences.

I always find the post-Christmas period difficult, those dark, cold and bleak months of January and February when festivities are over and the bright days of spring seem a long way off. The dark  mornings and the early arrival of night-time each afternoon, alongside the often cloudy and drizzly weather does little for my sense of wellbeing and over the years, I’ve often been at my lowest at this time. Usually, this has felt like a period to tolerate and get through rather than welcome and embrace. The new year is something to celebrate but for me the positive feelings often evaporate very quickly once the decorations have come down and we all return to our normal weekday lives.

The first lockdown started just a couple of months later in the year than now but our forced isolation was helped by nature; the light was quickly returning to the days, the early spring flowers were out and the weather was exceptional. We were blessed by the bright, sunny and unseasonably warm weather that lasted for months and what felt like almost every day. The second lockdown was much more limited and while the autumn was upon us, the days growing shorter, it was in the run up to Christmas, and the novelty of the coziness of darker evenings was new and comforting. Now, though, those dark nights and poor weather, seem a drag on life and the days until those warmer and brighter days of early spring seem painfully far away.

Some years ago, I wrote a post about life at this time of year, mid-January towards early February, being at its lowest ebb, the coldest weeks of the year and with little sign of the life that nature will one day over the coming months bring back. During this third lockdown, life in general now seems to be at an even lower ebb than usual, making life much more difficult than during the first lockdown that started nearly ten months ago. 

It would be easy to descend into a very dark mood, and in some ways it’s very tempting to my personality to do so. However, with so many bad things happening right now, this would, of course, be the worst thing to allow. I have it relatively easy compared to many; I’m not on the NHS frontline, I’m not a key worker of any sort, I’m not in a high risk group and I don’t have to home school any children. All I have to do is sit tight, work from home, take some daily exercise and wait for this to pass. I also can be massively thankful that my situation changed in the year leading up to the first lockdown; going from living by myself to being in a couple and sharing lockdown together, means that I almost feel we benefited from the situation; life would have been incalculably harder if we had both spent the period alone.

Having said all that, it is still a struggle at times, compared to the other lockdowns and taking positive steps to both accept that and try to make it easier has been making a difference and maybe there’s more that I can do.

I’m missing the countryside more than I did during the other lockdowns, perhaps because it’s harder to see nature when I’m not working; it’s dark both when I start and finish work. However, I have a new desk, in a different position, now overlooking gardens behind my computer screen. This means I can see wildlife throughout the day. This often comes in the form of flocks of winter thrushes, fieldfares and redwings, which spend the day moving from one berry tree to another. There are also the urban foxes, which we see both at night and in the day time, and the ring-necked parakeets which often dominate the other natural sounds in the area.

The odd sunny day also makes a massive difference, at least for a few hours. Today has been lovely and not as cold as of late, so we went for a walk around our local patch – the Royal Botanic Garden is literally across the road. My list of birds is already growing reasonably just on the visits there and on walks along the Thames Path on the other side of the wall. We have also taken to walking at lunchtime, to get some air during daylight hours.

I have also, and perhaps most importantly, tried to change my outlook on this time of year, to embrace it rather than fight it. We have kept some lights up after Christmas, not a tree or a huge amount of decorations, but a few to bring more comfort and brightness into the evenings. I’m also trying to relax more, not over think things, not long too much for times that are yet to come. Whilst exercise is still very important, I’m also not going to push my running too much as part of my routine and perhaps put off some of my goals until we are released from these restrictions

Perhaps the biggest change I want to make, though, is to stop looking at my phone every time there’s a moment of silence – over stimulation at a time when my mind is already full of so many challenges is just adding to the stress and angst. I’ve found Twitter particularly bad for stopping me relax. I’ve sometimes gone from calm to internally raging in a matter of seconds after tapping on the app. The government’s shambolic handling of both Brexit and the pandemic are so often brought instantly into sharp and excruciating focus by those little but hugely impactful, messages of a few words. I’ve ‘muted’ so many words on Twitter to stop the endless battering of painful messages cascading through my phone but that isn’t enough. I’ve now decided to stop picking up my phone at every opportunity and leave it out of reach as much as possible. This should give me more time for more calming activities; reading, writing, looking out of the window and maybe just staring blankly at the wall from time to time. 

Being physically isolated from family, friends and colleagues has made me feel I need to be more digitally connected to the world but, actually, this has just led to more difficulty in coping with this situation we all face. Perhaps writing a blog post about this is slightly odd, but just sitting still, focusing on one thing for a while, and putting thoughts to digital paper, has really helped.

Lockdown Diary: A reflection

It’s now two months since I last wrote a Lockdown Diary post, or any blog post at all for that matter. I think I needed a break from it and I’ve barely been touching social media at all. The months since lockdown was announced in March have been intense and it’s been good to take a breather from a few things. However, I think it’s time to return and I thought I would start with a reflection on my experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, so far. I’m sure there’s nothing particularly revelatory in the paragraphs below, but its a longhand full stop to a specific set of posts I needed to write at the time.

Like many people I expect, when news came over the winter of a new virus in China, I paid little attention to it. Previous viruses originating in the Far East over the last few decades have come and gone with little impact on the UK and I assumed this one would be the same. This wasn’t to be and as it increasingly spread and started to build in strength in some of our neighbouring European counties, alarm grew here. I felt reassured, however, by the sounds coming out from the Government that as a country we were prepared and we might not suffer as Italy, France and Spain had done. Despite my horror at the same administration’s handling of many other matters, I had hope that this country could be different. However, this was extremely naive; we were simply at an earlier part of the curve, some weeks behind those other nations, and the Government was complacent and unprepared to make the right decisions and implement them at the right time.

In mid-March, like many, I was still going to work, travelling into Manchester or Birmingham several days a week, and I spent a weekend staying with my girlfriend in Kew. On the following Monday morning I went to work as usual but on arrival didn’t feel quite right. I thought I might just have walked the mile between the station and office too fast but after about 30 minutes I packed up my laptop and headed home, still not feeling good. I started social isolation as soon as I got home but continued to work. It wasn’t until the Wednesday morning that, during a video-conference, I finally decided to stop working and I didn’t open my laptop again until the Friday. My symptoms weren’t bad; a seasonal flu in 2016 was far worse. I mainly felt groggy, with a sore throat and a raised temperature from time to time. The most clear symptom, however, was a tight chest and I was breathless each time I walked up the stairs. By the Sunday the symptoms had gone and after the seven days I came out of social isolation on the Monday morning. 

Coming out of isolation, I headed to local shops to get some provisions for my parents (social distancing, of course) before driving down, non-stop, to my girlfriend’s flat. Sarah had suffered worse symptoms than me but we both got off pretty lightly. However, it took more weeks for us both to recover; we were extremely tired and quite weak. When I eventually went for a run, about two and a half weeks after becoming ill, my breathing was terrible and painful. However, exercise slowly got easier and strength came back and we’re now physically both back to normal.

The evening I arrived at Sarah’s flat, the Prime Minister made a television address to announce lockdown and I was therefore to stay for the duration. My journey down to Kew was a calculated decision, travel down and risk being locked down away from home but with Sarah, or stay at home and risk being apart and alone for weeks. There was really no contest in the decision. Being alone during the Lockdown must have been awful and I know that I certainly would not have coped as much as I have done. The bonus from this is that Sarah and I have been living together for the best part of six months and it couldn’t have gone better, despite the added pressures of being in the biggest national crisis since the Second World War.

I found the first week of lockdown especially stressful. The combination of anxieties over the virus, food availability, family and friends, restrictions on life, being away from home familiarity, as well as day-to-day work pressure, was a powerful mix. By the end of the week, however, I’d settled in and over the following weeks the pressure reduced somewhat. The anxieties didn’t go away but I got used to them and found ways to cope. There were bad days and good days, bad weeks and good weeks. For some reason, the seventh week was particularly bad; something I know others felt at the time too. 

Getting into a routine helped enormously with managing, particularly with work, which often took a front seat during the week. The routine seemed to make the time fly and the weeks went past at a crazy speed. This also meant that days and weeks merged into one another and it was difficult to keep track of time. Working at home meant that it became increasingly difficult, particularly at the height of lockdown, to make the distinction between work and home life. We tried to be disciplined in keeping work hours and home hours separate and not looking at work once the day had finished. As I was working in the bedroom, I made sure that each day I cleared away to another room all work-related gear so that the night would not be invaded by signs of work. We also nearly always exercised immediately after closing down our laptops for the day, making a physical as well as mental break from work; we got so used to doing so that it could be quite unsettling not to. After many weeks of working from home, I have little desire to go back to the office. I’ve been more efficient and worked harder with less ongoing disturbance and the IT is good enough that I can talk to colleagues as well as I can in the office much of the time. However, I have missed the face-to-face interaction and it still remains a struggle sometimes to switch off; the commute does create a time-barrier between work and home without which there is more merging of the two.

Anyone who reads my blogs will know I love the countryside and outdoors and the prospect of being locked down, and locked down in a city in particular, goes against my basic nature (as I’m sure it does for most). Despite having loved being a student in Birmingham for four years and subsequently having worked in Manchester for over 20 years, cities are not my natural habitat and I like to spend as little time in them as possible. However, Kew is not central London and I have found that, whilst it’s not exactly rural, we are surrounded by wildlife and a lot of green space. This  has enabled nature to become a key coping mechanism and I’ve learned to value it more than ever. After spending so much time in nature last year, not least through spending three months volunteering on RSPB Ramsey Island, I had become a bit jaded and unmotivated in my nature interests but the boost it has given me over the last few months has made me even more determined to make a difference. Quite what that I’m going to do next with this I don’t yet know; some big changes in my life are continuing and I perhaps need to focus on those first and then see what I can do when we’ve settled a bit.

That boost from nature has come from many different directions. Firstly, the slowing of human activity enabled nature to come more to the fore. The disappearance of both traffic from the road and very frequent low-fly planes overhead brought a peace to Kew that it probably hasn’t known in many decades. What had been constant intrusions from city life diminished for a period to the extent that even light traffic became unusual and passing planes became a novelty. This allowed the bird calls to rise above manmade sounds and I could frequently sit at my desk listening to chiffchaffs, blackcaps and green woodpeckers. Then, later, came the swifts; for me the bringers of summer. They arrived in small numbers at first but eventually I could see a dozen or more chasing around the rooftops while I was on video calls (with the camera turned off!).

The weather also brought nature into our lives and what weather we have had. After months of, frankly awful weather, which seemed to start last August, as soon as Lockdown started the sun came out and the temperatures rose. I can’t recall a period of such consistently good weather, ever, from so early in the year. Starting in March the weather, with a few short and minor exceptions, has been fabulous, all up until I left Kew after 15 weeks to head home for the first time since this all began. Some might complain; the weather is awful for months on end and as soon as we can’t get out, it turns nice. To the contrary, I think it is one of the best things that could have happened to get us through all this. If the weather had continued to be awful, it would have made it so much harder to cope with. The single sessions of exercise a day enabled springtime walks or runs where the warmth of the sun could be felt on the skin, getting some vital Vitamin D and getting more fresh air into us (now even fresher without all the traffic).  

Then there were the gardens, trees and plants all around us. With the Botanic Gardens across the road closed to the public and no garden of our own, we had to walk the streets and Thames Path for our hit of greenery. As Lockdown was announced there were still no leaves on the trees but the signs of spring were very strongly there. First were the daffodils, which were just finishing when I arrived in Kew and then came the great displays of cherry blossom on many of the streets. Once the blossom had fallen confetti-like to the pavements, the wisterias flowered on many of the houses, with particularly lovely displays on the grand buildings of Kew Green and adjoining streets. We then had the gradual breaking out of the leaves in sequence on all the different species of street trees, followed by further blooming of the horse chestnuts and elders. With such a limited view of scenery from the flat and along our limited choice of walking routes, the transition of different flowers and leaves became very noticeable and provided one way of marking the rapid passing of time.

Back to the fauna, I’m utterly surprised by the number of birds I’ve seen or heard over the course of Lockdown. In total, I recorded 71 species of birds in London, which, amazingly, is two more than the 69 I recorded in my three months on Ramsey Island last year. The range of habitats helped, with a mixture of gardens and woodland, parkland, lakes, tidal river and, yes, cityscape. There were some great species amongst them too including great crested grebe, peregrine, hobby, common tern, nightingale and, of course, the ever noisy ring-necked parakeet. We were also kept company by some regular visitors to our balcony with a crow, woodpigeon and magpie making the best of the seed and fat balls put out for them. Crow, as he was affectionately known, had a brood of chicks not far over the wall into the Botanic Gardens and would come often to pick up food. It took us a while to work out who was taking big chunks out of the fat balls but eventually we saw Crow swinging upside-down jabbing at them to break pieces off. It seemed that we weren’t the only ones feeding him as at least two other flats in our block put out food for him and we saw him coming back from other houses with food in his bill.

The mammals played a supporting role too, with foxes often seen and heard in the streets at night and even in broad daylight at times. We also saw them as we looked through the cast iron gates of the Botanic Gardens before it reopened; a mother being energetically followed by a well-grown cub. Once we were allowed back in, we also saw one in the wild area just before we left late one afternoon; it stood and watched us watching it and then trotted off into the undergrowth. With the relaxation of some parts of Lockdown, we drove the short distance to Richmond Park and added red and fallow deer to our list, and there was the occasional rabbit and squirrel too.

The lockdown walks were a lifeline, in getting exercise and being closer to nature. Walking around the streets of Kew is very pleasant with the large houses and well kept gardens but it is all rather urban. However, the Thames Path made a real difference. Being close to water gave a different sense of place and more in touch with wildness. The Thames is tidal around Kew and seeing the water rise to wash over the path was a real sign that no matter how urban the place is, nature still has some control. There are also some parts of the path where, once the leaves had fully come out, the urban views were obscured and it felts almost rural and away from the dense population of the city. 

As we come out of lockdown, the past few months have left me feeling a mixture of anxiety, disillusion, shame, fear, hopelessness and anger. So much of me wants to cheerfully move on from where we have been, in the hope that there won’t be a resurgence of the virus over the next few months and into the winter. However, the position this country has been left in by the virus and other choices we have made, or have been made for us, is so poor that I really fear for the future. The Government has shown itself to be self-serving and incompetent, with little care for anyone outside its immediate circle. Where we go next as a nation is anyone’s guess.

I can’t end my post there. Whilst I do fear for both the short and the long term, there is also hope. That hope focuses on the potential for a green recovery, the potential to reduce our impacts on the climate and the resources we use, the hope that there may be opportunities to steer ourselves away from an even greater catastrophe and towards building back a stronger relationship with nature. My hope as we turn from summer into autumn, perhaps only from a first COVID-19 chapter to a second, is that this year can finally be the start of an environmental revival spurred on by people’s experiences of nature over lockdown.

Lockdown Diary: Week Twelve

Now into Week 13 of Lockdown there is a growing sense of normality. Not that things are back to the way they were but Lockdown itself seems almost a normal thing to be going through. The recent relaxations allowing more exercise and, as of today, all shops can open, have given some sense of the normal in our lives, at least away from work. However, in reality there has been nothing normal about the past week. COVID-19 mixed in with the Black Lives Matter protests and the Government stating that there will be no extension of the Brexit transition period mean that this has been a week with few parallels in any recent decade.

National news aside, it was another pretty quiet week, really. Work again took plenty of attention but there has been time for leisure and relaxation – perhaps too much looking over my recent exercise stats. The amount of exercise I’ve been getting has slumped significantly over the first half of June and I need to get it back up again. Maybe it’s the relaxing of the exercise rules but I’ve felt less inclined to do much. However, it has to be said that the weather over the last week has been far from ideal with some rain and much lower temperatures at times.

One major reason to get out and walk has been the reopening of the Royal Botantic Garden at Kew. Just across the road from the flat, it’s almost like our front garden. Somehow I managed to miss this from last week’s blog. It reopened in Week 11 but we had to wait until the Friday for our first chance to get in. This week we went in for a post-work walk on Tuesday and taking a very leisurely stroll around the different parts of the garden, I have to say was the most relaxing walk we’ve had since Lockdown began.

On Sunday, we left London behind again and went for a walk along the Thames Path at Goring. Any chance to escape to the countryside is welcome but this walk was particularly lovely. I’ll do a blog post about this one separately.

As we edge ever closer to the summer solstice, I’m very mindful at the moment that while we’re all still in Lockdown to a significant extent, the seasons are moving on. I do worry now by the time we get to any sort of normal that the best weather may be over and the darkness of autumn will be quickly approaching. Despite Lockdown, we need to be making the most of the good weather and light evenings as much as we can, within the restrictions we have placed upon us.

Lockdown Diary: Week Eleven

It’s been a relatively quiet lockdown week. Work has taken a front seat with long hours at my computer screen, starting early but still trying to finish at a reasonable time. We’ve exercised every day but not done any cycling as my steed was in the repair shop. Last week’s post of new or different walks seems a long time ago but the weeks still seem to be rushing past at quite startling speeds.

It’s odd to think that I’ve been in Kew under lockdown conditions almost as long as the three months I spend on RSPB Ramsey Island last spring and summer. Fortunately, that period didn’t seem to go as quickly as this has, although at the time, that too sped past far too quickly. It also seems a long time since I was in such a wild a place as Ramsey. In the autumn we spent a week in Mull and had five nights in Devon at New Year but they both seem a lifetime ago. Our day walking in the Buckinghamshire countryside last weekend really helped to dampen the yearning for wild places for a little while but now it’s back stronger than ever.

A busy week left less time to find escape from the world of work and this weekend we have both been very tired and a bit run down so there has been no opportunity for an brief escape to the countryside. Having said that, watching Springwatch this week (we’re a week behind) has made some difference and I’ve taken to it again after growing tired of some of the silliness over the last couple of years. It seems to be more serious, more scientific, but still gives those special insights into the lives of wildlife – for me, it’s got its magic back.

I wrote a blog post over the weekend for the Osprey charity I volunteer with. It focussed on how their webcam is giving a window into the wild world that many under lockdown wouldn’t otherwise see. I think I can now add TV to webcams in giving opportunities for everyone to connect better with wildlife. For some reason, I didn’t just stop watching Springwatch, I also stopped switching on to all wildlife programmes for a while. I can’t fully explain why. I used to love watching the numerous Attenborough series and The Natural World but I either just wanted to be in those places myself or I found it all too depressing that there’s so little of the truly wild places left. However, hopefully, lockdown has reconnected me to one avenue though which we can all better engage with the wild world around us.

Lockdown Diary: Week Ten

This has been a week of memorable walks. The easing of the restriction on the amount of exercise  we’re allowed to do, and how far we can travel to do it, has given us more opportunities to be outside in the continuing great weather.

We’ve been to Richmond Park a few times since the restrictions were eased but earlier this week we went for our first evening walk. The Park was much quieter than during our daytime visits and a little cooler too; quite welcome given the recent heat. We headed from Ham Gate to the lakes and back again, through the woods and open grassland. The deer were more visible than during the day time and were out enjoying the quietness in the last of the sun. All except one group of red deer which chased of a couple and their dog when they walked past too close to their one small calf. The Park had a much calmer atmosphere that evening, as the day was coming to a close and the light dipping behind the trees, we’ll have to go again and the evening might become our favoured time if the days become even busier than they presently are.

Last night (Friday), we went for a walk after our evening meal, in the last light of the day. The walk down to Kew Green, along the Thames and then back through the residential streets, was the quietest local stroll we’ve had since lockdown began but also one of the most memorable. The air had a bit of a nip as we left the flat but the air was still. The clear sky meant there was enough light to see and the glow from the west gave a sharpness to the scenes. At Kew Green, we walked around to the Elizabeth Gate entrance to the Botanic Gardens and saw a mother fox and her small cub running around the manicured grass and flower beds. Walking onto the river path, the enclosing trees brought darkness but it was just possible to see across the water and watch the strange flickering patterns the light breeze was making on the Thames’ surface. Back through the deserted streets we hoped to see more foxes out and about. At first a cat raised and dashed hopes but on the last street before the turn for the flat, a fox wandered across the road, stopped to look at us but soon disappeared into gardens as we approached.

Today, we left the city and headed a few miles west to Seer Green for a country walk. Only half an hour away from London but distant from any busy honeypot areas, within minutes of parking the car we were out in almost silent rolling Home Counties countryside. The first footpath we passed along was in the dip of a shallow valley of ripening wheat and the only sound was a calling skylark somewhere out of sight in the clear blue sky above our heads. As we continued our walk through the fields and woods, we came across a few people, but far fewer than we do on our daily walks in Kew, and there was so much more peacefulness in the countryside than the city. We crossed a couple of busy roads but there was little other activity and we spent much of the time listening to the birdlife as we walked. We stopped to watch a whitethroat claiming his territory from a high hedge perch and later stood as red kite circled and called above the fields sloping down into another valley. We eventually turned towards the car and passed through the village but even there it was quiet with very little activity going on.

Now back in the urban Kew, it is much less quiet with the passing traffic but also the more natural sound of the breeze passing through the London planes outside of the window. The chance of a wander around the countryside has fed my need for rural space and will hopefully dampen that yearning for a while.

I was going to finish with a point about easing lockdown too quickly but will leave that for now and stop here before I let the post end on a less relaxing tone. These walks have made a big difference to us, being able to be outside in nice places, both urban and rural, connecting with nature and bringing some peace and calmness to what still remain quite hectic weekday lives.

Lockdown Diary: Week Nine

As lockdown continues, so does the startling good weather and this week it turned properly warm with temperatures up to the high 20s. The forecasts predict this will go on for the whole of the next week and into the weekend, continuing what has been the longest spell of good weather I can remember since the heatwave of 2018. We had a very brief hail storm on Saturday and a short shower when we were out walking just before that but that was all the rainfall we’ve had for weeks. It’s hard to believe that we’re still only in May and that summer has yet to start. Back at home, the weather has been good, I believe, but the difference in temperature this bit further south in Kew is marked. I’m sure many will be thinking the same, that if lockdown had occurred in the late autumn or winter, with the accompanying poorer weather and shorter daylight hours, these few weeks would have seemed very much worse to cope with.

With restrictions lifted on how much outside exercise one can do and the distance that can be driven to take that exercise, we have been outside more frequently and for longer. Walking, running and cycling have enabled me to keep a lid on some of the stresses of the past few weeks and the lifting of some restrictions means it’s easier to take the exercise I need for good mental health.

The nature of Kew and Richmond is also continuing to give me a lift. We have now made ‘friends’ with a crow who comes to our balcony to feed on muesli and occasional bids of bread we put out for him. We are not alone in feeding him, at least two neighbours in our block of flats are doing the same and we’ve seen him flying towards his nest from other nearby buildings with food in his mouth. We have also had magpies, great tits and robins feeding on the balcony but it is crow we seen the most. He lands on the metal table with a clattering, fills his mouth as much and as quickly as he can and then flies off through the trees, across the road and into his nest.

We have also frequently seen foxes in the street below the flat, both at night and in daylight. It’s also not unusual to hear them calling in the small hours or smell their presence as we walk around the nearby roads. We’ve seen them in full day time, walking along the road or jumping a fence; they seem bold and confident much of the time but also timid when people are walking nearby. It is perhaps these foxes that make the connection with nature the strongest, seeing quite large wild animal walking the very urban, if tree-lined, streets of Kew draws some connections with some of the wildest places I’ve been.

The Government appears set to announce further changes to lockdown over the coming week, perhaps enabling some limited meeting of households or even enabling us to travel to spend some time at my house. I’ve got so used to living in the flat here in Kew and to wandering the local streets, cycling the Thames Path and now, as of last week, visiting Richmond Park, that it may seem quite odd to be living somewhere else.

Lockdown Diary: Week Eight

An eighth week of lockdown has nearly passed and in some ways I’m running out of things to say, or at least struggling to find the clarity of thought to put something meaningful on the page. Like many I expect, simply living with lockdown, all seems very tiring despite not having the daily commute and not having the added pressure of being a key worker. At the end of each day, I often feel shattered but we do go out and exercise as much as possible; to clear the head and to get some of those endorphins going.

There seems to be more uncertainty about the future than ever and as the UK Government seems intent on pushing out of lockdown, I think there may be reluctance amongst many to follow its chosen path. I’ve always loved driving but given the chance this week to drive a short distance to Richmond Park, there was some significant apprehension; I’m not sure why and it wasn’t just a passing feeling. Breaking out of lockdown is going to require people to get back to doing many of the things that they haven’t done for weeks and if I’m feeling nervous about something I usually love doing, I suspect many others will find some of their normal activities more challenging than they were.

I’m also finding it harder to separate work from home. I’ve tried to keep the two as separate as possible, clearing all work away at the end of each day, exercising straight afterwards to make an almost physical break between the two and I try not to think about work too much outside of work hours. I think working from home is great and I want to keep on doing so for more of the time when we return to more normal times. However, I need to do more to make the break between work and home. 

I think the lack of a holiday isn’t helping. We were meant to have been on the Isle of Harris this week but, clearly, we have known for some time that this wasn’t going to be possible. Without any significant time away from work and home in the short to medium term, the balance of work and home may be even more difficult to get right.

I think many of us will now be getting to the stage where we’re finding it more difficult to find new things to keep ourselves occupied. I listened to a programme on the radio several years ago which suggested that time appears to move more quickly when we do fewer new things. We may remember new activities more clearly than the routine and the more new activities we do, the more markers in time there are and thus, time seems to move more slowly. When we just do the routine activities, time seems to pass more quickly as we remember fewer activities. Maybe the routine of lockdown, when our ability to do new activities is very much reduced, is merging time, making it move more quickly and making work and home almost indistinguishable. I certainly feel that the past eight weeks have flown by.

I did work up the courage to drive to Richmond Park and I was so glad we made the visit. Having been limited to walking around Kew for weeks, it was a release to be somewhere new and in a place with wide open views across green space. We walked through the old oak woodlands and across the open grasslands, past the two lakes and along the currently deserted roads. We had some great views of nature as we walked including sand martins, house martins and swifts flying fast over the water, the herds of red and fallow deer, and even some of this years goose chicks wandering at the water’s edge.

Hopefully, with exercise restrictions lifted a little now, we can get out more and do some more new things to break up the time and help to make a greater divide between work and home time…and, maybe, I won’t find it do hard to write a blog post next week.

Lockdown Diary: Week Seven

This week has seemed harder than the past few in lockdown. I woke up with a feeling of melancholy on Sunday and it was still there on Monday morning as I started work. Up to then, I hadn’t been feeling too bad apart from the first week, which I found very difficult to settle into. Speaking to colleagues, it seems that many have found the past week harder than others; maybe there’s a seven week itch in these things where tolerance starts to fray a little or coping mechanisms begin to weaken. Maybe it was more about people, including myself, finally accepting that we’re in this for the long haul and not even the new normal will be here any time soon.

The overblown talk earlier in the week of relaxing lockdown has been replaced by more sombre tones of small changes. However, just a little easing of exercise restrictions would be welcomed by many. It gives all of us without gardens or countryside (even if temporarily like me) to get out into some green space and connect with nature. However, those connections can be made even through an open window. 

Sitting at my desk this week, I heard a familiar and very welcome summer sound. I looked up from my screen to see two swifts chasing each other over the Kew rooftops. The following day there were three and the calls have been heard intermittently ever since. They’re my favourite bird of all and their calls, as I must have written here before, lift my soul like very few other things can. In the winter, I yearn for that sound and I cherish every time I hear it. After all, the swifts won’t be here for long and in no time at all I will be left once more with many months of waiting to hear them again. 

This week I also noticed as the darkness had fallen on another day in lockdown, the number of insects attracted by the street lights and circling in bright rays shining down towards the pavement. I wouldn’t say it was a startling observation but it got me thinking about how long it was that I had seen so many insect doing the same. That then led me on to consider whether the reductions in air pollution resulting from the lower levels of traffic might be be causing an increase in the numbers of insects. I’m no scientist but on my next long car journey it will be interesting to see if the number of insects picked up the front of my car has noticeably increased. Anecdotally, it seems that ‘fly splatter’ on cars has decreased over the past few years and any change in these observations over the next few months might be telling.

We have continued to go for walks this week and yesterday was a particularly memorable one. We set off in the morning and stopped at Kew Bridge to wait for the Red Arrows to pass overhead on their route from the VE Day commemoration flypast. They duly did and we went on with our walk and stepped down onto the shore of the Thames. It was a very low tide yesterday and we could walk almost all the way between Kew and Chiswick Bridges. Down on the short was the usual mix of swans, geese, ducks, gulls and herons but this time we came across some of the first young of the year with a gaggle of Egyptian goslings.

Even in lockdown, even staying inside, there are ways to connect to nature. Writing this post has lifted some of the gloom and I’ll go out for a cycle in a while, which will hopefully lift it further. I’ll have to see how many insects I get splatted on my sunglasses!

Lockdown Diary: Week Six

The weather turned this week, away from the summer-like sunshine and temperatures and towards something more appropriate for the end of April. We’ve had a few heavy showers, some stronger winds and there’s definitely been a chilly edge to the air. Tuesday was almost a write-off with heavy rain for much of the day but it slackened off in time for a walk after work. The weather over the previous weeks has been almost surreal with so much consistency in the warmth and sun, and whilst I do want it to return, this week’s rain and wind was almost a welcome return to the norm. The change has also brought another marker to show the passing of time.

Those walks after work have been so important in keeping some semblance of sense and perspective in my head. I hadn’t really realised just how important they have been until late this week when I’d had to wait until later in the evening. We usually go out immediately after finishing work for the day and they have formed a demarkation in time between the worlds of work and home. It seems I’ve finally noticed that working from home really can blur those worlds too much and without something to separate them it’s much more difficult to shut off the thoughts of the working day from home life hours. It’s also quite noticeable that I find it easier to block out home from work time than work from home time. That is not a reflection of the relative value I attached to them but more to do with my usual working self-discipline, the merging of home and workplace, and my significantly reduced ability to keep my mind occupied with my usual range of outdoor activities.

Those walks, as I’ve written previously, have enabled us to keep in touch with the nature around us. Kew is pretty special with all the lovely gardens, street trees and open spaces, as well as the River Thames. However, there is one unassuming spot that has been particularly good at providing wildlife highlights. There’s a closed off road between a railway embankment and the National Archives which provides a link to the river.  The embankment is covered in trees and deep undergrowth and, on the opposite side of the road, the Archives have a hedge in front of its gardens. As we’ve walked there over the past few weeks we’ve seen a daytime fox and plenty of birds including a garden warbler and two very loud blackcaps. However, this week we got a special surprise as we made our way down the road. In the deep undergrowth came a call I’d heard before but didn’t quite recognise. At first I thought it was a thrush but that wasn’t right. I then realised, it was a nightingale! I’ve only heard one once before and that was in a nature reserve, so it was a startling find, particularly in such a spot on the edge of London.

Whilst there is still a long way to go to get anywhere near back to normal, or more likely forward to a new normal, there are now at least some signs of hope in the daily news. We’re past the peak, the sad daily toll of deaths is dropping, at least in the measure of those passing away in hospitals. There is talk of relaxing some aspects of lockdown, if not social distancing, and the country is looking at ways to live with this virus while going about more normal daily life. I still think my girlfriend and I haven’t had it too bad compared to many others. However, the realisation that I really do need to go for a walk straight after work has highlighted that this situation can take its toll even on those who aren’t on the front line.

Lockdown Diary: Week Five

Now coming to the end of the fifth week of lockdown, the days seem to be merging and it’s becoming difficult to make marks in time to help judge the pace of the passing weeks. The weather has continued to be consistently lovely, more like earlier summer than mid-spring, making it even more difficult to tell one day from another. 

Perhaps the easiest way to see time passing has been the surrounding flora. The first weeks still had a few daffodils in flower and the trees were largely bare. Then came the wisteria flowers, adorning many of the grand houses on the leafy streets of Kew. Now they too are fading and the strong scent diminishing, but there are more flowers coming forward to take their place. The horse chestnuts seem to be particularly spectacular this year with some almost hanging heavy with the weight of their flower candles. As I wrote last week, the emergence of the leaves across all the trees has been a daily note and most are now in full leaf. The changing of the trees from winter to summer has possibly been the most dramatic marker of the time passed so far.

A more subtle changing has been the ebb and flow of the tides; not each high and low, but the shifting of their timing. Two weeks ago on our daily outing we walked on the bare gravel bed of the Thames close to Kew Bridge, but yesterday, out at roughly the same time, the river was washing over the footpath. There is something rather untamed about the Thames in this part of its flow. It may be hemmed in by walls, banks and buildings but it refuses to be submit and with every large high tide it threatens to flow into the riverside properties. This dynamic of the river is particularly spectacular around Richmond where is cuts off the Thames Path completely as well as a building or two, and floods into surrounding fields.

This part of London is a rather lovely place to be during the lockdown and there are many in much worse positions than us, many have no access to outside space and little greenery around them. However, despite being surrounded by green and water, it is still an urban environment, with a concentration of people and activity. The noise may be much less than normal, with fewer cars on the road and much less frequent planes passing overhead but I do miss the more open green and quieter spaces of the countryside. Perhaps even more so, I’m starting to yearn for the really wild places I like to visit and with two trips already cancelled I’m starting to wonder when my next trip away from urban life will be.

As a write this, there’s a chiffchaff calling from a nearby tree and blackcap singing in some undergrowth across the road. As long as they and others keep on singing, they will provide a link between me and those more wild places.