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: settling in

It seems a bit late to be starting a lockdown diary but, oddly, I don’t really seem to have had the time over the first three weeks. Life has already settled into a pattern where weekdays are filled with work, albeit with longer lunches, and the evenings provide time for a daily walk or run, some cooking and eating, and then a bit of relaxation before bed. Having spent whole days in front of a computer screen writing or on video calls, spending more time at a screen writing a blog doesn’t feature high on my list of things to do in the evenings. However, despite all the terrible things happening right now, I still find time to look at nature and, feeling generally a bit helpless about the situation in general (I’m not a key worker), I thought at very least I could make some effort to write a few blog posts.

I arrived at my girlfriend’s flat in Kew the day we both came out of self-isolation and the government called the lockdown that evening. As I travelled down from my home in Cheshire, I knew that lockdown was very likely to happen and that I could have to stay in London for the duration. The decision was really a non-contest between my own home comforts and being with Sarah.

I can’t say there aren’t things I’m missing; the flat’s balcony is a great space to lift the prospect of cabin fever but I miss my back garden, I should have brought a few more clothes with me and I would have loved to have one of my bikes down here – Sarah’s may have to be brought out as a stand in.

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. 

Kew is in the centre of a large loop of the Thames, which is a short walk to the north and to the east of us. We are just across the road from the famous botanic gardens, we can look over the wall from the second floor flat, but now it is closed to the public it blocks the route to the Thames to the west. Kew Green is also just down the road, on one of the routes to the river, and it brings openness to the area with its large park surrounded by lovely old houses with wisteria growing up the outside of many.

However, being Kew, it’s not just big garden across the road that has plenty of attention paid to it; so many of the residential gardens are lovely too. In fact the whole area is lovely and looking particularly so now. The roads are lined with more big old houses and terraces, and the occupants clearly all (or nearly all) have green fingers with the gardens seemly competing with each other to be mini versions of their famous, larger counterpart. The streets themselves are also almost gardens themselves; I don’t think I’ve ever noticed so many street trees and at present hundreds are out in blossom.

The past three weeks, whilst being the start of lockdown, have also seemingly seen the real start of spring. After many months of miserable weather (it almost seems to have been horrible since I left my three-month stint on Ramsey Island at the end of July), the sun and warmth have finally broken through. This week particularly has been very warm with temperatures up in the mid-20s at times and the sun has been out so much of the time. This appears to have kickstarted the trees with their leaves really bursting out all across the area.

The warm weather has enabled us to have the windows and balcony door open much of the time and that has let the natural sounds into the flat. The man-made sounds are less than usual with the roads much quieter and the planes going overhead on the flight path to Heathrow almost come as a surprise as they are so few and irregular now. The bird calls now float into the flat and I have to stop to listen every so often as the call of a green woodpecker or the song of a blackcap comes through into the rooms.

As I’m not a key worker and all I have had to do is shift to working from home, which is what I do at least a day a week anyway, I can hardly complain about the situation I find myself in. We have plenty of food and drink, we can get outside of the flat and can go for a walk or run each day. The traffic and planes are much quieter and spring is growing to its peak. There are so many people in much worse positions than us and under so much more pressure and anxiety. However, its not all plain sailing and I know just what a terrible situation the country is in at present, the stress of the collective situation we find ourselves in hasn’t completely passed me by but letting nature in is surely one of the best ways to cope with it all.