Lockdown Memories

Meeting Hank, Is and Nina on Downs

Packing FSMs at Blue for delivery

Thursday at Blue looking after 3 kids in an otherwise empty school

Last night in Bristol w Nick. Everyone out exercising

Driving the next day to Westleigh. Evacuating to the countryside

Sunny days like Summer adding to the surrealist feel

Gardening w Tracey. Mornings in the sunshine reading atop the landing and running

Walks across the moors

The walk up through Heale and discovering the top of the village

It’s been 5 weeks today since lockdown started. How long ago it seems. How experience of ‘the new’ can stretch time.

For all the uncertainty and limitations and boredom and death and anxiety and any other word we associate with the crisis, I know I’ll look back on this as a strange and rather wonderful dream.

A dream is the best comparison I can think of. There has been a sense of the surreal to the last 5 weeks. A revised sense of what is normal. ‘The new normal’ as people keep referring to it. Oh, and how I do like novelty in my life. I’m already looking ahead to the sepia tones or the Polaroid haziness of the memories that will exist – when? A year from now? More?

Of course I wouldn’t be in this state of mind if I was holed up in Hackney or Hulme or any other cityscape. The situation appeals to my longing for the pastoral. A sense I always try to indulge every May half term when I am moved to walk and wallow amidst the newness of nature.

I have felt this for years now – since I was really young. It’s entirely visceral. When I’m out in sunshine, alone, wind in my face and a view of the unbelievably green world – newly reborn – it’s like opium rushing through me. It makes me dream.

To be forced into this situation is pure luck.

The weirdness and wonder has been amplified by an extraordinary period of good weather: weeks of sunshine, temperatures well into the twenties. Little traffic, few planes. A heightened sense of a return to nature. Reminiscent of disaster movies where the protagonists run away to the countryside and everything is normal, natural even but where are the people? Or books like William Morris’s ‘News from Nowhere’ where the writer imagines a utopian agrarian society where there are no cities and people have a renewed sense of joy inspired by their relationship with nature.

I need to chart this time somehow. Feel like I have a record of it.

Lockdown started on March 24th but we started to feel restrictions the week before. On March 17th Boris had started to discourage mass meetings like in pubs and clubs but didn’t ban it until a few days later. Schools were still partially open. We had year 10 in on Wednesday 18th but already lots of kids and staff were staying at home.

By Thursday March 19th – in fact earlier that week – many of the students at Bristol Uni seemed to have gone home. On Friday I had been planning to go home to Suffolk as part of my fortnightly visit to Mum and Dad. I hadn’t thought it through properly. Both my brother and brother-in-law discouraged me.

Thursday 19th was the first time I clapped the carers and could see a few others on Pembroke Road doing the same while typically out on Buckingham Vale I couldn’t see anyone.

Woke up on Friday 20th and told Mum I couldn’t risk it. Went to my local pharmacy where already people were social distancing and the pharmacist was wearing a mask.

The week before the sun had been shining and everyone had been jammed into The Penny pub on Whiteladies watching Cheltenham Festival. Should it have been called off?

That afternoon I cycled up to the Downs and met Hank, Is and Nina all on bikes and kept 2 metres apart and discussed the newness of everything.

March 21st was a Saturday and I went down to Westleigh. I can’t remember anything about that day. I know I had been rinsing it the night before.

I had for the first time the feeling of escaping to a rural retreat. Running away. Evacuating. There was already negative news of others running away from big cities to second homes in Devon and Cornwall. At least I planned to stay.

This was the start of the extended period of sunny weather which lasted virtually uninterrupted for a month.

On Sunday March 22nd I drove up to Burrow Hill. Soft light. Empty space. I watched the sun move slowly down the sky into the West.

That week I’d decided to stay in Somerset realising quickly that the countryside would be a much better option. Imagining

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