The new way. Week two

Saturday 28 March 2020 – London.

So here we are; week one of the half hearted lock-down. Stuck inside for the best part of each day on what has proven to be the nicest week of the year so far. Glorious sunshine, though cold, all week.

Confused messages; a confused and confusing government; an ill-informed, populist, journalist come prime minister, who is now sick; death rates rising (as expected); a health system underfunded for a decade struggling to cope; morons breaking basic hygiene rules all over the place. Panic shopping, which now seems to be abating. Welcome to post-truth, post-pre-Brexit, covid19 UK; and we are in some respects a fortunate country.

Last night (Friday 20 March) the prime minister announced that all UK cafes, bars and restaurants are to be closed to eat/drink in customers until further notice. It was also the final full opening day for schools, though some could stay open to allow key workers to go to work. As you would expect there was a lot of confusion about who is a key worker, something that has yet to be fully clarified. I am apparently a key worker, as is Eleanor. Though we do not have children and are now both working from home anyway. As I said in my last post, we are lucky, very very lucky.

In fact everything is confusing, the messages from the government and the press, contradict each other on a daily basis; what was the thing to do yesterday, is not thing to do today. The only clear message up until this week was ‘wash your hands for 20 seconds’. It is still the only clear key message, and the most important.

Stay at home is the new message this week, though who has to stay at home and what does stay at home really mean are constantly confused and contradicted;

  • We are told that we can go to the shops for essentials; though up until mid-week most shops were open, and what is essential?
  • We are told we can go for one exercise walk, run or ride per day, but only with people who live in your house, staying two metres away from anyone else. There is no one to enforce this. This is not a metric country; there is confusion as to how long two metres is, apparently. 
  • What does social distancing really mean? A newly made up phrase lobbed around casually as if every English speaking person knows exactly what it means. I don’t. I dread to think what those where English is a second language think. Self isolating; the same. Come on government, use clear language; it’s almost as if you want to hide behind this loose language when the inquiry comes along and the lawyers get involved…

I got back from the flat mid-afternoon on Saturday and with no plans for the afternoon, or for the foreseeable future decided to make a cake. I haven’t made a cake in a long time. I may have made one since I came left NZ in 2011. It was OK, it didn’t last long.

The son of good friends of ours has covid19, luckily he has only been mildly ill; compared too many others anyway. Though, I suspect he would say it has not been mild, no flu ever feels ‘mild’. Under the new guidelines the whole household are self-isolating for 14 days. On Sunday I made them suffer more and baked a banana cake which I delivered, leaving it on the doorstep and calling it in.

By the end of the week one of our social group was also taken down with, and again thankfully, not a serious bout, of the covid19 flu.

It was good being back with Eleanor, I found it much less stressful being in the  house with her. We work well together, and having regular human contact is very much under–rated; by me at least. As I touched on in the last post, I love being by myself and have had a few really enjoyable weeks at the flat on my own. This time it was different. After three days alone, and with the potential for weeks, maybe months, of forced aloneness if I stayed at the flat looming I am glad I came back to London.

Work wise, I found the start of this week tough. Monday morning was OK as I re-arranged my desk and got myself physically sorted for working. We are all set up to work online, as at least one of us works from home most days sharing and banter online is part of our normal day. I was really struggling with motivation by Monday afternoon and Tuesday was pretty bad. There is a lot going on in the world and in my head, and the work I was doing was dull and I just was not interested in it at all. By the end of the week I had gotten rid of the worst of the work and the feeling has subsided a bit. I am hoping that come Monday I will be back fully engaged in it all again, and there will be some interesting things to work on. The department I work in is doing some important work supporting the nation in its struggle to cope with this disease. My team support these people, what they do is critical, though it feels like what I do is less so.

Last Tuesday we started holding an online divisional meeting each morning; to keep in contact, share work plans and make sure that everyone stays well and engaged. On Wednesday one of the team said he had started going for a walk in the morning before work to replace his commute, creating a clear break between home mode and work mode.

I thought this was a great idea and started doing this the following day, though walking along the St Leonards sea front made the ‘commute’ much nicer than walking the busy and dull streets of suburban London.

Eleanor and I are now doing a ‘commute’ walk around Lloyd Park in the morning. It does help make sure we get up, get dressed and get ready for work in the same way as we did when life was normal. I start work at the same time, take lunch at the same time; the only thing I am not doing is ironing shirts.

When I was in St Leonards I bought a new monitor, which I was going to leave there, but knowing I might not be back for a while I bought it up to London for Eleanor to use, though she ended up using my old one as it fitted her work space better. Monday morning I took half an hour to set up my desk. It is small and in a corner of the bedroom, fine for a day a week, but not brilliant for long term, luckily the chair is excellent. With a full rearrange; and with the benefit of a wireless mouse and keyboard I bought a few weeks ago, I seem to have a work space that works and is not too uncomfortable.

The view out the window to one side of my desk is nowhere near as good as the view out the window at the flat.

We didn’t do the walk on Tuesday, El had an early start and I couldn’t be bothered doing it on my own. A mistake. It made a massive difference to my day and I massively struggled with getting going and remaining motivated. I resolved to not make that mistake again, and for the rest of the week I managed to get out. Admittedly it has been really nice out, it will be harder next week when the clocks have been turned forward and it will be darker, and the weather is forecasted to be not so nice.

As the message of staying at home starts to sink in to the general population and more businesses shut their doors or allow employees to work from home by Wednesday the streets around home are getting more deserted. On our walk that morning I was surprised to see not one single moving car at the main intersection at the end of our road. I have never seen the roads so empty. Unsurprisingly reported pollution levels have gone right down…

On Friday I walked alone, though I didn’t walk as far as normal. I took the little camera with me to take some photos of the spring flowers in the park. I find photography very therapeutic, and knowing that at any time there could be a proper ban on going out with an enforced curfew, I wanted to at least make use of the time I had. There will be more next week I hope.

On Friday night we attended an online quiz the son of one of our friends put together. There were close to 20 households taking part and it was a hell of a lot fun. Joe did an amazing job of herding this group of noisy, drinking people through the quiz online. The questions were tough and El and I did not do that well. El is brilliant at quizzes, has a vast general knowledge, though I let the side down by being a bit rubbish. Online socialising was OK, all things being considered, though not the same as sitting in the pub.

Saturday we walked for a bit and picked up some small items of shopping, the shopping madness seems to have abated,, at least in the smaller shops and most of the things we wanted were on the shelves. It is important to us to keep sourcing fresh food while it is available and not outrageously priced. I am not sure if it will remain that way. We also did a massive pantry reorganise, looking to see what we had lots of (pasta) and what we had little of (rice), things to make note of next time we go shopping. We also sorted things so we would use the stuff that was close to its best by date sooner rather than later. This was a good use of time. We have a lot of it now, and have plenty more coming.

I also made another cake, my first carrot cake. I discovered after committing to make the cake that we had two round baking trays, just different sizes. I am also a lousy cake icer, so this will not win any awards for its looks. It tasted good though!

Week one of lock down has passed, mostly successfully,  mentally I slumped mid-week, but managed to pick it back by the weekend. Walthamstow remains calm and it is quiet out on the street. Who knows how long this will go on for and what adjustments we have to make. All being well, and if everyone plays their part, we shall get through this.

The new way, Week one.

Saturday 21 March 2020 – St Leonards-on-Sea.

And so it begins. A new but, hopefully temporary, stage of existence. Something so utterly predictable, yet something we are all so utterly unprepared for. A global pandemic. The Corona virus, Covid19.

I have been following the story since it was first reported in Wuhan, though not with any particular dread. I knew it was coming here and was going to impact us, and have been, on reflection, kind of just hanging around waiting for it so I can move on, to here. Now.

I am one of the very lucky ones.

  • I am fit and well (I think) as is Eleanor.
  • I have a job that allows me to work from home; I work for an organisation that encouraged us to not to come in to the office.
  • Eleanor has just started a new three month contract two weeks ago, and can work from home too.
  • I have some where to live that is comfortable and secure; in fact I have a choice of two places to live.
  • Eleanor and I have no at risk family members living with, or near us that we could possibly infect. My dad and both Eleanor’s parents are dead, and mum is in NZ.
  • Having my mum, sisters, son and grandson in NZ, a son and granddaughter in Australia and my daughter in Sri Lanka is stressful, and at times worrying, but there is nothing I can do about it. At this point in time they are all well and safe, and it is easier to not worry about them knowing this.
  • Both of Eleanor’s sons are living elsewhere and we have the house to ourselves. This means space for us to both work and not get in each other’s way. We can look after each other and it is easier to be cautious when it is just the two of us.
  • We had stocked up a little on non-perishable food a while ago; we have a ‘Brexit’ box. This means that we did not have to buy much, and certainly avoided the panic buying madness. Food wise we are good, at least for a while.

Last Tuesday we had a test work-from-home day with the whole department out of the office. Most of us work from home at least one day a week, but never at the same time. This was a test of the technology, and how we could all use it at the same time and how it would work for those who have not regularly worked from home. It was pretty successful. This was fortunate; later that day we, along with 2000 other colleagues, were advised to not go back to the office until further notice. Perhaps 12 weeks in the future.

Eleanor had at least one more day of working in the office, so on Wednesday I decided to drive down to St Leonards and work from the flat for a few days. I was hoping to be able to share working between London and St Leonards over the work from home period, though realistically expected this to not be achievable, and I was right with that. While there are no enforced travel restrictions yet, unnecessary travel is advised against and I can see there being a proper locked down ordered. I did not want to be left stranded away from Eleanor for a long period.

Working down there was the right thing to do. I got to experience being on my own ALL the time for three days, and I didn’t particularly like it. I can cope perfectly well being on my own, just having contact and the odd cheery word with someone in a cafe, shop or bar. Without even that small amount of face to face human interaction things felt different, weird and uncomfortable. I also worried that if I got sick I could get stuck inside for a few days on my own, if I got really sick then that could be dangerous.

Everything is very different now. Though things are yet to fully be locked down, a lot of places are shut, most of the cafes and some of the pubs and restaurants in St Leonards and Hastings have closed. My go-to bar, 1200 Postcards shut the doors, hopefully not forever, before I got down to the flat. I stayed in Thursday evening, cooked and took a photo out of the bedroom window. Gloom settling in.

I finished work at 4:00 on Friday and took a walk into Hastings to pick up a book I ordered. I took a couple of photos on the way.

The council have been grading the beach after the all the winter storms, I love the patterns made by the tracks of the diggers.

Back in St Leonards I popped into Graze (only two people in there, so I could stay 2 metres from  the other punters) for a glass of wine, suspecting it would be my last time in a bar for a while. Soon after I arrived at 5:00pm the government announced that as of tonight all bars, eat-in cafes and restaurants had to close. I don’t disagree with the decision, hard as it will be on the places I frequent and support, and I will miss going out for a drink and for coffee. My bank balance will be less displeased.

Saturday morning I went for a final quick walk, it was a glorious day, though cold. I love how Goat Ledge have chalked boxes on the ground for customers to stand in while they queue for a takeaway, and keep the required two metres apart.

I also popped into Lucy Bell Gallery, a photography only gallery to look at an exhibition based on, and to raise funds for the preservation of, Prospect Cottage. The late Derek Jarman’s cottage on Dungeness Beach.

I ended up buying a print of a Richard Heslop image. ‘Adam and Eve’, taken from the Jarman film ‘The Garden’, which was shot at Prospect Cottage, by Richard.  The print arrived here in London this morning, a week later. It will look great, framed, on the wall back in St Leonards.

I drove back to Walthamstow, knowing I will not be back at the flat for possibly a long time. I found, and still find this quite upsetting.

Leake St and The Vaults.

Sunday 8 March 2020 – London.

As is often the case with my blog posts, this one has been written some time after the event happened. What is very different this time is, the world has completely changed in the last two weeks. This is the last time that I can wander the streets of London with my camera, hangout with friends in bars and watch a play in a small intimate theatre for the foreseable future. I am missing those days already.

Life has been (had been) normal lately, weekdays in London and weekends mostly spent at my flat in St Leonards-on-Sea. Work, relax. Not doing a lot as we have had storm after storm in the UK this winter. I was fortunate that none of those storms seriously impacted the south and I feel for those in the west and north who have been hit with flood on flood and have been so terribly let down by our government.

This weekend was different. I spent it in London. The first in what seems like ages.

El’s son Joe is producing a one person show as part of the month-long Vault theatre festival in the spaces off of Leake Street tunnel in Waterloo. I have been to Leake Street a number times, especially back in the street art photography days. It is still a very important spot for legal graff, and very popular with those who want an ‘edgy’ background to a photo shoot. I was looking forward to visiting again, it has been ages.

I had intended on going to the forest yesterday to take some photos. I had charged the camera and had the bag out and everything. However, I am in a bit of winter slump and ended up not going, doing nothing at all. I was not feeling like doing much more today either, Corona Virus is happening, and I can see it is going to have a massive impact. I just don’t know what yet. To be honest, that was the excuse, I just don’t like winter, and am lacking motivation for anything at the moment.

We had arranged to meet our social group at the station at 1:30, then take a couple of tubes to Waterloo to see Joe’s play, Glitch. Waking early, by mid-morning, I was bored and decided to chuck the big camera with a wide angle zoom in a bag and head in early, take some photos and do a walk. Stretch my legs, get some air and attempt to rise up from the slump. It was sunny and not too end-of-winter cold. I also wanted pizza, but didn’t want to admit that to El, we are supposed to be eating less.

I caught the Overground to Liverpool St and then walked to the Southbank.  I took some photos on the way. I was surprised at the amount of people about, normally this part of London is dead quiet on a Sunday. It was great taking the big camera out, I really need to do it more often, it just feels good to use it. Though, even after years of taking photos I still have ‘getting my camera out in public’ phobia…. I also need to replace the 50mm lens I broke, what is now almost two years ago, there would have been a lot less cropping in post-production.

I stopped for lunch in Pizza Express on the south bank, taking some basic precautions, washing my hands when I walked in. The only advice we have been given up till then. I enjoyed the pizza and a glass of wine, and watching the entirely unexpected heavy rain pouring down the windows after I had sat down. The glass of wine lasted until the rain stopped.

Walking the short distance from the south bank to Leake Street felt completely different. The rain had cleared the streets, streets that were only half as busy as normal. With the low, heavy and dark sky it was feeling a little zombie apocalypse, thankfully with no zombies.

Today was International Women’s Day and the annual ‘Girls Can’ event was on in Leake St. All the doom and gloom with the virus, and what has turned out to be a fairly shitty day weather wise, has massively reduced the number of people coming to the event, an opportunity for women and girls to take control of the walls in the tunnel, and have a play with a can of spray paint.

I was very early for the play, the rain had thrown my schedule of walking the South Bank out of whack, I took a few photos in the tunnel, then walked up to the Vault, expecting to be able to go in and have a drink in one of the bars. It was closed, and not opening for another half hour. I found a pub on Lower Thames and watched some football on the TV. Little did I know it was to almost be the last live football of the season I would see, and one of the last pubs I would visit.

El messaged me when the crew arrived and I went and joined everyone and we had a pre show drink in one of the Vault bars – after a thorough hand washing. The new normal.

The play was OK, I liked the premise, though a one-person show is not my thing. I mostly enjoyed it, and the venue was half full, which Joe was pleased with. He had some great reviews and if we were in different times I am sure it would have been a full house.

We stayed for a drink after the play, and I took a walk around the venues and bars and tunnels that make up the Vault, it is a very cool place and I should have prowled with my camera rather than my phone. Still, phones make for damn good cameras these days.

After the drink we decided to walk back to Liverpool St station rather than taking the tube, a decision that suited me perfectly, more opportunities to take photos and not being underground is always good.

Unsurprisingly we all walk at different paces, and less surprisingly I am one of the faster walkers. This put me on the Millennium Bridge a few minutes before everyone else, and the opportunity to play with some slightly longer exposures. I was very happy with how these hand held shots came out.

Sadly, we missed a train at Liverpool St by about 30 seconds, so were forced into the bar at the station for one more drink.

It had been very good afternoon and I am glad we got to go to a theatre, a bar (or two/three) and I had pizza. Who knew then what we know now, and we really have no idea of what is coming.