Back to the office. (Once, hopefully not again)

September Monday/Tuesday 28/29 2020 – London.

After a very long period of procrastination I finally got around to calling my doctor about an unevenly growing mole on my leg. I was surprised that even though Covid is gaining ground in the UK again I was very quickly offered an appointment at the dermatology clinic in Whipps Cross Hospital; a 30 minute walk from our place in Walthamstow. As an aside; it seems we are now both referring to St Leonards as home, and Walthamstow is now the place we visit, a complete reversal from five months ago.

As we were going to be in London for a couple of days I elected to spend a day in the office. I am working on a procurement project and have five response documents to read, totalling almost 100 pages. With so much to process my preference is to read and annotate paper. However, I was not wanting to use my own printer; plus my printer is slow enough that I suspect they would still be printing as I write this 10 days later. I also wanted to see how many colleagues had responded to the offer to go back to the office. I was also interested to see how quiet it is in the Westminster and Regents St areas.

Eleanor and I have been very good at maintaining some work disciplines throughout this Covid event, and the alarm still goes off at 6:35. Admittedly rather than leaping (stumbling) out of bed, we do have a coffee in bed before showers, breakfast and commuting to our workspaces in different rooms of the flat. As I was going to do a proper commute we were up early and I was on the Victoria Line at 7:15, a bit earlier than I would have been in normal times. This was my third journey on the tube since March, and the first in any form of rush hour. It was OK, 95% of passengers had masks on, and most of those had the mask on properly; except of course the person next to me. When we left Walthamstow Central the carriage was only this full, by the time we had got Kings Cross all seats were taken and people were standing, though nothing like ‘normal’. There were not a lot of white collar workers, and only two others left the station with me at Pimlico.

The roads around Marsham St where my office is located were very quiet, though the queue in the Pret by the office was too long to want to go in, so I went to Leon and picked up coffee and breakfast; doing my bit for the local economy. Most of the cafes here are part of large chains and I care little for them, though they do provide jobs and I was pleased to see the young woman who made coffee in Leon before lockdown was back making coffee again. I bought lunch from a small independent Italian cafe, their coffee is not too my taste. Much as I like independents, I like coffee more and I could not be bothered to walk to the very good NZ owned coffee shop up the road.

The office was really quiet, in our area of perhaps 100 desks, four people attended during the day, including me. Our director was there and I saw some of the senior civil servants and the permanent secretary, but very few of the junior staff were in. The earlier exhortation to get staff back in the office seems to be failing; though the message that week was only come in if you really want to. To be fair to my department, they have very much pushed the message that no-one should feel compelled to attend the office.

Nothing physically has been done to make the office Covid safe, the desk layout is the same and there are no screens; however lots of process changes have been made, signs everywhere, you have to book a desk, one person per pod, two people in the bathrooms and one in the kitchenette etc; there are a lot of cleaning staff present. There were minor frustrations; signs on the lift doors asking to use hand sanitizer before entering the lift, but no sanitizer by the lifts and wipe the printers before and after use; but no wipes nearby. Naturally I did not point these out, just moaned about them. I am British after all.

I was in to print documents, so naturally the aging printer fleet that was there when I left had been replaced, so I need to install new printer drivers, register with the new service and faff, faff, faff. An hour after arriving I finally had five documents printed. It was worth it though. The printers are nice, so much better than the old ones.

I spent about six hours in the office, it was quiet and I got stuff done but it was strange being there without workmates and the office bantz.

I chose to take the tube home from Oxford Circus so I get a bit of a walk through some of the key London tourist spots. I walked past Westminster Abbey,

Horse Guards Parade,

Trafalgar Square,

Piccadilly Circus,

and up Regent Street to Oxford Street and the tube station.

There were very few people about, less than I expected, though there were  a small number tourists shopping on Regent St, which was the busiest place I walked. If I wasn’t still in the work day I would have walked through Soho as well to check that out. The mid-afternoon ride home on the tube was a lot quieter than the rush hour journey in and if felt a lot more comfortable with less people. I had bought a couple of new masks specifically for today, with adjustable straps; what a difference it made. My old elastic strapped masks hurt my ears after a few minutes, these new ones are fabulous. I guess I will buy more. Shop, shop, shop. Save the economy.

I am glad I went in to the city, it was good to see what it was like and it was good to see how I felt about it. I was not comfortable at all and I am reasonably cavalier in my attitude towards our new way of living; compared to some anyway. I won’t be rushing back in, but at least I can say I tried for myself.

My appointment at the dermatology clinic was for 9:15 and naturally it was drizzling when I left, I chose to walk as I need the exercise and it is always a nightmare parking at hospitals; though there was loads of empty spaces when I arrived. The drizzle didn’t last long and I had a mostly dry walk; though it hammered it down when I was 100 metres from the clinic.

The good news is that my weirdly growing mole looks to be fine, and its behaviour was not anything the specialist was worried, they didn’t ask for a biopsy. So Yay.

Large parts of Whipps Cross Hospital are in a terrible state, fortunately not outpatients were I had just bee. Victorian buildings, like this closed nursing quarters, and abandoned workshops with asbestos warning signs and weeds growing through cracks in the walls and roof. Our glorious government (who have been in power for 10 years and have done diddly for the NHS) have announced that 40 new hospitals will be built, though one of those ‘new’ hospitals will be a complete renovation of Whipps. It needs it.

I drove us back to St Leonards-on-Sea after work. It was good to visit London, but even better to drive back home.

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Wannabe writer and photographer. Interested in travel and place. From Auckland, New Zealand.