From an increase in visiting birds to accidentally discovering a meadow-like common, Kate Woodcock embraces a more countryfied life in lockdown London.
The last few months have been hard in a myriad of ways. Jobs have been lost; health has been compromised and for some, sanctioned isolation has brought on deep loneliness.
The shady awnings of my local coffee shop and darkened windows of the florist, whose scented blooms no longer cascade onto the pavement, are a reminder of the hardships small businesses are facing right now. Yet, amidst what we pray are temporary losses, pockes of hope are to be found.
Usually filled with the bustle of the Heathrow flight path, the skies overhead have been silenced. Each morning, the dawn chorus in SW6 now rivals that of the rural village where I grew up. The sound of the milkman removing empties – once barely discernible amid the hustle of late-night Hackney drop offs – is now sufficient to wake both my husband and I in the wee hours.
Born amidst the arable farms of Surrey I used to sneer at those who claimed to enjoy walking around cities. Surely nothing of true beauty could be found inside the M25? These past few weeks however have shown me another side to my neighbourhood.
After exchanging polite nods with the stern-looking queue at the boulangerie one morning, I amble on past an historic riverfront pub, its sills overflowing with gaudy geraniums. Ten minutes later, I have somehow lost my bearings and realise I have wandered into forget-me-knot tangled woodland.
No mere roadside patch of trees, this is the real thing and I proudly share my ‘find’ on instagram. Returning home I realise this Thames-side common is a barely-kept secret, as fellow Londoners keenly respond with informed questions:
Did I find the historic graveyard? Pass the ancient oak? Queue for tea outside the (better) cafe on the green?
Prior to lockdown, weeknight evenings regularly saw me hurrying after the No.22 bus, eager to be carried to drinks and dinner somewhere fabulous. Now, as 6 (fine, 5) o’clock rolls around, I am planted in the bay window, in time for the fly-past of a flock of invading green parakeets. Rumoured to have descended from a pair released by Jimi Hendrix in the 1960s, the joyfully noisy rabble have become the ideal accompaniment to my sundowner.
Over supper last night, through the french windows, we were captivated by a pair of blackbirds. Tucking into asparagus and garlic mayonnaise, we looked on as the male chivalrously foraged for his own appetiser (escargots), amidst the newly-planted peonies.
Everybody loves good neighbours
I take umbrage with the notion that city dwellers live a blinkered existence, without a sense of community. This week alone I have exchanged homegrown lemons for almond extract, in order to flavour a birthday sponge, as well as shared copies of Country Life with the glamorous octogenarian at Number 4.
Usually concerned with traffic wardens and late-night parties, the street Whatsapp group is suddenly an essential tool for knowing which shops have self-raising flour.
During a recent VE Day gathering, from a two metre distance, a neighbour pointed out the differing architecture between our two houses. In doing so, she reminded me that countless homes and lives were obliterated here during the Blitz.
As times change, I suspect humanity changes little. Lockdown has shown us that a sense of peace and community, believed by some to exist only in rural areas, is not so much dependent upon green fields, but on the spirit of its inhabitants.
Whatever happens come summer, I am confident our communities will rebuild, just as they did after 1941. And if not exactly phoenix-like, then surely their return will be as bright and with as much fanfare as those rowdy parakeets.