26 April 2020. A late night walk through the town centre. A place we never go in daylight now. Our geography has very clear borders – the street, the supermarket, the grounds at school and the river bank to walk the dog in the day, and five neighbouring streets which radiate from the house to make circular routes to walk him at night. Two miles in any direction at most. We travel the world by the internet every day.
The marketplace was absolutely still and deserted. So silent that we could hear every word of a conversation through an open window four storeys above us. One car drove past. A cyclist without lights. And a patrolling police car. I don’t know whether there are more police patrols or whether we are now sensitised to them. A constant parade of empty buses sweeping past, announcing their destinations – Oxford, the JR, Wantage – places over the border.
All the lights are on. Floodlights on the town hall and museum. Shop windows all lit up and advertising things that cannot be sold or bought. The art shop has an array of miniature easels. Estate agents have a few houses for sale or rent. A hairdressers with notices about social distancing. Many home-made banners saying thank you NHS. The stationers has crocheted bunting and signs dated 21 March about supporting local businesses. The bookshop has done sterling work with deliveries by bicycle and online book groups, storytimes for children, author talks – embracing the new way of doing local business.
The crescent moon and Venus together in the sky as they were when this all began over a month ago. The town centre has been like this every night since.
© Clare Sargent