4 June 2020. Today it rained (just a few minutes) for the first time in 10 weeks. Some councils have urged people to water any young trees in worry over the drought. Threats of hosepipe and paddling pool bans have been greeted with derision, some exhorting us to ignore anything which might result in more restrictions on how people live their lives. Being rational is not popular just now.
Lockdown begins to relax. A new directive last week: we can now meet in groups of up to 6. A welcome change on the hottest week of the year. Picnics everywhere. People swimming in the river. Suddenly the frenetic activity of constant movement, walking, jogging, running, cycling has given way to sitting. And, sadly, to a complete reversal of how we honour the countryside. Everywhere has been glowing, pristine and untouched. Now rubbish is swept into the current. Burnt rectangles in the grass and piles of tipped-out charcoal reveal illicit BBQs. The dog, wet from a refreshing early morning dip in the river, investigated a tent on the Abbey meadows. Two bodies entwined inside.
MacDonald’s reopened yesterday for drive thru orders. The queue of cars caused Abingdon’s first traffic jam in 10 weeks. Innocent husband expressed shock that it was only 10.30 in the morning – not lunch or dinner! The same still there at 3.30 in the afternoon. The return to normality isn’t encouraging so far. An advert from a party company ‘Order your end of lockdown party equipment NOW!!!! (but don’t use it yet)’ didn’t encourage either.
Everyone is travelling further and further to escape the confinements of lockdown. Now we meet very few on our usual walks. But the hum of activity is increasing. The deep, deep silence and stillness of 4 weeks ago is fading. The golfers are back on the golf course; little private planes are flying.
School has just completed the half-term holiday. Much needed by all. Teaching and learning via screens is immensely draining. Some year groups in primary schools have started back, amid great controversy. So far, reports seem to be good – particularly from the point of view of the children allowed to interact with their friends again. And for some parents finally given freedom for an hour or so. Some prep schools won’t make it back. News for the private sector is bleak for those which were only just surviving. Some are exploring a new business model: reports that Eton’s online courses have been accessed by more than 26,000. And confirmation for us that the boys won’t be back before September – it’s a long, long haul.
The hedgerows are full of poppies, daisies, roses and honeysuckle. In Waitrose carpark, still queuing patiently, the blossom has gone and the cherries are turning red.
© Clare Sargent