The virus, politics, shopping and the park are the sharp points on our compass as we enter week six of lockdown in London. The number of recorded UK hospital deaths from Covid-19 has climbed beyond 21,000. If the death toll in care-homes, Hospice centers and communities are included that number will reach over 40,000.
On Monday Boris Johnson returned to Parliament. Striding to the podium outside number 10 Downing Street to give his ‘Hello I’m back. Well done everybody.” speech before reminding us all that this is the time to hold steady to achieve the five key points that the government has laid out: the death rate falling; the NHS protected (whatever that means); the rate of diagnosed new cases per day to be less than 1%; the government sorting out the challenges of testing; and Personal Protective Equipment (A total blotched job up to date) to thus avoid a second peak. Can he get all this, with some of the Conservative Party nipping at his heels to get the economy and business open as usual, before restrictions are lifted.
We watched Johnson to see if he is changed. Has there been a metamorphosis to a kinder, clearer and marginally more honest Prime Minister? I hold my hopes but know I have been wrong many times before. Johnson promised more transparency to the ‘People of the British Public’ But one could ask, why should that promise have been necessary?
Sunday mornings Political Commentary program with Andrew Marr is a ritual in this household as it is across the country. Sitting on the sofa in front of the television screen we share a late Sunday breakfast with approximately two million viewers. Andrew Marr is settling into a routine with fewer guests live in the studio and others on Skype or with a camera crew in not so close range at their homes. The program is lengthened to 90 minutes, which meant another pot of coffee with breakfast. There is a change, a shift in the questions, answers and banter back and forth. Dominic Raab the deputy Prime Minister refused to get riled by Marr, repeating, “You are absolutely right Andrew” at least 5 times after I started counting, leaving Marr with not so long a lance with which to prick his opponent. As Marr questioned the Leader of the Scottish National Party, Nicola Sturgeon, and Germany’s Andreas Michaelis, his attempts to pit one country against another failed. Many European and world leaders are presenting a united front acknowledging the different difficulties each country faces. Talking with our family in the Netherlands, who in turn talk with their friends from Sweden, we know that every government is being taken to task for the things they have failed to do.
Luckily Spring carries on with and without us. Cherry trees that were full of blossoms in early March quickly faded away as the winds took hold and blew us into April where the promised showers have only just arrived. Now it is the sturdy Chestnut trees turn to unfurl their white and red flowers before us.
The city air is so clear we can smell the spring. The Cowslips, Elderberry and Hawthorn are as intoxicating in the park as they would be in the country lanes of my childhood. Walking to and from the bike racks I pass both a Robin and Blackbird nest in the grassy scrub land left for them. Over the weekend the bike check in booths are changed. Circles are painted onto the pavement, ‘Stay this far apart.’ Credit cards are to be tapped onto the screen, no more punching numbers with your grubby fingers.
For another period of time, shops deemed non-essential, restaurants and pubs all remain closed. Our local grocery and essential shops that are open have become inventive. Last year the Indian News Agents at one end of the High Street rebranded itself as ‘Primrose Corner’ and began a long battle with Shepards, the Arab-run deli at the other end of the village. Now, despite the higher prices more people are choosing to shop close to home and the battle for customers has heated up. The tiny aisles at both shops are crammed full of boxes to be unpacked and shelved. Two English run shops have closed and may never open the same way again.
On a tiny corner of Gloucester Avenue, at 75A, M Rascle the owner of La Petite Poissonerie has also gone the extra mile to bring his customers more than ‘Fish on Fridays’. Fresh fruit and vegetables overflow from his boxes on the pavement while bags of pastas, loaves of fresh bread, and all things French, cram the little space inside, leaving us close to the glistening fish, if not to each other. The queue here stretches around the corner, and in a mutual symbiotic relationship with the Primrose Bakery at number 69, the lines blend from one shop to another and so before our eyes we can see how a new community corner is born.