All the least attractive bits of normal life – fly-tipping, crowded buses, motorists-on-a-short-fuse, fast-food dependency, work deadlines – are back, but Covid 19 is still casting a long shadow. It’s week 15 of Relaxed Lockdown. I’m not relaxed. The Richmond Marathon website is still bullish about the organisers’ intention to go ahead with the event in mid September, so I will call this week 2 of marathon training.
As the mileage requirements go up, my distaste for the same old Lewisham/Greenwich routes increases, so public transport is called for. In typically laggardly fashion, our esteemed (by far too many) leaders have finally decreed that face coverings are an essential piece of kit for public transport travel. Today, the announcement was that we should perhaps don them in shops too. That was about 24 hours after Mr Michael Gove implied that wearing masks in shops was a bit pansy, or something. I have some rather fetching tartan face coverings that my son sent from Berlin – his partner likes sewing and is as keen as me to avoid single-use PPE. Inside my masks are a piece of the muslin squares everyone buys for babies. I find this comforting. I am breathing through cloth that once mopped up little Charlie Catford, my much-missed grandson.
Thursday’s run was to Stratford International, then, en route to the Kentish coast. My route went along canals out east from Poplar. I stopped to snap at this pampered pup on the side of a towerblock on Chrisp Street:
….and ducklings bobbing on the Regent’s Canal. Around Bromley-by-Bow I indulged my usual fantasy of seeing out my days from the confines of a houseboat. Just me and a roof garden. No room for guests and the freedom to push off wherever I wandered. Lockdown gave me a taste of the sweetness of singledom.
There are many women like me, who go from being one of many siblings, to one young student among thousands in university digs, to flat/tent shares in various parts of the world, to monogamy and child-rearing. It is no wonder we empty nesters become a little giddy and impulsive when faced with the last decades of precious life. We seek a bigger change to go with our hormonal ones. No new partners, thanks, just glorious solitude. Funny how middle-aged men don’t crave that. Some do the new model thing when it comes to partners, but few seem to long to be alone.
Anyway, there were the houseboats, then the still-shiny splendours of the Olympic Park and Stratford International Station, through the mostly closed Westfield Shopping centre. It had been four months since I’d set foot in a station, and this one, gleaming and shipshape at the best of times, looked clinical. Staff all wore plastic face shields and proffered disposable facemasks, gel and wet wipes. There was a special sanitiser fountain outside the loos. You could have filled your boots with sanitiser. Each of the five other train travellers had a bench to themselves. I boarded the train and found I had half a carriage to luxuriate in.
The dreamlike nature of this masked journey continued in Deal, where the clouds sit stodgily on the soupy sea; no waves, just sluggish lapping on to the shingle. It did not look as if it would refresh the overheated runner. The air was still and humid. I drank local ale and ate chips, and admired the seafront flat of a friend of a friend. Londoners like Deal. Almost as much as they like Whitstable. They have bought up second homes here to (English) Channel their inner Jarman.
After Deal and 24 hours back in Lewisham, I cycled to Waterloo to catch another empty train to Poole, and my sister’s beach hut. I took a tent and camped in the garden, the better to distance myself from various members of family foregathered for the seventh birthday of one of my great nephews. Sunshine, strawberries, beer and sandcastles. And bold (protected) lizards sunbathing on the beach hut steps. The one pictured took a speculative bite out of a strawberry, but seemed more interested in the remnants of a bacon bap one of the meat eaters enjoyed for breakfast.
The Sunday long run was by the sea: 11 miles in the heat with a slight hangover, obsessing about my beach-hut breakfast. I became so over heated I removed shoes and run on the sand and into the waves: proper waves, not soupy ones. Despite the heat the beaches were not bothered this weekend by the hordes that generated so much opprobrium in the last heatwave in June, when beleaguered locals (volunteers, all) had to pick up 41 tonnes of rubbish left by revellers.
This morning, a beach hut not so far away from my sister’s sold for £330.000. It is a wooden hut. My sister, a resident of Poole for the past 40 years, rents hers from the local council, by the way. Seems everyone is fantasising about owning their own little beach kingdom, but they need deep pockets for such bragging rights, whether they settle for the pebble dash of Deal or the sandblast of Bournemouth. They’ll still be joining the angry trippers and litter spreaders when the sun shines, however. I think I’ll stick to my houseboat fantasy.