Sunday, 31 May 2020

In and Out of Lockdown

 Do you even remember how long coronavirus has dominated our lives?    Life before seems a bit like a dream.  So anyway you have experienced it too and you will probably understand when I say that the past few months have been a bit weird for me, with both wonderful and upsetting moments.

The most wonderful parts were right at the beginning.  It was fantastic not to have traffic, incredible to hear the birdsong - no planes, no people, no cars, or almost none, even in the middle of London.  The silence let us hear the birds right from when they began to sing their spring songs. And the sky - such an amazing blue, with so little vehicle or aircraft pollution. 

We have spent as much time as possible in the garden or going out to walk or cycle, at a safe distance from others.   In the early part of lockdown I also did a lot of reading.  Not so much drawing or creative work, none of the projects I had planned. And I read non-fiction, nothing fictional.   These were my top books, which I find a bit strange, looking at them, as they're not usually my kind of books at all.  

The first is a gripping and well written book from the 1940s by Robert Kee, who later became a top television journalist. It tells of his internment and escape during the Second World War.   He was captured early on, and describes not only the everyday horror and fear of war, but also the strange atmosphere in the internment camp where he found himself.   Cooped up 24 hours a day, everyone seemed to manage fine, but enormous arguments would suddenly flare from nothing.  People kept busy, but rumours and fake news abounded, treasured glimmers of hope usually evaporated.  Promises were not fulfilled, hopes did not come to pass, and in the end the only thing to do was hunker down and wait for the chance to escape.

Kee risked his life to escape, and .... well, I won't give away what happened to him, but I was on the edge of my seat. I do recommend this wonderfully well written book, which is pretty easily available in paperback. 

I also read "Strange Harmony " by William G Sewell. I have an old edition published in 1946; not sure it ever was reprinted. Sewell was a Quaker who was interned with his family for 4 years on Hong Kong after the Japanese invasion of 1941. Ironically, the family were only spending an overnight in Hong Kong en route to China, but they ended up on the run with several other adults and a total of eighteen children. They ended up in an internment camp where conditions became steadily less bearable. I found the book descriptive, compassionate and thought provoking as Sewell and his family worked incredibly hard in savage conditions to hold on to their own values and their sense of right and wrong.   Their Christian faith helped them so much, although it's not a particularly religious book. 

For our daily exercise we have been exploring Hampstead Heath, about 800 acres of one of the most varied and interesting bits of land I know, geologically, botanically and historically.  We have watched the seasons slowly change, and it has been marvellous.  I can understand now why people become nature writers!  First, we saw the haze of delicate white blackthorn sprinkling all the browns and greens of the winter trees and evergreens, almost like snow. It's one of the first signs of Spring.

Next, clumps of snowdrops appeared on the wintry banks among dead leaves and new blades of grass. 

And those chilly evening skies reminded us that winter was still only just behind us...

And then the violets appearing...

and the jasmine flowers, and the very first new leaves....

  the deafening birdsong....and suddenly each tree seemed to be a different colour, with all the leaves opening at once. 

Bluebells and forget-me-nots could be seen glimmering beneath the trees...

There was so much apple blossom...

And here is a swan with her ten eggs  waiting to hatch. Nine of them did produce cygnets, and the swan sat patiently for about a week on the final, addled egg before she gave up.  All her cygnets did well. 

Then, the cow parsley and white hawthorn appeared. I love them because they give May its characteristic scent.  And still the birds were singing so loudly. 

And now, all of a sudden, Spring has ended and it is early summer.  I'm thrilled that for the first time ever, I've been out there noticing how steadily nature changes throughout the year.  What a wonderful experience it has been!  I intend to continue to watch closely as the year rolls on. 

But then, two weeks ago the strict lockdown ended. Its simple message: Stay at Home, Save Lives, Protect the NHS, had worked, and at last the virus was on the wane.  Now, of course, people must return to work and normal life as soon as possible.   The slightly unreal fairytale feeling has evaporated, traffic has returned to the roads, the sky is a less vivid blue.  People are out and about more, and, worryingly, are not social distancing as they should. A new and deeply concerning element now overshadowing everything, and that is the erosion of trust in the government's ability to deal with the virus with minimum loss of life.       

I have made a strong effort to avoid following the news, but we'd have to live in Outer Mongolia instead of Britain to be unaware of the gentleman below. He was the architect of the original strategy to stop the very expensive track and tracing which had originally been proposed to get the virus under control, but was abandoned.  Here we see him, glimpsed just a few seconds after he left a grilling by journalists the other day.  It's unusual to see a grin on his face. It lasted less than a second, his hand flew to his mouth, he composed himself, looked serious again, and strode on. 

He had just said something which made him the butt of jokes for several days, but he is a very bright man and had a reputation as a strategist and that "trickster's grin"  struck me.
Now with new rows and increasingly confused messages from the government, with doctors and scientists warning of more problems, I think these few paragraphs on Disorder and Confusion as Political Technique are interesting (at the bottom of the page).  I'm not into conspiracy theories but this is a technique used for discrediting opposition to governments, and the gent above, as I said, has been heavily involved in the government's approach to the virus.

   Anyway, that's all I am going to say, and if you prefer no politics, please feel free to skip reading the piece.   

Of course Nature does not care about any of that human stuff, and the weather continues warm and sunny, so we carry on being delighted and amazed by the beauty of the Heath. Now, the wild roses, guelder rose and honeysuckle make the air sweet, and the flag irises are blooming on the ponds.  

We'll keep ploughing on, and you do the same. Take care! 


  1. Our politicians are to blame for the opening, not the abatement of sickness or death and there are those for which opening makes no real difference, we must stay in. It is cruelly ironic that all of this takes place as the beauties of Spring continue to amaze and entice.

  2. Well at least we know that Kee survived!

    It was fascinating seeing your Hampstead Heath seasonal changes. I've missed those this year in my beloved Castle Grounds but I've seen them in my garden (which I haven't noticed properly for a few years) and I'll continue to see them in the Castle Grounds again when all this is over. Have only walked on Hampstead Heath a couple of times many years ago. When I was reading for the Bar I had an acquaintance who lived adjacent to it and I stayed there a few times.

    Like you I usually avoid politics although Cummings upset me so much that I did post about him recently. I've opened the link you gave and shall read it later. When I did my first degree (in public administration) everything was so much simpler - Bagehot and TH Green - and conspiracy theories and false news hadn't appeared (though doubtless existed).

  3. Hello Jenny, Where I am in Taiwan, there is not such a marked change between the seasons, and it has been mostly rainy, anyway. However, your essay and photos brought me back to when I was in Ohio, when I looked forward to each new spring with its incremental growth, the panoramic landscapes with their constantly changing greens and colors, and the wildflowers both common and rare, if you knew where to look for them.

  4. I have lived most of my life these past years in tune with nature and am happy to read how many others are now watching it. If all humans passed from the planet tomorrow, the world would go on with all the plants and animals just fine.

  5. When I lived in London, I often walked round Hampstead Heath and loved that wonderful green oasis in the middle of the teeming metropolis. I loved watching the kite-flying in the summer, and I liked the fact that it had a ladies' bathing pond.

    Re the virus, like many others I think the lockdown is being relaxed far too quickly, when there are still thousands of new cases daily and the track and trace arrangement is still a long way from being fully functional. I fear a second wave is very likely.

  6. Thanks for a wonderful post! You have obviously made the very best out of this eternal "lockdown" - which has dragged on for three months already. You've chosen some interesting books to read, and I like all the photos. My very favorite is the swan with her eggs - beautiful and amazing!

    This virus ordeal hasn't affected me much at all - - since I live alone in the Tennessee wilderness and seldom see people until I venture into town. Social distancing is still being enforced and many people are wearing masks (I have chosen not to).

    HOPEFULLY life will return to "normal" soon. Take care.

  7. Snowdrops are pretty. I love the fragrance of jasmine flowers.
    Happy new week to you.

  8. A nice photo essay plus more. Have a good week.

  9. Beautiful pictures! No. Nature does not care. It was a glorious spring here and despite the reason, it was a true gift to be able to see it happen.

  10. I did enjoy your photographs, marking the progression of spring. How lucky you are to have Hampstead Heath for your exercise.
    I felt so sorry for people cooped up in those wretched flats built to house the masses...I wouldn't keep a dog in one, let alone a family.
    Just keep yourselves safe.

  11. Dear Jenny, it is good to see you back in blogland, and in good heath and good spirits by the sound of it!

  12. Conspiracy theories or no, every person in politics who has a high place got there with at least a little bit of the smoke and mirrors, or by turning a blind eye to something or other. All of them get to where their first priority is reelection, and it is sad.

    Nature, however, is beautiful to watch in so many ways.

  13. Thank you for the wonderful pictures of spring and now summer. Thank you for being a travel journalist, and any other sort you care to be.

  14. I love-love-love all your beautiful nature photographs!! Just what I needed.
    It is just insane over here in the US. Chaos. No leadership. Division. Pandemic and now riots. I feel I have gone back in time to the 60s!

  15. Good to see you again, Jenny, but that swiftly concealed smile is one of the most unnerving things I've seen during this whole frightening time.

  16. Your writing and pictures have been missed. Lovely pictures as always.
    Nothing we can do at the moment re the numpties running down the country, we must wait to catch them someday.
    Enjoy the summer, far from people, and enjoy the family.

  17. am enjoying your blog. thanks for blogging.

  18. Lovely to see and read your blog post.
    What a beautiful collection of photographs you've shared.
    I can remember several visits to Hampstead Heath as a child, certainly a nice place to enjoy a walk.

    It doesn't seem possible that we are now in June, I hope the month will be a good one for you and all of us.

    All the best Jan

  19. G'day, Jenny. As I always am living a reclusive choice (and enjoy my choice)...nothing much, if anything, has changed for me...and my two indoor furry mates. I was going to start doing some drawing/sketching again. I bought a couple of new sketch pad and a couple of packs of pencils...and other than a few strokes...that is as far as I've gotten!! :)

    Love the photos you've shared with us.

    Keep taking good care...keep smiling. :)

  20. A lovely post, Jenny. I too have been enjoying nature and birdsong as never before. Your photos of the Heath are beautiful.

  21. Thank you for those lovely pictures. I totally agree about Cummings, a nasty piece of work if ever there was one. Just hope he is in for a fall, a really big one! The "numpties" are using the emergence from the lockdown to deflect the pressure about Cummings, not a good idea. I'm sure it's far too soon and will backfire. People are already ignoring social distancing and I'm sure it's thanks to Cummings after all the so called elite are exempt from the rules for the ordinary folk.

  22. For me, it really started end of March, when I shifted to working from home.

    Lovely photos. And so cool about the swan and her eggs.

  23. Every photo, every word is perfection, Jenny. Oh, to see the seasons evolve, one by one. Your photos are glorious and so, too, you words. Our city streets are busier now and though I haven't noticed much change in the skies, I have noticed the noise. And fewer masks. Of course, it will get big and bad again -- all the protests will certainly spike the Covid.

    I read the link. We are living it. It's a very effective strategy, I regret to say.

  24. How lucky for you to be able to walk Hamstead heath through the season. Very beautiful. I agree about the wonderment of lock down (technically we still are in a stay at home mode here) It has been wonderfully quiet and bright, Today there was more than one car on. the road and a plane flew overhead. Amazing how I had become used to everyday noise before the stay at home thing. Lucky fir us no one has been ill either.

  25. Pareciamos pássaros engaiolados.
    E para nós distrair comiamos os livros.
    Um abraço viajante.
    Megy Maia

  26. You don't have to be into conspiracies to believe that confusion has been this government's strategy since the start of the pandemic.

    Re birdsong, I went on the National Trust website to look at the different birdsongs there were. It was a joy to figure out which bird was singing when in my local parks (I've got more than one nearby where I live). Don't ask me for details, though. I've forgot it now and car queues are going back to normal.

    I hope you and yours are safe. :-)

  27. Hello,Jenny.
    So good to know you are fine. your photos are all lovely. Yes, as you say early summe has alredy come to us.
    The books you read must be interesting. I remembered that my father told me how the battle field was cruel in the Second world War. During our lockdown, there were a lot of time,So I watched some war films that were made based on true stories.They were good movies and study for me.

    Have a good day.

  28. Still locked down here for health reasons. And, health or not, I think they relaxed the lockdown far to early. Talk of wandering Hampstead Heath got me wondering if you'd come across John Rodgers' Youtube channel? He makes films and vblogs about walking round London streets, Epping Forest and the countryside around London. He's one of the things that's kept me going through this!

  29. I'm glad you had such a good time in the garden under quarantine, Jenny. Seeing the awakening of nature every day is something else, special is great.
    I had to be in a city apartment and see new green leaves only from the window. But fortunately in May we were allowed to leave the city and now I am in my summer cottage and in the garden.
    It's good that you and your family are healthy. Take care of yourself.

  30. Here too, the mainly amazingly good weather has made the lockdown more bearable. Thankfully we have been able to spend a lot of time in the garden, which if nothing else had made me notice the lack of planes flying over us. On the other hand we seem to have a lot more birds in the garden.

    Whatever is happening in the world the sun still rises in the morning and sets in the evening and nature progresses through the seasons regardless.

  31. Hello - How lucky you are to live near Hampstead Heath. I've not seen it myself, but it looks wonderful. I live a 10 minute walk from a lovely beach, called Longsands. Sadly, we don't go there much as it is too crowded, especially this week when it got so hot. Fortunately we have both a front and back garden which are private and pleasant to lounge in. We've been playing around with planting a vegetable garden and that has been fun. Thanks for the book recommendations and for the interesting read about politics. As an American I see a lot of ways in which Britain is becoming more like my homeland, which makes me very sad. I was never interested in politics for most of my life. I was interested in women's rights as a teenager and a young woman, but I still managed not to be interested in politics. It took Brexit and Trump to get my full attention. I've read newspapers in the UK and the US since 2016 and donated money to causes that are important to me. My husband is a very fit 72 year old and I have asthma (but I've started running again), which means we need to be careful. We are very fortunate in being retired. I expect had I still been working I could have worked from home, but he was a mental health nurse and so would have been going in each day. I have more hobbies than I will live long enough to get bored of and I'm quite introverted as well, so staying home is heaven for me. Bill gets a bit restless now and then but when it comes down to it he prefers to stay safe. We keep in touch with family and friends via Zoom and phone calls (I feel I'm going back in time ringing up friends to chat on my landline!) I feel very privileged that we can have our needs and wants delivered to our door (though I don't do business with Amazon). I'm sad about all the chaos going on the US just now, but if it brings about a fairer society I think it is worth it; I'm hopeful that change is coming. I think Dominic Cummings has done a great deal of damage to Boris Johnson and I look forward to seeing the back of both of them one day. I've taken to watching PMQs on catch up, just sliding over to the part where Sir Kier makes his contribution. I think of it as watching a knife cut through butter and it lifts my spirits to watch. I feel it has been a grave error to hand out billions of pounds with no 'green strings' attached. I think the consequences of climate change will make coronavirus look like a walk in the park. Thanks for visiting my blog! Take care.


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