London during the pandemic

Sometimes it feels like a dream. Waking up in the morning, not sure what day it is and it not really mattering. Listening to the news is depressing. The rising death toll is still rising and being constantly reminded of why this is happening. Why we are in lockdown, why we have been told to stay home and save lives. It’s the right thing to do. But who on earth thought this would ever happen?

To be honest, I’ve been OK during this period of lockdown. Yes, it has been disruptive and quite an adjustment, but I have it much easier than many. I recently started a new Piko Contract at the House of Lords doing research and policy work – a role I really love and something I wish I’d got into earlier (a blog for another time maybe). When parliament shut down for a few weeks, that was worrying. But now it is back and sitting online using Microsoft Teams. Doing policy research work remotely is a challenge, but one I’m up for. My other work and contracts have mostly dried up, or have reduced significantly due to COVID-19. And this does make things hard. Fortunately, just before the lockdown, I was able to sort out some of the debt I got into when moved to London in 2017. Had this pandemic struck even a few weeks earlier things would have been much tougher for me. As it is, things are ok and I/ Piko UK will get through this.

For many others, things a considerably worse.

With all the pain and misery being caused by this pandemic it is easy to become very depressed, especially when your movement is restricted and you cannot live your normal life. But there have been positives to this. A major one in London has been air pollution, which is said to have decreased by 40% since the lockdown. According to one study, there have been 11,000 fewer deaths from pollution in the UK and Europe.

During the pandemic, we have been allowed out to exercise during the day. I live in Deptford and am lucky to be very close walking distance to the Thames. The reduction of boats and activity on the river has in a few weeks made a real difference.

I took this photo of Tower Bridge reflecting in the Thames just over a week ago. Usually, the water would be dirtier and boats would be coming and going destroying the reflection.

Walking around London the air feels cleaner. Yes, there is still traffic, but not like before. The city is quieter, the pace of life is slower and it can feel like a different city. Walking along the Thames the water still isn’t clean but is much clearer than before.

Whilst there are positives, there are constant reminders of the reality of this COVID-19 pandemic. Being asked to socially distance ourselves and avoid human contact. People no longer hugging or shaking hands. We are all encouraged to stand 2 meters apart at all times.

Folkestone Gardens 24 March 2020
Helpful reminder in Folkstone Gardens near where I live. 2 Meters is how far apart we should be from people.

My least favourite part of lockdown life is the supermarket shop. I really respect those who have to work in supermarkets as essential workers during this crisis. On top of their usual duties, they have to monitor the number of people in the store at any one time, ensure people are standing two-meters apart when lining up to enter the supermarket and keep people apart while in the store. Many customers are stressed and grumpy, and the poor supermarket worker is often the target of abuse. As for supplies, we seem to have gotten over this strange obsession with buying all the toilet paper. There was never any suggestion that COVID-19 caused increased defecation.

A big city like London can seem overwhelming and easy to be lost in. One of the great things I have found living in South East London is that there is a real sense of community. People look out for one another, even during these times of isolation.

The local pub The Blackhorse has continued to hold its weekly quiz nights over Zoom. These have been great though my team did very badly last time. My other local, The Dog and Bell have set up a delivery service. A global pandemic is no reason to stop drinking real ale, and thanks to Seamus and the team we can get it delivered to our front door.

 

IMG_1334
Drinking 2 pints of bitter out of a milk bottle – how life has changed under COVID-19.

Since the first Thursday of the UK lockdown, people have gone out to their front doors at 8pm and clapped or banged pots and pans to show their appreciation for NHS workers. I filmed this on Thursday 23 April while walking through Deptford Park.

Last weekend a mural appeared around the corner from my house, again showing support for the NHS. Already requests have been made to our local council that this mural is protected and remain on display in the future as a reminder of what happened during this time.

 

NHS
The new NHS mural on Evelyn Street in Deptford.

In an update from London Mayor Sadiq Khan yesterday, he made the below comment about life in London during COVID-19:

Quieter roads and fewer jet planes have made for a more pleasant environment. Londoners will rightly demand neighbourhoods that permanently work for walking and cycling, and a renewed drive to address the climate emergency. 

He is right, the last few weeks have demonstrated how quickly life can change. While nobody wants to live permanently in a state of lockdown and isolation, we’ve now seen how people can change and adapt quickly. The silver lining of this time has been significant reductions in pollution and carbon emissions, and this is opportunity humanity should not waste.

I live on the flight path to London City Airport. Two months ago planes few over every ninety seconds, now you may see one or two in the course of an hour. This will, of course, revert back after the lockdown. But maybe in time if we invest in public transport the number of flights over London could be reduced. Things will be different after this pandemic, it would be nice to think something good came of it all.

Kings Stairs Gardens in Rotherhithe 16 April 2020
Sunset, Kings Stairs Gardens, Rotherhithe. 16 April 2020

 

 

 

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