Today is my 34th day indoors. Well… ish. Jeanne and I go for long walks every evening and we have a south-facing little garden, so we’re fine. Sunlight and fresh air are not hard to come by, so I feel a tad guilty saying something as grim-to-the-ear as ‘today is my 34th day indoors’, because, well, it isn’t. Today is my 34th day of not having to work and getting paid anyway. I don’t feel too hard done by.
I like our walks. Jeanne hasn’t been furloughed while I have, so when she finishes work at 5.30ish (she always goes beyond, bless her, and I have to prod her and remind her it’s okay to stop working), we put on our shoes and go for a roam.
If, a few months ago, I complained of boredom and you told me to ‘just go for a walk’, you’d have been met with a several long seconds of unbroken, hateful eye contact. Go for a walk? Ha! Where should I walk, pray tell? What will I see on this walk? I live a mile or two from the centre of Bristol, surrounded by quiet beige suburbs. There is nothing of interest in an enormous radius, unless you happen to be fascinated by the comings and goings of cornershops and takeaways.
That said, there’s even less to do in my bedroom, so… yes, I have been going for walks. And, in a twist that would have shaken 2019 Dan to his rotten core, as the weeks have gone by I have gained a new appreciation for the Great British housing estate.
Now, pre-coronavirus, I am fairly sure that over the course of my 26 years, I never conjured even a single positive thought regarding the average British home. I rather disliked the majority of them, in truth. Anybody who knows me has likely heard me rant about how dull suburbia is, how very endless, how there seems to be a blueprint for maybe 5 different streets in the UK, and they all just repeat on a short loop. Plus, they get in the way. ‘If it weren’t for all these blasted houses in my way’ I would think angrily to myself, trudging through the drizzle of a Monday morning, ‘I could get wherever it is I’m going slightly faster.’
When your world shrinks and luxuries dwindle, I suppose it’s only natural to grow more appreciative of that which you’d usually overlook (or in my case ‘actively hate’). During my afternoon walks with Jeanne – commonly around that pretty golden hour when the sun squats low in the sky and makes everything up to 60% more handsome – I have begun to enjoy the minutiae of our open prison: wisteria dangling from the roof of a flat garage, its old wooden door painted black; the odd pattern of peeling bark on the young trees that line one side of the street; chipped garden gnomes and frisbees and bird feeders all askew across a lawn as jumbled as my thoughts.
Mucky pairs of wellington boots sit primly on brushed doorsteps, while in the garden across the road a discarded MDF desk is slowly reclaimed by nature. In fresh earthy beds sit clusters of new flowers, the hues of their petals in the setting sun enough to stop you in your tracks. Fading chalk scrawls linger on the pavement, remnants of old hopscotch games, while from back gardens come the roar of lawnmowers, the lazy smoke of barbecues, and the occasional thwack of a badminton racket meeting a shuttlecock. Ranks of homes, once identical, now each personalised over many years by the families within; it’s quite charming, in a very quiet, soft way.
There are moments, wandering these streets, when you could almost forget what’s happening in the world. A time traveller could pop up here and stroll the avenues without ever realising anything was amiss. Then you notice little things – an old man crossing the street to avoid passing by on the same narrow slice of pavement, a pram-pushing mother wearing a surgical mask, a couple leaving the off license and pausing to distribute squirts of hand sanitiser – and you remember, ah yes, that the world is ending.
Another tell-tale sign that all is not quite well is the posters in pub windows, on lampposts and community boards. They all bear similar dates for gigs and club nights and events: 20th March, 18th March, 22nd March. There’s nothing beyond that weekend. These posters and flyers are faded by now, and beginning to curl at the corners. It’s as though time came to a standstill and we all disappeared. It’s eerie and apocalyptic, the sort of thing usually saved for Hollywood blockbusters, and I’d be fibbing if I said I didn’t get a thrill from it.
You catch the odd glimpse of true kindness, too – as I imagine you would do in any crisis. The other day Jeanne and I walked by a bric-a-brac shop with dusty, crowded windows behind a metal grille. I’ve never been in. But as we passed by it last week we saw a young girl sitting on a stool outside, chatting through a crack in the door to an elderly man within. They were laughing about something. It was very sweet.
The most ubiquitous and obvious thing, of course, are the rainbows. Every third or forth house on every single street across the city – and presumably across the country – is plastered with rainbows. They were put up at some point during the beginning of the lockdown, I think. I must have missed the memo, because for about a week after they first went up I thought it was a Pride thing. Rainbows of all shapes and sizes shine from windows and porches and garden walls, hand-crafted, painted or drawn, along with countless signs thanking the NHS and key workers. I can see half a dozen from my bedroom window. It’s quite lovely.
Yep, things are pretty mellow here. Pretty wholesome.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’d far rather be smashed off my tits in some grungy bunker in East Berlin than sauntering around housing estates pondering the begonias, but hey – needs must.