I live in South London in a small block of 10 flats, mainly owned by young professionals. We have a communal garden that is quite big, but no one takes care of it except me. People think of it as Judy’s garden. I leave most of it quite wild, which also reduces the work. This private space has been my lifeline during the lockdown here in the UK. The magnolias are more appreciated than ever. As you can see, our garden backs onto the green space beyond, with a ring of social housing, and a bit of a car park. Usually, the little field is full of children playing football after school, or people coming out with their dogs. For days now it is quite deserted. One can hear the birds. And we usually hear planes flyover regularly because we are under a flight path, but it is all silence now. It is in the evening, when people put their lights on, that one gets a sense of people being in their flats and being around. There are 2 types in London – one half is absolutely panicked, and the other half does not care at all. I am over 70 so I do not go out at all, doing as I am told. 2 flats in this block are very kind, and if I text them, they shop for me and leave it just outside my door. There are 2 other that are older like me. I also take the rubbish out and when I go to the front of the building, which is on the street I see that there are still people about, but absolutely nothing like it usually is.
I have quite a few friends my age who live completely alone like me. All of us have an element of solitude in our lives so being alone is nothing new, but there is a strong psychological element about lockdown that distresses all of us. During the day, we do some of our work, most of us still being either employed or self-employed, and keep in touch. The social media side of life has become very important, as isolated people send each other texts, have the odd phone call etc.
My shopping neighbour tells me that there are outrageous people on public transport that cough all over the place, and shout at people for glaring at them, saying, “it is just a cold, not coronavirus!” People move to the next carriage at the next stop. Everyone knows the tube is a huge risk, but it is the only way to get anywhere fast so people that do need to go to work or get somewhere on time feel rather doomed. Earlier on, before the government stopped people from driving to parks etc., my friends went to Richmond Park and found the place absolutely teeming with people. Finally the government decided this is not on, and is now fining people who do more than just go round the corner.
People do weird impulsive things under stress, like one of my friends took off on a 11.5 hour drive to Scotland because he felt he needed to. Another friend with a cottage in the countryside bought lots of food and took off, basically escaping the madness of London. London is the most high risk place in the country at the present time. They are turning the exhibition halls Excel into a 4000 bed makeshift hospital with 2 morgues. That move has frightened people more.
People take initiative. Groups are being formed – there was one called “Be happy” which I was put onto but there was just so much stuff that I could not cope and left it. There are book clubs among friends online, and by email, some of my friends are exchanging poems, films, and very cultural stuff. There is a sense of trying to care for each other, which is nice. It does not replace being in contact face to face but it is something.
There is a lot of talk of possible change of attitudes. Many people are saying that if we can put up with not flying, not taking public transport, working at home when we can, helping each other, not doing pointless shopping etc. do we think we can keep on like that when the lockdown ends and really change our lives to help the earth? The way nature has got better with all of this is obvious, and it is a constant reminder of the other big problem – climate change. Many people see this virus experience as a kind of potential societal lesson, a reset. I wonder….can we hope or will we just revert?
The methodology of distancing is maturing with supermarkets. They are taking control instead of letting people flood in. They are allowing only a limited number of people in at the same time, and making people queue outside 2 meters apart leading to extended queues in the streets.
Judy Ling Wong
President Black Environment Network www.ben-network.org.uk
Vice Chair UK Urban Ecology Forum www.ukmaburbanforum.co.uk