Thoughts have not come easily for the last few days. A flatness in my mind, probably induced in part by a lack of sleep, which in turn is brought on by the short nights and hayfever.

Having finally developed a sense of stability around The Situation for the moment, a kind of ennui has settled in. Not a frame of mind I particularly go for.

This is neither thoroughly unpleasant nor very enjoyable.

Nonetheless, a relaxing weekend meant I caught up on some reading. Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a book that has long been on the list.

A nice bit where a discussion around photographing the prairie occurs. Or the difficulties thereof.

You need a three-hundred-and-sixty degree lens, or something. You see it, and then you look down in the ground glass and it’s just nothing. As soon as you put a border on it, it’s gone.

Put me in mind of our trip through Canada back in 2002. Driving west through Alberta with the prairie all around. The sight of the Rockies appearing on the horizon stretching as far as you could see in either direction.

Took photos. That never did it justice.

We try to squeeze every sight, sound and experience into a box, a frame, a screen. But some just won’t fit.

I should finish reading Susan Sontag’s On Photography. Started it about a decade ago but never finished it for some complicated reason.

Some apprehension today, as I am expecting it to be busier out and about, on the back of the government’s announcement encouraging a return to work.

I hope, I really do, that people will be considerate and make the effort to social distance themselves in busier places, with more of us around. Most people are considerate, but I’ve seen enough of the small number who aren’t to think it a legitimate concern.

Here in the UK, the guidance on what constitutes a reasonable excuse to leave the house includes ‘driving to countryside and walking (where far more time is spent walking than driving)’. We took this at face value yesterday and drove to a local spot for a 3 mile walk in woodland. It was a lovely day and we enjoyed bluebells and the fresh green of new beech leaves. There were a few other walkers about but everyone was considerate and sensible.

When we got back to the car we found the police had stuck a leaflet under our wiper, as they had also done with any other cars around. Of the advice it gave one sentence stood out: ‘You should not be driving to a location away from home’ for exercise. So despite the guidelines being endorsed by both the CPS and National Police Chief’s Council there is still disparity in the advice being given. Ho hum.

On Saturday I took my son for a 10k ride on the hills near us. He has just moved up to a bigger bike and I wanted to give him the chance to get off-road for a bit. I was really impressed with how well he did, as it was a big step up from what he is used to. Not that I can describe myself as a ‘mountain biker’ per se, even if I own one.

All this makes me appreciate all over again the opportunities we have locally for fresh air and exercise.

About 20 years ago, we went travelling in Canada, and part of our time was spent driving across the prairie in Alberta and Saskatchewan. It is a fascinating landscape and so very different from ours here in the UK. It was also a disconcerting experience, and much as I enjoyed it I also found it oppressive. I put this down to the geography. In the UK you always know more or less where you are. Our landscape is such that there are visible landmarks and features all around. If you do get lost, a bit of map work and it is fairly easy to get a good idea of your location.

Not so on the prairie. I found the lack of landmarks disorienting. I knew we were moving and I knew the direction, but with little in the landscape to act as reference point I quite literally lost my bearings. I guess I am used to being able to mentally triangulate my position.

Which brings me to The Current Situation. I have previously mentioned that I am lucky enough to be able to continue travelling for work, and to an extent the novelty of driving on near empty roads has been fun. I have imagined living in a post-apocalyptic Wyndham-esque world(yes, I know I should be careful what I wish for!). But over the last week a feeling of oppression has crept in. What started as a novelty has turned into an awareness that the cues of everyday life are absent. The normally expected numbers of road users going about their day to day business. The sounds of traffic. The walkers and cyclists who I regularly encounter and know by sight. They have all but gone.

And like travelling without any physical landmarks, I am now travelling in a landscape without the usual mental landmarks. It is a kind of culture shock, a cognitive and emotional unmooring. Cheri Baker, describing a silent Seattle, calls it a ‘cultural amputation’;

You listen for signs of life – the traffic noise, the sound of a truck backing up with tinny beeps, a burst of conversation at the corner, the low thrum of a Metro bus sliding by – but all you hear is emptiness.

I find myself looking and listening for the once familiar in a new way. Whereas prior to the lockdown the traffic noise in the distance was constant and I didn’t notice it, I’m now very aware of every vehicle I hear. If I hear voices or laughter or the sound of a lawnmower I almost stop what I am doing just to listen. Because it means Somebody Else is about.

For the time being at least, this is the new normal. We will adapt.

Tonight I ventured to the supermarket. Two items of note;

  • my wife wrote a shopping list which included 1 block of strength 3 Cheddar cheese, 1 block of strength 4. I misread it and bought 3 blocks and 4 blocks respectively. So inadvertently I have now stockpiled cheese….
  • while waiting at the checkout a customer gave the young woman working the till a bunch of flowers, at which she promptly burst into tears. From what I could hear of the conversation she must have made a light hearted comment that no one ever bought her flowers. An act of kindness for someone doing an essential job.

Some positives from the last week or so…

For the second time in a week I have seen a peregrine falcon. This one was circling about a hundred metres above me – the heavier build was a give away, distinguishing it from our other falcons and hawks. The white on its face catching the sun as it wheeled, it climbed higher and higher without so much as a flap of the wings. Eventually it bent its wings back slightly and went into a glide, accelerating into the haze until I could no longer see it.

Of the few interactions I have with people at the moment, I have noticed that they smile more readily or give a greeting. While filling up with fuel recently another person pulled up at the adjacent pump and said ‘Good morning’ to me. That never usually happens. Normally, everyone is so preoccupied with their day that we are all go about our business in a vacuum.

More smiles can only be a good thing. I hope it continues into our post-pandemic world.

A week or so ago I emailed our MP to flag up our concern with what were, at the time, a distinct lack of measures to help self-employed people financially such as ourselves. Given that the southwest of England has one of the highest proportions of self-employed people in the country I imagine he was inundated with similar emails.

It took a few days, but I did get a response, and a good one at that, even if it was somewhat cut and paste. By that time the government had announced the new measures anyway so we were happy with that, but nonetheless I was pleased he did respond.

Not being able to buy flour from the supermarket has meant we have had to search elsewhere. My wife came across Burcott Mill and we have duly acquired a 12kg bag of their organic wholemeal flour. It makes the most delicious bread in our bread maker, and I really mean that. I think we will be converting to using their flour as standard from now on.