Have been finding it difficult to write anything of a personal nature at the moment. A few days ago I started writing about how, since the start of the lockdown, I have finally reached a kind of equilibrium. Adaptation to the new normal, at least, the current new normal.

It almost feels like emotional numbness. Maybe it is. While here in the SW we have experienced little of Covid itself, living with the lockdown measures has been a strain, as it has for everyone else.

While I was able to continue working and so maintain something of the old normal, seeing my family dealing with much greater restriction was hard to do. Wished I could have done something to ease the difficulty of it.

At the moment I have an appetite for stories. Am listening and watching and reading in far greater quantities than usual. I’m sure this is a reaction to everything that has gone on. Think I have read somewhere that this is a Thing.

Living a socially paired down existence means there is less pressure to deal with the social anxiety. This is not such a good thing, as what momentum I had gained through doing the CBT has somewhat stalled.

Maybe I shouldn’t be to hard on myself. Maybe accept that right now is a time to take a breather and recharge. Enjoy time with my family. Enjoy the stories.

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.