2020 weeknote whenever

Right! Absolutely must start typing otherwise I’ll begin to fade away like Marty McFly’s family photographs.

The last few weeks have been basically fine. Despite some changes to the UK (England?) lockdown restrictions, my life has pootled along as normal. One major change means we can now go outside more than once a day, and even do weird Before All This things like have picnics in the park. So we did exactly that earlier this week, to celebrate my birthday. Oddly enough, the two groups nearest us, in a very busy urban park, were also celebrating birthdays. I suddenly wondered if perhaps everyone had come out purely to celebrate birthdays? Or maybe they were all lying about it being their birthdays as an excuse to meet in the park… Hmm.

The problem with lockdown here is, the weather has been unrelentingly lovely, pretty much since the outbreak started to get serious here, and the weather has both stayed sunny and got progressively warmer as the weeks have gone.

We’ve also had about seventeen bank holidays since lockdown began, and we’ve another next week. No wonder we’re all just out at the beach or bumbling around town or driving to national parks.

Anyway, the picnic was wonderful, with sandwiches, pork pie, crisps, birthday cake – and the most poignant item, a bottle of Delirium Nocturnum, a deliciously strong beer, the bottle of which we’d brought back from our trip to Bruges at the start of the year.

Back in early January, the idea of saving a single bottle of beer until May – May! – seemed, almost laughable. Of course I’d cave and drink it early. But I didn’t. And I was especially glad because – as I’d hoped – it tasted all the sweeter, particularly because we still haven’t found a UK source for it. (Even after discovering that M&S sells a non-branded Belgian beer which is actually made in the same brewery, but about a third of the strength.)

But the thing I dwelt upon for almost as long as how good the beer tasted was in me trying to imagine what me-back-in-January might have thought May 2020 would look like, and feel like. Certainly nothing like this.

But despite the weird, creeping horror of the actual pandemic and what it all means to those most affected by it, we get on with things. We have to.

So, work continues apace. The end of the financial year has brought with it a whole host of things both anticipated and unexpected. M’s school, much like most others, is making preparations for a selection of classes to return in just a week or so’s time. And we celebrate birthdays and bake things and make nice meals and talk to family on the phone and just do the stuff that we do. Because what else is there to do?

I find myself missing the coast a lot.

Despite (or because of) my proximity to London, I can’t say I’m hugely missing the museums, the pubs, the theatres, or even cinemas really. Maybe it’s because I know no-one can enjoy those things right now, so I don’t think I’m missing out.

I’d give my right arm to go to a solitary cinema screening – for better or worse, most of the ones I went to recently at the Kiln, there were only about five of us in the whole auditorium anyway!

But what I’m really missing is, I guess, something like this:

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I think I kinda just want to walk along a coastal path. Isle of Wight?

Or perhaps the Lizard? Or maybe a new place I’ve not been to yet? Just something like that. I want to see the sea, feel the breeze, and check out the interesting contours and strata, and stumble into a quiet country pub* for a pint and some crisps.

* I think this is the distinction – I don’t really miss London pubs but I do miss quiet country pubs

Other recent distractions:

Radio

I haven’t done a huge amount of radio listening in lockdown; reception conditions in my urban, electrically noisy flat are not great, and so I prefer to get out to a high, more remote point to do that. But I have to give praise to a workshop run by Hannah Kemp-Welch about shortwave radio for Reveil 2020.

Hannah used Zoom to give me and about fifteen others a breakdown of how radio waves work, how shortwave works, the kinds of things on it, and an introduction to web SDRs (software defined radios). The latter part was most revelatory (reveil-atory…?) for me as I’d never actually tried to use a webSDR before – I’d kind of written them off because, for me, the magic of radio is using your own equipment wherever you are, and capturing whatever signals pass by.

For me, radio listening is basically like catching butterflies.

The butterflies are the radio waves, and the net is whatever radio I use. I guess, to extend the metaphor, the different nets (radios, remember, keep up) have different fineness of mesh, and so can pick up different BUTTERFLIES like FM, shortwave, etc…

Anyway, web SDRs seemed kind of silly to me as you’re just using the web to listen to another radio somewhere else. And if I’m using the net to stream a fuzzy shortwave stream, why wouldn’t I use the net to stream a solid, full resolution stream of something instead?

But thanks to Hannah’s intro, I now *get* that using web SDRs is fun and informative, as it gives you training in using SDR software – which you can use on any computer and plug in your own, local, radio and see what you can pick up. But you get to use a really, really good radio, with a decent antenna, hopefully located somewhere isolated from electronic interference. And so you can pick up some really interesting stuff you wouldn’t normally hear.

So thanks to Hannah for that – and just in general for volunteering her time and expertise to deliver a free workshop like that. I was thrilled to see it advertised and went out for a run, timing it so that I could get home, grab some snacks, and settle in to watch and listen along.

Running

Speaking of running, I’ve tried to keep this up and have, in some weeks, run maybe 2-3 times? Nothing amazing, but not bad. More recently I suffered from what I wouldn’t say was shinsplints, but was certainly a tenderness in the front of my shins.

I think I’ve had shinsplints once, years ago when I was visiting home from uni and wanted to go for a run, but the nearest thing I had to trainers was a pair of walking boots. I was laid up for at least a few days after that, and had to use bags of frozen peas to take the edge off. Don’t run in walking boots, kids.

Anyway I’m very pleased to say that, having rested my legs for a few days (still going for short bike rides and walks, mind you), I was able to go for a perfectly comfortable 5k run this lunchtime. I’m so glad, especially as the longer I waited to ‘test’ my legs again, the more anxious I was getting that I’d just immediately feel the same aches and pains. But nope, not this time.

What definitely helped was that I got some nice running swag for my birthday, and today managed to wear my: new running hat, new running pants(!), new running belt, and even my new sunglasses. All these things, combined with already having decent kit, and shoes that are fine but will need replacing soon, meant that my run was smooth and comfortable, and I achieved some satisfyingly negative splits as I upped the effort the more I felt comfortable (and, presumably, ran downhill!)

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Not bad for a day of 27 degrees Celsius sunshine!

Birds

The local birds continue to delight us with their regular feeding activities. We’ve grown used to seeing the robins, young and old, coming and going. And we were extra thrilled to add the blue tits and great tits to the collection. The GIF at the top of this post is of once particularly greedy little blue tit. Actually we think he’s taking food back to the nest, such is the frequency of his visits.

The last few days have been exceptionally warm, and bird activity has dropped to almost zero. We’re hoping it’s just the heat, or maybe the pattern of their parenting, and that they’ll be back again soon.

The other wonderful sight – or more accurately, sound – has been that of the swifts which have now returned.

We see them wheeling over the road and above the roofs of the houses opposite most afternoons and evenings, and now actually most of the daytime generally. It’s so lovely to have that distant, high-pitched cry back, adding to the rich soundtrack we hear outside our windows. I actually got quite excited seeing other naturalists on Twitter reporting the return of the swifts to their locale. Only a few days later and I had my first sighting, with the sound being heard the very next day. Wonderful.

Bike rides

Finally, with the roads much clearer than usual, and a fairly palpable sense that cyclists are suddenly more welcome on London’s roads, I’ve enjoyed a few recent cycle rides that have taken me to places I’ve not been to by bike before.

One was all the way along cycleway CS3, which goes all the way from Hyde Park all the way out to Barking; we took it as far as just beyond Blackwall and headed back.

Another was out to the Hoover building, and a brief dip into Brentham Garden Suburb in Ealing, to see two very different buildings up close that I’d been meaning to check out for ages. I look forward to returning to Brentham for a better look around.

And then of course there was a nip up to the other Garden Suburb at Hampstead, to pick wild garlic and make delicious wild garlic and cheese scones. Recipe and more pictures of that little adventure can be found here.