I received my first Covid jab on 28 January and I was waiting to get a date for the follow-up. After hearing nothing for 10 weeks I cracked and rang my GP; to be told, more or less, to sit tight and wait for the call that would soon come.
A week later I’d still heard nothing, so I rang again. After some prompting, my practice discovered they had no record of me having received a first jab; consequently, I wasn’t going to be sent an invitation for a second one. In other words, I had filled in a form back in January, but no-one had done anything with it – except, possibly, to put it in the out-tray rather than the in-tray. I somehow knew that that would happen: second sight, or just weary cynicism about the human-computer interface?
Following a couple more phone calls which were, to my surprise, promptly answered, I got an appointment at Montgomery Hall that same afternoon So, after a stiff walk down to the Oval I emerged from the makeshift clinic 20 minutes later with a second entry on my “Covid passport” and a small puncture in my upper left arm.
Deep, deep joy!
I am one of 10 million people in the UK who have already had a second dose and 33 million to have received at least one. An incredible achievement, one of the best responses in the world. But while Europe and North America will get there; other countries will not be so fortunate. Meanwhile, despite children returning to school and concerns over emerging variants, the number of new cases has continued to fall and we now seem to be back to last September’s level of infection. Cautious optimism, then…
As “we” find out more about this virus it seems that it is pretty difficult to catch it outdoors or from surfaces such as tables and door handles. It is close contact with people indoors that one must avoid. If we had known more about the way it spreads (by aerosol dispersal) earlier on, thousands of lives might have been saved. But the advice to stay away from other people as much as possible has surely been spot on!
The day before this momentous personal event, I had taken a walk from Victoria through Central London, 20,000 steps no less, with my friend Javier, whom I had not seen since we visited the British Museum in December 2019. I got the impression that he had hardly spoken to anyone since then – apart from his family during a couple of short trips to Bilbao.
I was keen to see the National Covid Memorial Wall outside St Thomas’ Hospital. Currently, the UK’s death toll is over 127,000 – and this after the lockdowns and various preventative measures. There’s a heart, drawn by mourners, for each victim. It is a simple idea, reminiscent of the First World War Poppies at the Tower. Simple but very effective.
Then to St James’s Park
A halt for a bite to eat and thence to Hyde Park for an even longer walk. How wonderful the famous parks are – especially in April and May when the sun is shining – yet, if you live in the suburbs you rarely take advantage of them. They are in prime tourist territory and we have our local parks too, of course, but they are an amazing resource, full of imaginative planting and many species of birds. It was only after I had retired that I was able to enjoy Hyde Park on a sunny afternoon. Previously it had been an occasional visit at the weekend, normally not more than once or twice a year, and always packed.
And so to the weekend
On Saturday a train and an uber took us to a barbecue in an Italian friend’s garden in Highgate (how multi-cultural am I?). South Londoners are traditionally filled with fear and loathing at the prospect of an excursion north of the river. Let’s be honest: Waterlow Park is magnificent. And how strange to be looking at those familiar tall buildings of the City and Canary Wharf but from the north rather than the south.
I had forgotten how immense Hampstead Heath is. I had not walked on it for at least 20 years. There were even hardy gentlemen swimming in the famous pond. How very picturesque!
Back Down Sarf, I have been to the pub (outdoors) – several of them, in fact – to see and meet other people. It has been a long time coming. Still a bit chilly in the evening, I must say, but lots of demand and, of course, it’s necessary to book in advance. It seems to be a national duty, under Boris’s premiership, to drink a pint of beer or two.
Anne and I have started playing tennis, after a short break of two decades. The standard is rock bottom – but it always was. Any half-decent shot is likely to prove a winner when running after the ball is such an effort. Oh the pain. All the same, it gets you out of the house on a Sunday morning while Dulwich College swimming pool (indoors) is still hors de combat.
And at Herne Hill there are encouraging signs of activity, and not just in the pub gardens. Some new shops are opening, to many people’s surprise, whilst others have been refurbished.
Which takes us back to memorials
The First World War memorial stone in the station booking hall, which commemorates the death of over 550 Herne Hill residents and the suffering of thousands more, has been in need of some attention. Its creator, Mark Brooks, has now gilded and repainted his hard-carved lettering. It looks splendid now. Mark will also create a permanent stainless steel label to replace the “temporary” one which has been there since the memorial was unveiled by Helen Hayes MP on Remembrance Day 2019.
OK then. So far so good. I am not so naïve as to think everything in the proverbial garden is rosy, even when that is literally the case. There may be a third wave and there will certainly be more deaths. There will be more disruption, pain and disappointment. But if you can’t enjoy simple pleasures like a walk in the park or a pint in the sunshine now and again, is this life worth living? Carpe diem. Seize the carp.