Until now, summer was always something I felt was passing me by. That season in Edinburgh was notoriously brief and unpredictable, but the weather in London is more consistent and reliable; you can actually plan for it. But Before Coronavirus (BC) I was usually too busy to take full advantage, rushing around, working at my desk in Westminster, on a train or running errands. Basically, I was everywhere the sun was not. Now, during the new normal formally known as lockdown, I have more opportunities to soak it up and relax.
This past weekend was mainly taken up with sitting in parks. BC, I wasn't really one for sitting in parks, but now I totally get the appeal of long afternoons of little more than sitting around, glancing at a book, listening to music or sharing food and fizzy alcohol with friends and colleagues (from a distance). Luckily, London is blessed with locations for such self-indulgence. On Saturday, I caught up with an old housemate at the splendidly named 'Hilly Fields' in Brockley (South-East London), while Sunday was spent at the better known – and considerably larger – Hampstead Heath, from which I could see the Men's Ponds (currently closed).
God, I miss swimming, especially outdoors when the weather is good. I think constantly about the London Fields Lido, which I used to frequent when I last lived in this part of Hackney, chatting with a Lochend-born barista after lengths in the lovely Olympic-length pool. It's heated in winter, which means the steam rises atmospherically as you endure the bite of a short walk from the changing rooms. The Lido, like the Men's Ponds, is currently out of bounds, but its website is full of plans for social-distancing once it reopens. This has pros and cons: the pool will be less busy but, paradoxically, getting in will be much harder and most likely subject to a booking system. Nevertheless, I'll be rejoining as soon as I'm able.
Talking of Clapton, a few nights ago my household was kept awake by a low-flying police helicopter for about three hours from around 10pm until 1am. This isn't an uncommon experience, but the duration of this mildly menacing whirr was unusual. The following day's Daily Mail
explained all, a headline screaming: 'Riot police break up huge illegal DJ party attended by "many hundreds" of revellers in East London street during lockdown'.
There were pictures – mainly culled from social media – to back this up, showing dozens (maybe not hundreds) of people gathered on the expansive Hackney Marshes and, later, on a residential street not far from where I live. One picture even showed the crowds partying while a DJ (presumably hired) played in the middle of the road. That explained the helicopter, with one tweet saying it was 'providing aerial support to officers on the ground'. We (me, my brother and his partner) were more amused by this than appalled, although it provided further evidence of lockdown fatigue.
On my way back from South-East London on Saturday evening I cycled through London Fields with the intention of spending half an hour in the sun. I'd have been lucky, for almost every square inch of the park was occupied by millennial Hackneyites, few of whom were paying any attention to distancing or much-advertised restrictions to the size of groups. The good weather, of course, explained much of this: without many alternative activities, the idea of sitting inside was simply too much for the human spirit to endure.
Meanwhile, there appears to be no end to my (twin) brother's talents. On Monday evening, frustrated by the ever-thickening hair above and behind my ears, I went at it with a pair of clippers and effectively bounced my initially reticent clone into finishing it off. Once engaged, however, he approached the task with methodical care. First to go was the beginnings of a mullet, not a style I wanted to end up with, however retro it might prove to be. Next he got me to hold up the longer hair on top of my head while he tackled the sides, even taking care to 'blend' it from top to bottom.
The result was, by any standards, a perfectly serviceable haircut which ought to last me until the professionals – all things being well – get back to work in early July. In fact, and as I told my brother, I've paid for worse haircuts in the past. Normally, I time trims for special events, for example book launches, only on this occasion it'll probably be online. Last week, Edinburgh University Press (EUP) sent me three copies of my new tome (I think, astonishingly, my 18th authored or edited volume), Standing up for Scotland: Nationalist Unionism and Scottish Party Politics, 1884-2014
It's not entirely new – about a third of it was recycled from a PhD I completed in 2017 – but the thrill of physically holding a new publication never quite wears off. Unfortunately, this one is very much pitched at libraries rather than general readers (it'll cost almost £80 for a hardback), but that's academia for you. A while ago, I asked EUP about launch options, and they suggested doing something via Zoom, which they'd be happy to facilitate while offering some sort of discount. I'm still mulling over what to do, but hey, it'll be a chance to show off my new short back and sides.