I ended my last lockdown diary
– written on the cusp of London entering Tier 3 – with a reference to 'lockdown 3.0'. I was only half-joking. When it came, it didn't make much difference to my corner of south-east London. We had already entered Tier 4 (lockdown in all but name) just before Christmas; it was other parts of England which had to fall into line with the capital.
Christmas itself was messy. Given the repeated assurances surrounding the seasonal truce, my parents had made plans to join my brother and I in London for a few days. Transport was arranged and an Airbnb booked. It fell to me to tell them the weekend before that it couldn't go ahead. They'd been looking forward to it so were upset. An accommodation refund was arranged with much difficulty.
I care little for that time of year so wasn't personally fussed. I spent all three public holidays quietly, hardly deviating from my sanity-preserving routine of a run every other day (including on 25 December) and takeaway coffees with friends in spite of freezing temperatures. Hogmanay was spent on my sofa. January the first was just another day.
A few days later, the Royal Mail delivered a Christmas card from my parents two weeks after it had been posted. A note scribbled by my mother said how much they were looking forward to seeing me and my new flat. I found this incredibly poignant.
Over the last few months, I've gotten to know almost every square inch of the park that adjoins my flat. I run around it, cycle through it, and meander with over-priced coffee. Burgess Park is unusual in that it dates from after the Second World War, rather than the Victorian era, which is usually the case for London's better known green spaces. It grew out of the 'Abercrombie Plan' and replaced a once congested area of 19th-century residential streets and industrial buildings, many of them bomb damaged. There remain streets which come to an abrupt end – not yet fully grassed over – and a 'bridge to nowhere' which once crossed a branch of the Surrey Canal. It was only named in 1973, after Councillor Jessie Burgess, Camberwell's first female Mayor.
A few days ago, I stumbled across the earliest component of the park, King George's Field, which opened in 1938 on the site of a former lido and public baths. Adjoining the charming Addington Square, all that survives are iron gates and a couple of posts adorned with a lion and a unicorn. There were hundreds of these parks across the UK, built to commemorate George V, who had died two years earlier.
Burgess Park remains unfinished, a work in progress, much like the third 'national' (or English) lockdown. The Prime Minister's broadcast last week gave the impression this would end, or at least be substantially reviewed, in mid-February, although Michael Gove then suggested it would be March until some measures were relaxed. The new regulations actually expire on 31 March, which suggests no easing until early April.
By that point, all of this will have been going on for almost exactly a year. Although I pride myself on self-sufficiency and an ability to keep myself busy, my substantial reserves of creativity are close to depletion. Since Christmas I've been conscious of a rapidly narrowing range of options for things to do. Last year was tolerable because it was anchored in various all-consuming goals, not least of which was finding a flat to buy, move in to and renovate. All I have left are the humdrum tasks of consolidating my record collection and sorting through boxes of printed ephemera.
Sometimes I go for a walk merely to escape my flat and catch the last of the winter sun. Judging from social media, Scotland has been revelling in the sort of cold sunny days I relish. London, alas, has only managed cold and grey. Inside, I sustain myself with minor triumphs: persuading the council to remove my Christmas tree; buying a new duvet with bonus Amex points; and plotting research projects that should see me through till Easter.
Soon, meanwhile, I'll bid farewell to a rather plump squirrel which scales the side of my building most days. Although a cute distraction as viewed from my study window, it's been less fun for my downstairs neighbour, whose bathroom ceiling is gradually being eroded by sharp squirrel claws. Last week scaffolding went up to aid Southwark Council's pest control department in removal of said squirrel. I shall miss it.
The other day I saw a fox wandering through the lighting section at B&Q just off the Old Kent Road. This reminded me of scenes from lockdown 1.0 when sheep were found wandering through a northern Welsh town. I was there buying compost to fill a couple of window boxes I'd received at Christmas. Yesterday, I finally got around to planting alien-looking tulip and daffodil (Sir Winston Churchill) bulbs. I hope it's not too late.
I read recently that the Prime Minister opted for a flower analogy in an attempt to provide his colleagues with some idea of timescale. According to Katy Balls of The Spectator
, he promised things would be better by the time tulip season was over, perhaps even by daffodil season. This led to frantic googling by Conservative MPs for clues as to when restrictions would ease. Depressingly, tulip season ends in early May.
David Torrance is
an author and contemporary historian