Friday, 22 May 2020

Reflections on the Environmental Changes of Lockdown

Sitting on the allotment bench looking over the plot you realise how things have changed over the last few weeks. I am not talking about the virus and lockdown but the often unseen and unreported impact it has had and continues to have on our environment, living and time.

When Lottie and I walk along the bank of the Thames to the allotments the river looks still and peaceful and has a clarity which we never see normally. No, you can’t see to the bottom - the strong tides see to that and stir up the sediment on the river bed. However, it is clearer and obviously does not have the heavy and constant river traffic churning up the silt, nor the river pleasure boats throbbing out the latest dance as they rock up and down the river each evening.

The wooded path across to the allotment is laden with overgrown wildflowers, brambles and feisty nettles. The squirrels are everywhere and teasing Lottie on her walk. The trees create a canopy of shade and the path floor has carpet of fallen seeds. You could be in any woods in the deepest countryside not cheek to jowl with Canary Wharf.

On the allotment bench Lottie shifts her position, stretches, and gently places one of her front paws on my lap. That is to make sure I remain, and she can continue to nap knowing where I am.

It’s so peaceful today you can even hear the pine cones cracking open overhead in the sun, the chorus of birds singing, and yet we are less than a mile away from Canary Wharf and the new heart of the East End of London and densest residential housing in Western Europe. The Mudchute is a haven, a respite, an oasis in the bustling rejuvenated Docklands of London. Yet today the constant hum of cars is gone or is subdued, the sky is almost free from vapour trails and the sounds of City airport have temporary ceased. Even the farm in its lockdown is now deserted of children and visitors.

Earlier this week the gentle breeze brought us a sky full of seeds floating over the allotments from their parent plants and in search of a safe landing place. It almost looked like snow as the fluffy seed parachutes were carried in the wind and I found myself sneezing with the high pollen count. I wanted to shout out, ‘Don’t worry it’s hay fever not the virus!’ But who would have heard me? A day later the seeds were gone and no doubt the next time I’ll see them they will be young weed seedlings sprouting up and begging to be weeded out of the plot.

Yesterday was strange. In the morning there was real heat in the early morning sun. You realised it was going to be hot and the plot needed an early drink to help it through the day. The greenhouse already resembled a sauna and the door was wedged open much to the relief of all inside. I merely moved out the Sweet Corn and found sweat pouring across my face and trickling down my back. It was clearly time to go home and Lottie panting, agreed.

Late in the afternoon we returned to rehydrate the plot and bring the Sweet Corn back in.
Sitting on the bench contemplating life as Lottie and I do, I sensed a change, something different. At first I could not put my finger on it but then I realised what it was. The air was clean and with the bright sunshine you had that light intensity you don’t normally have, or ever see in London. As a painter you appreciate the light intensity you get in places like the Mediterranean but to see that sharpness of contrast and clarity in London, we must have lost a lot of air pollution! Perhaps I should put the jigsaw and books to one side and do some painting in London while it lasts.

Today I planted out the Sweet Corn and as I put my hands into the soil it was warm, or should I say a lot warmer than normal. Perhaps I don’t normally notice it, perhaps it is no different, but I sensed that the plants would enjoy their nice new warm surroundings and a cool drink. It makes you realise that the science of ground heat source probably has more to it than a few Grand Design buildings.

How long will this new environment last? China has returned to smog and it would appear inevitable that we will return to our noise, air and general pollution levels, but today at least we can enjoy what we have.