Some South Woodford scribbles from DD, our resident diarist, commentator and observer of all things local
I’m still here. How I would like to give you a welcome handshake. A hug even. Thank you for reading my column. My dip into life’s rich pattern as lived out in our unpretentious suburb of South Woodford. A strange, less-than-rich pattern for the time being: were I to see you approaching, I would have to step into the road if the pavement was too narrow to accommodate our social distancing. I’d push up my mask to hide my smile. It all goes against the grain, doesn’t it!
I’ve been looking at my DD diaries dating back to 2013. All those wonderful close encounters with fellow locals that have provided me with so much personal enjoyment (and stuff to write about!) Shoppers, book lovers, tattooists, clothing repairers, road sweepers. So many more. Such a privilege, meeting face-to-face and sharing. In November 2017, I wrote: “I’m way, way, past the age of not speaking to strangers.” So, what can I write about now in the July 2020 edition, when speaking closely to almost anyone is to be avoided?
I did notice my partner chatting encouragingly to his tomato plants yesterday. I haven’t confessed it to him, but I have been urging on his runner beans, friendly-like, and even his chirpy row of radish seedlings. I’ve been accepting thankfully the protective circle of family and friends who have made our isolation possible. In many respects, strangely enjoyable. A commodity that seemed elusive before lockdown is now lavishly available: I mean TIME, of course.
Thursday is Christmas Day each week, when the “Basics Box” arrives from Ongar Dairies, the nearest company I could find with some remaining available delivery slots. What will it contain this week? Bread, milk, butter, eggs, fruit and vegetables. Yes, the basics. But not just carrots and spuds and apples. Sometimes avocados, melons, blueberries, mushrooms. Even perhaps spaghetti, crusty rolls, orange juice. Wow! Hot cross buns at Easter. We have been introduced to bok choy. (I researched the best way to serve it. In a wok.) And oat milk and extra-thick creamy Greek yoghurt. Something to cater for all tastes! One week, we did end up with too many cucumbers. There’s only so much you can do with too many cucumbers. I found a cucumber soup recipe and forged ahead, unwilling to waste any good nourishing food. No surprise, really: the soup didn’t taste of anything. Not willing to hurt my feelings, of course, my other half suggested “a good slurp of sherry would improve it”. It did.
We ordered a barbecue online. Sons and daughters supplied suitable ingredients. Quite a smoke cloud at first but the neighbours didn’t complain. Soon, the charcoal was glowing red and on went the salmon, the carefully prepared peppers and onions on skewers. We included something called a barbecue chimney in our order. It speeds up the process of getting the charcoal to the glowing red stage. (Exactly the same technique we used at home when I was a child, kneeling in front of the fireplace, holding up a large tin tray or even yesterday’s newspaper in front of the coals to create a draft up the chimney and tease the kindling firewood into flames). With the weather being so wonderfully kind, we have dusted down a couple of comfy old garden chairs. Books are being read in the daytime! Pretty well unheard-of in ‘normal’ times. And another confession: the throughput of wine, of any shade, has, ever so slightly, accelerated.
When the lockdown started, I admit I felt less in control of the structure of my days. I have waited in for deliveries of web-sourced purchases promised for “between 8am and 8pm”. Sometimes in vain. Not much room for the daily exercise. I miss my freedom to stroll out and pay visits and cruise unhurriedly down my shopping list at the supermarket. But I never forget the time, years ago, when a young friend described me as “the headmistress of the school for positive thinking”. Something to live up to, eh? And I can indeed report on several really very satisfactory mini-achievements. Conducted remotely. I have in writing a promise from the Odeon to refund the cost of the two tickets I bought well in advance for a performance of Fidelio, streamed from Covent Garden. (A week later, all cinemas were closed.) I ordered two boxes of plastic gloves from Amazon to contribute to our anti-corona armoury. A month later, Royal Mail left a message, in bright red, on the doormat, saying they would deliver ‘a package’ once I forked out an £11.87 customs charge. Assuming the package was probably another delayed birthday gift, I went online and paid the charge. The gloves arrived. From China. I composed a thoughtfully-worded complaint. Sent a copy of the Royal Mail receipt. A full refund is now in hand. NatWest wrote to me about a small overdraft on “my account”. The one I knew I had closed some years ago. Slightly worrying. A number of phone calls to head office ensued, involving much listening to music. A letter to the local branch. A period of delay. But finally, two phone calls from a charming member of the bank staff telling me I must not worry: a local executive decision had been made to shut down the account with the debt written off. Puzzling but gladly accepted. Thank you to ‘the friendly bank’.
I was disappointed when we stopped clapping on Thursdays at 8pm. A symbol of togetherness when we were being urged to keep apart. The only two minutes in the week when I actually saw my neighbours. An upbeat, joyfully rowdy ritual celebrating not just our key workers but our community. Back into the toy box with the drums and tambourines. On we go. One day at a time!