Some South Woodford scribbles from DD, our resident diarist, commentator and observer of all things local
I have often written about memory. About memories as well, of course, but also about the faculty of memory itself. The gift of being able to recall and almost relive an experience. One of my readers has shared a memory with me. She tells me she absolutely loves living in South Woodford, and although her children left home some years ago, she has no intention of moving. I think we have much in common.
This is what she wrote: “I was pottering around in the front garden one spring afternoon when two older ladies slowly pulled over in their car outside my house. The driver (who turned out to be the daughter of the even older lady, now in her mid-90s) got out and tentatively asked if I had lived here long, as it had once been the childhood home of her mum. Oh, I had to ask them both in! They were both thrilled to be asked to do so. She admitted she remembered nothing of the interior of the house, except the steps down into the ‘morning room’ and kitchen. However, when she stepped into the back garden, her eyes filled with tears as she looked up at the massive pear tree in full blossom. ‘My dad planted that as a sapling when I was a little girl,’ she said.”
This story reminded me of an occasion when I couldn’t resist knocking on the door of the house where I spent my early childhood. It’s in Hillside Avenue, ‘below the line’ in Woodford. My sister was with me so I expect she egged me on. We weren’t invited in. Other guests were expected. But we did chat on the doorstep. It still looked exactly as it appears in a photograph of me and my brother, standing on it and proudly wearing our primary school uniform.
In a way, we are all making and storing up memories now. For most of us, I suspect, this is a unique period in our lives. We will retain vivid memories of our Covid-19 experience. We will say: “Yes, we were there. We stayed strictly indoors.” “Nothing special in that!” our great-grandchildren might say. Until they understand that this continued for many months and all holidays had to be cancelled. We observed social distancing. We wore masks and formed ‘bubbles’. We sanitised our hands and wore protective gloves. And we waited. What were we waiting for? Most of all, I suppose, it was for the restoration of what we previously recognised as ‘normality’. But meanwhile, we waited for the ‘R number’ to come down, once we’d grasped – I think – what the implications of it were. We waited to receive the invitation to be vaccinated. (One day, one of my neighbours called out to me from the pavement as she hurried past: “I feel like I’ve won the pools! I’m off to the Hawkey Hall for my first jab!”) We waited to feel secure enough to dare to go shopping, to ride on a bus and on the Underground. We waited for the glorious red-letter day when we would be able to meet and hug each other again.
Meanwhile, we developed coping strategies like my (frankly rather amazing) reader with the pear tree. Read how she has been confronting the virus: “Despite being retired, I have never once felt bored or listless. I walk every morning for an hour or so, come rain or shine. I’ve explored the River Roding, going further afield through that hinterland area beside the M11 and A406 which leads to Claybury Park. (How is it that the tower dominates the landscape, yet once you’re in the woods, you can’t get a glimpse of it close up?!) I walk regularly to Gilbert’s Slade, tucked in that wedge of forest land between Waterworks roundabout and Hollow Ponds – what a sanctuary. Or on rainy days, a brisk walk up to Wanstead and around the backstreets keeps me occupied. I do all my exercise classes, previously held at The City Lit or Mary Ward Centre, via Zoom. Yoga and Pilates work well, but Zumba isn’t quite the same! Our book club, usually based at Tim’s Creative Biscuit cafe in George Lane, still meets monthly via Zoom. We’ve recently started community gardening again on the bridge beds and in George Lane. I’m booked to open my garden again for the National Garden Scheme in mid-July, so I’m busy propagating seeds at present. Anyway, here’s wishing you well and I look forward to retaining many aspects of my lockdown routine once we move back to a more open society.”
I wonder: What will this “more open society” be like? Has Covid changed us? Have our neighbourhoods been quietly growing closer through our collective clapping and our universal expressions of “Thank you to the NHS”? Plenty of houses near me have “Thank you, postman” in the front window. Plenty of strangers call out: “Keep well!” as you pass. Our next-door neighbour expressed disappointment when we said we could manage better now with the confidence that the double jab had instilled. “But I really enjoyed getting your texts with the shopping lists and dropping the bags in your porch.” I steer clear of politics and I’m not making a political point, but didn’t Mrs T famously claim that “there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first”? The experience of the last few months doesn’t seem to support this view.
The paradox at the heart of the pandemic is that the government agenda designed to keep people at a distance from each other and reduce communication may well have strengthened ties in the community and shone a bright light on the things that really matter and make life worthwhile and on the key people who really keep the ship afloat. We need handshakes and hugs; elbows are not enough.