March has been a strange month. As always, it started in winter and ended in spring, but we have also transitioned with the seasons from normal life – work, trips to the botanical gardens, plans for trips to the forest and mountains this spring, and a camping trip to France for our tenth wedding anniversary this summer – to a state of lockdown which may last six months or longer. All of my work – weddings and documentaries – has been put on hold for the foreseeable future. Ed is off school and doesn’t know when he’ll go back. September? December? Who knows.
In the East Asian supermarket with Chopin’s Waltz in B Minor looping in my head from my morning’s piano practice, Ed and I perform a dance of our own in the narrow aisles. We hang back, waiting for the refrigerator to be free so that we can pick up some galangal, only for someone else to give us space in the noodle aisle.
Outside Tesco while we wait in our designated bay, a cloud of cigarette smoke makes me cough, and then panic that the security guard will think I have the virus and deny me entry. Our turn comes to enter the shop and we pick up a single lime and two vegan magnums, shuffling forward through the queue, maintaining a constant marked distance of 2m from customers and staff. I could get used to this new normal when it comes to the etiquette of personal space.
Last night at 8pm on the third evening of our semi-lockdown in the UK, hundreds of thousands of people took part in a national round of applause for the NHS. I live in a strong Labour seat, so I knew the clapping, whistling and fireworks were genuine and heartfelt. However, we are just a few months out from a general election where large swathes of the population voted for a party who have been quietly undermining, underfunding, and undervaluing the same health service they were stood on their doorsteps cheering for. Talk is cheap and easy, but I couldn’t bring myself to take part in an event which had been co-opted by the same government which has spent the past ten years destroying the health service they now celebrate.
As we approach the spring equinox, rush hour coincides with sunset. On Lee Bank Middleway at 6pm, a Mr Whippy icecream van crawls up the hill and the blossom trees and new growth are backlit by the crepuscular deep blue of headlights and the coming night.
From my observations notebook // 18th March 2019
On New Street, representatives from every belief system stand on their soap boxes and behind their stress test tables preaching about the end times to curiously responsive groups of office workers and shoppers. For the first time in all the years I’ve called Birmingham home, they have an audience. At 5pm on Broad Street, the offices are empty and I sit alone in Oozells Square watching the cherry blossom dance and fall.