All the birds are singing as I weave my way through bumper to bumper traffic on the Middleway, ignoring irate drivers who gesticulate wildly at me for having the audacity to walk on a pedestrian green, leaving them stranded in the box junction they impatiently straddled in heavy, slow moving traffic.
On my way to Tesco in an oversized cotton dress and battered espadrilles bought two summers ago in an alpine Carrefour, I pass a young woman with a tabby cat tucked neatly under her arm. I can’t help but smile. The cat, wearing a neon pink leash and harness, looks so content and completely unfazed by the heavy traffic passing by.
Rather than go straight home after picking up a few things from the supermarket, I make a beeline for the park instead, and settle down on the hot stone wall with an icecream to people watch for a short while. Summer is coming to an end, and after a soggy August we’re enjoying a last hurrah of good weather before the equinox winds arrive, pulling the dry leaves off trees and ushering in autumn. Hot September days feel extra special, if a little bittersweet.
The tabby cat and its human stroll past, heading home to an apartment overlooking the park, whilst a toddler dressed in a summer dress and beach hat throws a ball for an overexcited terrier. Dotted around the park in small groups, friends gather together for drinks and picnics, children play, and the sound of cutlery on plates carries from the balconies high up on the south facing side of the apartment complex. Picking up my tote bag and turning the empty magnum stick between my sticky fingers, I head home myself.
A pile of limbs litter the floor of the wedding dress shop on the square, recently reopened after the final business restrictions were lifted a month ago today, allowing weddings to resume as they were in the days before the pandemic. In the window, a teenage boy fondles the naked plastic breast of a mannequin he and his mother are in the process of dressing for a window display.
Sat in the wooden teahouse in the Japanese garden at the Botanical Gardens with the wind chimes sounding and the rain falling, Ed comments: “It’s like we’re in one of those Japanese art house films where everyone is miserable but nothing really happens”.
Just before 4pm I arrive at the swimming pool to discover that the university has painted new markings beneath the cloisters and up the steps to the front door in advance of the new academic year. For more than 100m, row upon row of neat white circles enclosing tiny feet and the words “stand here” have been stamped on the ground to help organise the queueing system before the students return. Six months into the pandemic, there are still moments that stop me in my tracks and make me feel like I’m living in a parallel universe or that I’ve fallen into the pages of a science fiction novel, and this is one of them.
On my way home, I cut across a silent campus for the first time since March following the freshly painted one way system that’s been put down for freshers’ week and beyond. A group of school boys from the school over the road are stood outside the law faculty building bouncing freshly fallen conkers and acorns off the concrete, blazers and rucksacks in a pile beside them, but there’s nobody else around. Staff House sits empty, the Friday Beers tradition abandoned for the foreseeable future.
Stepping down onto the canal, I glue my eyes to the railings in search of late season blackberries, the low golden light flickering through the metal slats and hedgerows as I head home.