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. I pull my face mask out of my bag and hook it around my ears, an exercise in futility these days given that most people don’t bother, and head in to pick up a few bits for dinner.
Rather than go straight home, I make a beeline for the park instead, and settle down on the hot stone wall with a vegan magnum 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 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 or aunt are in the process of dressing for a window display.
Walking south along the canal on my way to my appointment for my second dose, I pass a narrowboat heading north back to the city. The people on board are dressed in smart clothes and sat at tables, enjoying an intimate wedding reception cruise. It used to be a common sight on Saturdays in summer, but I haven’t seen a tour boat in nearly two years. I can’t help but smile.
The towpath is lined with foxgloves, campion, honeysuckle and columbine, all grown wild and tall in the midsummer sun, yet to be cut back from the water’s edge by the Canal and River Trust. I secretly hope they’ve forgotten this year and that the overgrown look is here to stay.
A group of students sit by the secret lake at Winterbourne, quietly enjoying a picnic of homemade sandwiches stowed in recycled icecream tubs, keeping their distance from one another to observe physical distancing restrictions. As little birds glide in, newly returned from overwintering down south, the late winter sunshine illuminates the reeds at the water’s edge and for a moment it feels like spring.
On our way home past the Vale, a group of students piled into a silver convertible, roof down, pull out of the gate by the first year halls of residence and drive less than 20m to park up in the lay-by on the side of the lake that’s open to the public. The 18 year old driver anxiously asks her friends in the back to check her parking for her, unfamiliar with the dimensions of the car and nervous that she might have left it sticking out too far into the road.
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”.