I’m a Londoner born and bred. I’ve lived and worked my whole life in London. I was educated by ILEA and did both my degrees at London universities. I was born, and lived, my first 14 years in Lewisham and then have lived in various and different parts of this wonderful city, like Crayford, Enfield, Plaistow, Tottenham, Teddington and Thamesmead. I used to be scornful of suburbia but for the last 13 years me and Clare have lived in Kingston, in a terraced house with front & back gardens. And I love it…!
As we enter week 6 of lockdown, I’m even more thankful that I live here. Our house is under 5 minutes from the Thames Path and about 15 minutes from Richmond Park’s Ham Gate. And those aren’t the only two opportunities to get quickly out into nature. We’ve also got spots like Ham Common, Ham Lands and Canbury Gardens right on hand. My daily exercise allowance is mostly walking with some days a run. (I used to be a ‘runner’ but am definitely a ‘jogger’ these days.)
The walks are divided loosely into two sorts – the 30 or so minute strolls around the block and the longer, more planned, let’s discover some new places, walks. Both types are usually with Clare but the shorter versions can be on my own because you won’t be surprised that I think now more than ever it’s important to get out of the house every day.
I reckon the Government, who in my opinion are making a right mess of handling this pandemic, must be pretty confused about the response to daily exercise. All previous statistics showed the UK to be an appallingly sedentary nation. About two-thirds of adults didn’t reach the pretty low threshold of 150 minutes moderate exercise a week. Now everybody and their household partner seem to be clamouring to ramble, jog and cycle for as long as possible in the wide-open green spaces. So not only is it fairly understandable we got confused messages about exercise, it looks like more people than ever are walking a couple of miles a day.
I’m not sure it’s making a virtue of a necessity but I’m really enjoying the thrice weekly ‘walks round the block’. I’ve always enjoyed and, indeed, encouraged people to not only look up but to peer over walls and garden fences. The wisteria round here has busted out all over while lockdown’s been on. And who knew Kingston residents loved tamarix trees so much? Like wisteria their blooming time seems surprisingly brief but it’s absolutely spectacular. A more familiar suburban south London shrub is ceanothus, or California lilac and no Kingston front garden seems complete without a red robin, or photinia x fraseri.
All this is quite literally amplified by the surrounding birdsong. You can hear sparrows chirruping in the hedges, blackbirds singing away and, round here, the cacophonous squawking of ring-necked parakeets. (on walks I still love to tell people that the ever-growing flocks of these noisy colourful birds originate from Jimi Hendrix releasing a pair of the birds in Carnaby Street in 1968.
I remember visiting Saltaire a couple of years ago and having plenty of time to soak in David Hockney’s series of hawthorn paintings from near Rudston, Yorkshire. I think he returned to the same locations year after year to sketch and paint the evolving blossom from the local hawthorns. Walking round the neighbourhood regularly over the last month has allowed me to see plants, trees and shrubs bud, sprout and bloom before my very eyes.
The walking class hero lockdown days playlist: