o n e m o n t h

[ 19:43 sunday 26 april 2020 – old ford lock, london ]

in the month since britain’s quarantine restrictions came into force, life has diminished in almost every way. my world has shrunk to a sphere comprising the house, the garden and a surrounding radius of one hour’s cycle.

at the same time, though, life has also expanded in certain respects. alejandro and i have both noticed a heightened awareness of the natural world around us. in this most most abundant period of spring, each day brings a thousand changes; trees newly in blossom, shoots peeping from the earth, buds opening into flowers, different species of migrating moth appearing in the house. i’ve never been so conscious of it all. there is a luxury of stillness, the ability to sit for ten minutes and allow one’s mind to soak up and appreciate everything that is around.

with the closure of london city airport the usual background noise of jet engines has disappeared. it’s like an extended version of the intense quiet i remember from 2011, when the volcano grimsvötn erupted in iceland and for a few days european air traffic ceased. our location at old ford lock was already quiet. with the planes gone, the loudest sounds are now birdsong, the rustle of wind in the trees and the trickle of water escaping through the lock gates.

alejandro and i continue our daily bike excursions, progressively scouring the area for wild or interesting places that fall within range. over the past two weekends we’ve traced the path of the river roding from woodford, through the bluebell-carpeted grounds of wanstead house, past ilford and barking to the reed beds and wastelands where it finally reaches the thames. frisbee, badminton and yoga have been added to our daily outdoor routine. scrabble and trivial pursuit have become evening fixtures.

many of my friends have found themselves undertaking heroic projects in the house or garden. for my part i’ve dug out several new flower beds and planted them with twenty-one dahlias, nine peonies and ten begonias. with luck, some of them might flourish. i’ve also cleared out the small yard behind the house, which had become an overgrown dumping ground for boats and abandoned flowerpots, to create a new seating area. since it gets the late afternoon sun we’ve taken to having our tea there.

on weekdays i remain occupied with my work for the trampery. march and april have been a hectic cycle of planning for possible scenarios and responding to events. the most demanding period was the second half of march when the situation was changing dramatically from day to day. it was during this period we switched most of our team to home working and took the decision to close down the workspaces. during april things have stabilised in their new geometry. in the last couple of weeks i’ve been able to start working on future projects once again.

a crisis like this tests the mettle of any team. the trampery team, currently numbering twenty-seven employees plus eight contractors, has been magnificent. throughout the whole rollercoaster experience everyone has stuck together, calmly evaluated what was coming and adapted to each successive change. a full week before the quarantine was announced, the team had already switched most of the company’s activities online and launched “the trampery at home“. i’m excited to see what we can achieve together once the crisis is past.

since january i’ve been writing an article each month for the trampery, touching on aspects of entrepreneurship and society that interest me. the most recent one explores how the coronavirus crisis is likely to affect the future course of capitalism. if you’re interested the article is posted here on medium (the rest of them are listed here).

life under quarantine, with the house as an undifferentiated setting for work and life, and no access to mechanised transportation, is like a reconstruction of pre-industrial life; just with netflix and video calls added. in the midst of this arcadian existence, the element i find most jarring is shopping. there is something dystopian about the regimented two-metre-spaced queues, the guards at the door, the sense of pressure and the subtle undercurrent of fear. i recognise it’s all necessary, but supermarkets now feel unpleasantly similar to airports.

the single most disquieting aspect of visiting shops is routinely seeing bare shelves. i remember as a child in the 1980s seeing television news reports portraying empty shelves in eastern european cities, with images of housewives queuing to enter a shop. in consumerist societies we were brought up to view this as something alien and shocking, yet we are now confronted with it daily.

since 2013 i’ve been baking all my own bread (which alejandro refuses to eat). my staple loaf is a mix of dark rye and wholemeal with sunflower seeds, walnuts, figs or whatever else is to hand. whilst the initial shortages of toilet paper, tinned tomatoes, pasta and rice have all faded, the flour shelves remain stubbornly bare. apparently this isn’t due to any production shortage, it’s simply that 99% of britain’s population has taken up bread-making as a way to cope with being stuck at home. the flour crisis has become so severe that not only are the shops bereft, online suppliers are also sold out.

thus i now find myself, in a surreal reversal, awaiting the delivery of 20 kilos of rye and wholemeal flour from a supplier located in dresden; one of those east bloc cities featured on television in the 1980s, with the empty shelves and queuing housewives.

: c :

q u a r a n t i n a

[ 23:01 tuesday 24 march 2020 – old ford lock, london ]

today was the first day of britain’s mass quarantine against the coronavirus. along with most of the population i shall be secluding myself at home for the next three weeks, and i suspect longer. here in london it has been a glorious spring day. the air remains chilly but the sky was a perfect blue and the midday sun was strong enough to warm the face.

since the middle of february the storm’s approach has been creeping up on my consciousness. each day as i visited an exhibition, walked into a shop or passed a group of friends laughing on the towpath i found myself pausing for a moment to appreciate the beauty of these everyday things, and wondering how long remained before they were swept away.

the final large gathering i attended was a seminar at mansion house on tuesday 10th march, hosted by the lord mayor of london, where i chaired a discussion on the relationship between place and creativity. it was a splendid event, and a remarkable experience to observe a hundred and fifty city dignitaries bashfully experimenting with elbow bumps, waves and various alternatives to shaking hands.

my last face-to-face meeting came a day later on wednesday 11th march, from 5pm to 6pm, with the team at the trampery old street.  for the subsequent twelve days i’ve been working from home, so yesterday’s announcement didn’t feel like a particularly abrupt change.

the fashion business where alejandro works sent their team home last week, so each day he’s been working here in the house alongside me. quickly we are establishing new etiquettes and habits for these novel circumstances. when it’s sunny we each have our spot to work on the terrace outside. when the air becomes too cool for alfresco working, we perch at respective sides of the circular table in the sitting room. if either of us has a video call there’s a tacit agreement to retreat downstairs to the dining room.

yesterday’s announcement from the prime minister’s came three years, almost to the minute, from when alejandro and i first met each other at a lecture in poplar. we celebrated a slightly muted anniversary at home. a lot of the local shops had closed early so the most luxurious items i was able to forage were peach ice cream, watermelon and a chocolate rabbit.

all of my life, i’ve been drawn to solitude and generally i find myself comfortable in isolation. i chose to live on islands for most of the period 1999 to 2003; first on st agnes and st mary’s in the isles of scilly (diary entries here), then on stromboli in the aeolian archipelago. (diary entries here). i was serenely happy for much of this period. however as it became clear last week that extensive restrictions were likely to be imposed, i felt a growing terror at the possibility i might be barred from leaving the house for excursions on foot, bicycle or kayak.

perhaps in subconscious preparation, over the weekend i gorged myself on adventures in wild places in the full thrall of springtime. on saturday alejandro and i cycled out to explore the huge expanse of wanstead flats. then on sunday i did a twenty-five mile bike ride up to epping forest and back, getting completely smothered in mud in the process. finally on monday afternoon, just a few hours before the prime minister’s announcement, i dropped my kayak in the water for the first time this year and paddled up to hackney marshes.

in the end, to my relief, the restrictions leave us free to make an hour-long excursion each day. this bodes well for my sanity and for the future of my relationship with alejandro. today at lunchtime we celebrated this liberty by cycling up through the olympic park and across hackney marshes to my favourite stretch of the river lea. i climbed down the bank and stood on a stone in the flow of the river, listening to the rush of water and birdsong, with fresh green leaves glowing in the sunlight along the sides.

this is truly a remarkable moment. it will be a shared experience for almost all humans now alive, in a way that possibly has no precedent. people refer to the september 2001 attack on the world trade centre (diary entry for that day). however that was an event that happened in one place and was experienced only vicariously by the rest of the planet. even the second world war was, in truth, largely a european, western russian and pacific affair that left much of the world untouched.

i suspect many people will have felt moved to record their impressions on this first day of the general quarantine, as countless others will have done in different countries. perhaps i shall write more in the coming weeks as the situation evolves. for now i hope that you, my friends and my family, wherever in the world you are, remain safe and cheerful.

: c :