[ 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 :