diamond geezer

 Thursday, March 26, 2020

As staying at home becomes the new normal, many of us find ourselves living within a much smaller orbit. I've not been on a train in the last ten days, nor on a bus for the last twelve, restricting myself only to places I can reach on foot. I'm very fortunate that my immediate neighbourhood is so walk-friendly.

On Lockdown Day One I stayed in, but yesterday I took advantage of my "one form of exercise a day" by heading out for an early excursion in fine spring sunshine. Sorry, but you may be hearing a lot more about the Bow Flyover Fringe in the near future.

Let's start with Bus Stop M, whose existence continues unabated. It's very quiet too, despite a full Saturday service operating to Ilford, Holborn, Newham Hospital and my local Tesco. It was entirely passengerless when I passed by, which doesn't normally happen during what used to be the rush hour. In good news the pavements along this stretch of Bow Road are particularly broad, making social distancing relatively simple should anyone be coming the other way.

This is Grove Hall Park, my local. It's only small, but it is a valuable greenspace in the heart of a community. The cherry trees are at their finest at present, almost glowing in the sunshine. A jogger pounds through the gate to the walled garden, carefully avoiding the lady watching over her squatting dog. Only one family are in the playground, it being early, but evidence suggests anti-social overcrowding is not an issue. The benches are already a sensible distance apart.

Down by the Bow Roundabout the 24 hour McDonald's drive-through has now closed. On Monday afternoon a queue of vehicles snaked round the car park for a last chance to grab a Quarter Pounder and Fries before supplies dried up for the foreseeable future. Now the access lane and the main entrance are taped off, printed signs in the windows apologise for the inconvenience and the usual cluster of delivery riders is eerily absent.

Pudding Mill Lane DLR station is rarely busy, but today the silence is tangible. TfL's bright red poster warns passengers not to travel unless their journey is essential, but hardly anybody lives around here yet, let alone key workers. The piazza is empty, the bike rack holds a single steed. Half a pile of Metros await an audience. Occasionally an announcement upstairs alerts nobody to the arrival of a train.

Although not many people are out, I'm impressed by how well they keep out of each other's way as they pass. Normally you'd get funny looks if you stepped into the road or meandered across a grass verge to avoid someone, but now such strategies are expected and they happen, time after time. On only one occasion, trapped beside some railings at the Bow Roundabout, does a pedestrian stride a tad too close to me, oblivious.

Up on the Greenway the View Tube's cafe is closed, whatever the banner draped across the railings might say. But Wednesday is the day for the weekly Farmers Market and that's still running because a single stall has turned up. One is the normal total, indeed I've often wondered why they keep coming back to flog groceries in the middle of nowhere, but today that's also the middle of nobody. A strip of tape protects the seller from non-existent punters. Such is the perseverance of the self-employed, for whom no economic safety measures have yet been deployed.

Many of the construction sites around the Olympic Park are still busy as hard-hat hi-vis workers plough on with their usual work. Erection of the residential neighbourhoods of Sweetwater and East Wick continues apace. The new link road connecting north to south is having further surfaces laid and flattened. Social distancing is neither likely nor practical. But some other building sites are silent, for example Mace have paused all operations on the East Bank, as a few employers buck the trend by placing responsibility above profit.

Since Monday the playground in the southern half of the park has been fenced off. Back then it was the only place in QEOP where I saw people gathering unwisely, attracted by the availability of equipment no longer accessible in their local gym. Today young lads no longer hang out while hanging from the overhead bars, nor can an impromptu all-female boxing lesson break out. Elsewhere on the grass another group of teenagers are standing in a big circle patiently kicking a football between them, so only a tiny handful were being thoughtless.

Victoria Park has already succumbed to locked gates because a minority of the populace still wanted to socialise rather than stand apart. But the Olympic Park remains accessible, for now, for the enjoyment of blossom, birdsong, and long strolls by the river. How much easier this lockdown would have been had the weather stayed damp and grey, rather than delivering perfect blue skies for the first time in weeks at the most inopportune moment. So long as our outdoor spaces continue to be used sensibly, at distance, let's hope they can be kept open for one form of exercise a day.

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