I went for a walk in the park today. I haven’t ventured there very often in the last two months and I was fascinated to see the differences since early July. They were quite dramatic.
The whole park was a buzz of cheerful activity. All the things that had been halted when we went into lock-down were back in full swing. The children’s playground was full of happy youngsters doing their thing. The tennis courts were full (I do like the royal blue courts are painted nowadays). The café was open (although only one person at a time can make an order) and, while are no longer tables inside, there are more outside (all occupied). Football markings were back on the grass and there was one kids’ game in full swing (with shouting parents on the side) and further on, there were about 50 children, in groups, getting soccer training. The climbing wall was full and the basketball court had lots of people playing. There were numerous people walking on the paths, alone, in twos and threes, and no ducking off the path to maintain distance.
There were some things that one didn’t see much before. Firstly, there were a lots of people having picnics – in groups ranging from eight and upwards. Secondly, there was a large children’s party with decorations hanging in the trees and around the tables. Thirdly, there were at least four traders setting up shop along the road abutting the park: a large van with several tables in the park selling farm produce, a van selling coffee (big queue there), a pizza van (who knew?) and an ice cream van (not new but doing a cracking trade). And finally, there was a book club meeting.
I didn’t see one single mask (fair enough, you might say because we were all outside) – but I also saw little evidence of ‘social distancing’ in any of the activities I have described.
Most of this is about to come to an abrupt end. The government has just announced new rules for England. They come into effect the day after tomorrow – and they limit gatherings to six people both indoors and outdoors, and apply to all ages. There are some exemptions such as gatherings for work – whatever that means. A new report this morning quotes a police union as saying that the public must not treat this weekend as a “party” before the rules apply. The fines for disregarding the rules are quite steep – £100 for first offence, doubling on each further offence up to £3200.
This all means that the number of cases in the last couple of weeks has been steadily rising and there are several local outbreaks necessitating localised lock downs. It is also a reaction to the fact that the R number has been raised to between 1 and 1.2 for the first time since March. The signs of a second wave, long expected, are there. Clearly strict measures are appropriate.
Which puts me in mind of one unusual thing that happened on my walk: a child of no more than 6 years old with his younger sister in tow has lost his father and as I walked past him was shouting “Daddy, f……. hell, where are you?” I looked at him. He looked at me. “F …….hell”, he said. Little did he know he had come to the right place for support. I couldn’t agree more.