The Ryman shop I work at closed early yesterday (Thursday 19th March at 12 noon) due to lack of business. The small number of customers who had come in were buying packaging materials or sending items by DHL. I said goodbye to my colleagues and walked into the city centre to see what groceries I could buy. Certain items had been emptied from the shelves of supermarkets and no measures had been taken to keep people apart.
Saturday afternoon. Olton train station. A bin bag, attached to the wall of the waiting room, was shaking in the wind. In the distance I could hear wind chimes. A woman at the far end of the platform was speaking on her mobile. A train, heading towards Birmingham, stopped at the station. No one got off. It was an eerie atmosphere.
Monday morning. Leamington Spa. I heard a bird call that I didn’t recognise. It came from the trees opposite Newbold Comyn leisure centre. We wandered onto the grass to investigate. Looking in the trees I saw it was a green woodpecker. As we grew closer it took off across the field and into another cluster of trees.
We walked up the footpath to the top of a hill which overlooks the surrounding area – Leamington, Warwick and beyond. I could see Warwick Castle and the Gurdwara Sahib. On top of the hill is what looks like a mobile phone mast. Nearby, a woman played fetch with her dog, a border collie.
I’ve been trying to keep two metres away from people to reduce the risk of infection. This has meant avoiding narrow footpaths and pavements, and canal towpaths. It hasn’t always been easy, for example, on the bus.
Monday. Midday. Leamington station was the quietest I’d ever seen it. Most of the people on the platforms were train staff.
On the bus home from Solihull train station, I was mindful to sit a safe distance from the one other passenger. But when the bus arrived in Solihull town centre lots of people got on, including a man who sat in front of me, coughing. In these times I get nervous when I hear someone cough as it can be a symptom of the virus.
During the week I had to go out to do some food shopping. There were some pedestrians walking along Warwick Road in Olton. I walked into Acocks Green where it was quite busy. Lots of people were queueing outside Lloyds Pharmacy. There was a smaller queue outside Boots further down the road. I walked up a side street which leads up to Yardley Road. I passed a hotel and Acocks Green train station. As I crossed the railway bridge a train passed underneath, heading towards Solihull. I went into a Costcutter and a small supermarket further up called Best Buy, to buy some groceries. I was unable to keep a two metre distance from other shoppers though as there wasn’t enough room inside either store.
Afterwards I walked down the Avenue, a long road of terraced houses which connects Acocks Green to Olton. About halfway down, two policemen on motorbikes stopped a man in a car. As one of them tried to talk to the man, he shouted “I can’t hear you, could you turn that off” referring to the motorbike engine. I don’t know why they’d stopped him. It was an unusual thing to see on what is normally a quiet road. I arrived back home with itchy eyes due to pollen but I resisted the urge to rub them in order to reduce infection.
Considering the warnings about coronavirus, I was surprised to see some elderly, quite frail-looking people on Acocks Green high street. But maybe they had been stuck indoors for most of the winter and wanted to get out for a bit while it was warm and sunny.
More surprised was I to see that Wilko and Poundstretcher were still open. I wouldn’t have considered these stores ‘essential’. People were queueing again, outside the chemists and Lloyds Bank. I didn’t see any queues outside Morrisons and Aldi, however. Only one person hadn’t kept enough distance from me while I was out, which wasn’t bad considering there had been quite a few people around that day.
Back at home I watched some birds from my window. I think they were great tits. They were on the guttering, possibly looking for water to drink.
A call had gone out for people across the country to ‘clap for carers’ at 8pm on Thursday. I turned the extractor fan off in the kitchen and muted the television so that I could hear whether people in my neighbourhood would take part. At first I couldn’t hear anyone but then I started to hear clapping, then cheering and whooping, and then fireworks.
Friday evening. I walked up to the local pharmacy to collect a prescription. Only one person was being allowed in at a time. There were two people queueing outside. I didn’t have long to wait though before it was my turn to go in. Inside some rope had been put across the shop floor to stop customers coming within a meter of the counter. Upon leaving I walked back down the road to Olton Hollow.
Up ahead I saw a car on the pavement, parked right up to the entrance of one of the flats. A man was using a vacuum cleaner inside it. Further up I noticed the Chinese takeaway and the chip shop were closed, and also the McDonalds opposite, red and white chain having been used to block the entrance and exit driveways. The Italian eatery, Buongiorno, was still open however, offering a takeaway service.
I crossed the road and walked past the former Zorba’s Greek restaurant building, now derelict. Further up the road a man, wearing a face mask and gloves, got out of a car to deliver a takeaway to a house. I walked on. The sun was setting in the distance. A gull flew overhead and a magpie perched in a nearby tree. I headed to Morrisons on Warwick Road. Along the way I saw a group of lads on bikes. They were dressed in black hoodies and had white face masks on. When I got to the supermarket I discovered metal barriers had been put in place to mark where people were to queue to get in. I walked alongside the barriers and took my place in the queue, two metres behind a man and a boy in front. A woman with a trolley took her place two metres behind me. The queue moved forwards as some people at the front were allowed in to the store by a security guard who stood at the entrance. I waited about ten minutes before I was let in.
Most businesses, including the normally busy Spread Eagle pub, were closed. It was the quietest Friday night in Acocks Green and Olton I had known. The sky was clear and it was a cool Spring evening. On an island on Warwick Road there is a large weeping willow. It has bright green leaves on it, signalling the arrival of spring. On the grass around it there are daffodils in bloom.
Near the McDonalds, there is a cherry tree covered in white blossom:
From my window I watched a pair of magpies flicking up moss with their beaks. A robin appeared near them to see what had been uncovered, like one would do if a gardener was digging up earth.
Monday. It was raining this afternoon, but only lightly. Warwick Road was so quiet it felt like a Sunday morning. I passed three people on the walk down to the Hollow. We all kept a distance from each other. However, when I approached the Tesco Express a man came round the corner in a hurry. He was talking on his phone and seemed agitated. He walked in front of me as he went to cross the road. This annoyed me. Sadly there are people out there who are still not observing the social distancing rules.
I crossed the road and walked up Olton Boulevard East, turning into Victoria Road further up. This is a tree-lined road with houses on one side and mainly low-rise blocks of flats on the other. It leads back on to Warwick Road, where I turned left in the direction of Morrisons. Here I joined the queue, which was longer than it had been on Friday. I waited in line, keeping about two metres behind the man in front, who was wearing a face mask and surgical gloves. The wait lasted for about fifteen minutes before the security guard allowed the next ten of us in.
Unfortunately once inside the store it became very difficult to keep a safe distance from people, particularly as the aisles aren’t wide enough. It’s strange though that the general shop staff didn’t seem to care about this and weren’t wearing any protective clothing. I got what I needed before joining the queue for the checkouts. Markers had been placed on the floor of the queueing aisle at two metre intervals to show people where to stand.
Upon leaving the supermarket I headed back the way I came. On Victoria Road I saw a small cat, light grey in colour with black spots, outside one of the blocks of flats. I rejoined Olton Boulevard East and walked back down to Warwick Road and home. The rain had stopped. It had been the first time I’d been outside the grounds of my building since Friday evening and it had felt good to get some exercise and also to be around other people.
Tuesday. Although I didn’t leave the grounds of the flats today I did go outside and sat in the garden for a while. Here I listened to the birds and watched two geese fly past.
On the government briefing the other day it was announced there had been an increase in the number of cars on the road. And yesterday, Thursday, when I went in to Acocks Green, it seemed busier than usual. I spoke to my mum and she said she thought there were more people out and about in Leamington, too. Could people be starting to rebel against government orders to stay at home? It’s only a matter of time, after all. People will only put up with these restrictive rules for so long.