A note from our Editor, Louise Robinson
Sometimes I feel I should start this blog with a cheery ‘Hello campers’, a la Gladys Pugh in Hi de Hi! Not gonna lie, as my teenagers are fond of saying, there have been times during lockdown when I’ve felt as trapped as those holiday camp residents at the knobbly knees competition.
However, as of this Saturday (July 4th) we will have – at last – the chance to go ‘out out’ as my girls also say, at least in England. Pubs and restaurants will open, hotels and campsites will welcome visitors again and – save the best till last – hairdressers will be able to get their scissors and foils out.
This really feels like the end of something. So, I thought it would be a good moment to share with you the lessons I feel I’ve learned so far during lockdown. I’d love to hear yours. Please do share them with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lesson 1 – long live community spirit
Living where I do in the friendliest village in Bedfordshire, I know the value of community spirit. But the whole country has been rediscovering it in a big way in the past 15 weeks – volunteering, helping vulnerable neighbours out and even just chatting over the garden fence. Apparently, twice as many people stopped for a natter with their neighbour in the past month than the same week last year. I just hope we can all keep this sense of community going once we fully emerge from hibernation.
Lesson 2 – I’ve ‘found’ nature
Hearing the birds sing, planting sunflower seeds, watching the squirrel puzzle out how to extract food from the bird feeder… I don’t think I’ve ever taken the time before to really watch nature and appreciate the rhythm of the seasons. It’s brought its own sense of peace and perspective at a difficult time, and I suspect I’m not alone. One poll found that contact with nature has made two thirds of us feel happier during lockdown, and 55% plan to continue in the future.
Lesson 3 – walking is fabulous
I always knew this, but life’s busyness so often squeezed it out of my daily routine. Well, it’s back in a big way now – my husband and I can easily walk for two hours in the evening without really noticing. Not only is walking great exercise but its rhythmic plodding seems to sort out your problems and provide those eureka moments that Archimedes had in his bath.
Lesson 4 – who’s really important?
Nobody loves a red carpet event more than me but lockdown has reminded all of us that it isn’t the richest executives or celebrities who have the most important jobs in society, but some of the poorest and least appreciated: care home staff, hospital cleaners, nurses, and refuse collectors.
Lesson 5 – tech isn’t that scary
I speak as a confirmed Luddite, but even I have learned how to host a Microsoft Teams meeting and have a three-way Zoom conversation with family I haven’t seen face to face for months. People who have been previously afraid of tech have embraced it out of necessity and found it’s actually pretty straightforward, and if you make a mistake nothing bad happens - apart from my language! Having said that, I think all my colleagues will agree that my future doesn’t lie in IT consultancy.
Lesson 6 – some things are overrated
Namely banana bread (too soggy yet dry at the same time. How is this possible?), sourdough loaves (they’re delicious but why are they so difficult to get right even at the 19th attempt?) and lofty lockdown aspirations. I am no better at Mandarin/the violin/painting than I was on week 1 of this interminable lockdown. However, as my friend said the other day, how come someone has stolen all my clothes and replaced them with smaller ones?
On the box
In an example of lesson 2 above, I’m recommending A Wild Year on BBC2 this Friday (9pm). It’s the first episode of three, examining the changing seasons and wildlife at some of Britain’s most stunning locations. This week it’s the Pembrokeshire coast: the team uses some incredible time-lapse photography to capture the changing rugged landscape – the arrival of puffins in spring, tapping their beaks to court; the sheep munching the clifftop pastures in summer and the grey seals producing their pups in autumn just before the winter gales whip up the Atlantic Ocean. Don’t miss the following two shows – filmed on the North York Moors and the Fens (Fridays, 9pm, BBC2).
Time to dig up the past?
If you thought archaeology was all about digging in muddy windswept fields, take a look at the Festival of Archaeology. I’m guessing it would normally have included its fair share of muddy fields but as it’s digital only this year, organisers at the Council for British Archaeology have had to be pretty creative. Among the virtual events, check out Dr Emma Cunliffe’s talk on how to be an armchair archaeologist. In other words, how to use apps like Google Earth Pro to spot potentially interesting archaeological sites from space. At least there’s no mud.
Wildlife watch: glow worms
I’m excited about the prospect of spotting this week’s species: glow worms. According to our friends at The Wildlife Trusts, they aren’t worms at all but beetles, and it’s only the female that sends out that incredible green-orange light that shines like a tiny LED lamp.
They aren’t particularly common, but if you’re going to see one, late June and July are the most likely times, especially if you’re in grassy habitats at night.
“The female glow worm leads a complicated life,” explains James Adler at Surrey Wildlife Trust. “She spends two years as a larva, then begins a three-week walk to a suitably dark and grassy ‘display ground’ where she climbs up a plant stem. Her rear end then emits that characteristic green-orange glow to attract a male. He has enormous photo-sensitive eyes that he uses to scan the vegetation for her.” (This is considerably more romantic than some first dates I’ve had.)
“They are a truly wonderful species, and everyone should get the chance to view one in their native environment,” says James. “If you are interested in supporting the survival of these charismatic and elusive creatures, volunteer next year to help your local trust manage scrub and improve the quality of a meadow, heathland or woodland edge, or take part in a wildlife survey. The Wildlife Trusts will need more volunteers than ever, because this year we’ve been unable to do much of our vital conservation work.” Find volunteering opportunities here.
Bird of the week: collared dove
I always think of collared doves as the acceptable cousin of the annoying woodpigeon, and in fact they are rather beautiful. They’re easily identified by the distinctive black ring (collar) around their necks, says Caroline Offord of the RSPB. Collared doves are relative newcomers to the UK, having first nested here in the 1950s. “Collared doves are seed-eaters, but their young aren’t able to digest seeds while growing in the nest. So, their parents, like other doves and pigeons, create ‘pigeon milk’ or ‘crop milk’ in their throats – a kind of regurgitated mix of food, which the chicks can eat,” Caroline explains.
The RSPB is asking us all to leave out a small container filled with fresh water if we get a re-run of last week’s sizzling temperatures any time this summer. “Unlike mammals, birds don’t have sweat glands, but they still lose a lot of water through respiration in the extreme heat, so it’s crucial they have access to fresh water to rehydrate,” says Caroline.
This week’s sofa culture
- Get ready for the first complete opera performed since lockdown, when Daniel Harding conducts the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. It’s a cleverly staged socially distanced performance where the singers leap into a circle on the radio stage when required to sing. The others remain 2m away. Somehow, the talented cast still manage to convey the drama of what is my favourite opera. It has English subtitles too and is available here until July 13.
- The Royal Albert Hall continues to delight us with top quality entertainment that’s still free to stream, although you’re asked for a donation. There’s everything from superstar tenor Alfie Boe to the Grimethorpe Colliery Band and Cliff Richard, via some obscure jazz pianists and R&B singers.
- Talking of Cliff Richard, we’ll miss him at Wimbledon this year. But maybe he will join other fans at Wimbledon Recreated, a campaign to celebrate the 2020 fortnight of tennis that never was. The centrepiece is The Best of the Championship – presented live from Wimbledon by Sue Barker every evening from 29 June on BBC Two. She is joined by tennis legends past and present to relive some of the championship’s greatest matches. Each day, one unforgettable match will be featured on Wimbledon Rewind, which started yesterday with that 2008 classic encounter between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. More matches follow this week. At least they won’t be rained off.
That’s all from me for now. I'm going away for a couple of weeks on a socially distanced staycation and look forward to meeting up again on my return! Thanks so much for reading my blog and watching the vlog. I’m really loving reading about your lockdown journeys and hearing your comments and suggestions. Stay safe,
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