Learning to Go Out Again

After a particularly fraught and busy period at work, I had been looking forward to this week of annual leave. I was going to do so much (Cardiff, writing, day trips to London, editing translations, reviewing, major cleaning blitzes around the house) – but I should have realised that all my poor battered body and brain wanted to do was relax.

My older son vetoed Cardiff last weekend, because he wanted to watch the Euros Final in England rather than Wales. I’d been having second thoughts about travelling anyway, with the rising cases of Covid and the possibility of being pinged about going into self-isolation (which happened to a friend of mine when she went away for a mini-writing retreat in Eastbourne the week before). So we cancelled the hotel and instead wandered a little closer to home. Savill Gardens in Windsor Great Park no longer had the glorious rhododendrons, but there was still plenty to admire there.

On Wednesday we braved a trip to London – the first time I’ve been into town since 16th March 2020. It felt like a good time to go, before the breakdown of any and all restrictions on 19th July. Needless to say, GWR lived up to my bad impression of it: there was no accurate or up-todate information about how busy the trains were, nor about changing trains and platforms. I booked tickets and was told I had to reserve seats for part of the journey, which I initially thought was reassuring. If you reserve seats, you at least know that it’s not going to be crowded, right? Wrong! Turns out that every single seat had been sold – so there was no social distancing. Although on some of the trains there were big signs saying not to sit facing other passengers, we had to sit facing other passengers, including those who did not wear masks.

We went to visit the newly-opened Japan House on Kensington High Street, so we could walk there from Paddington via Kensington Gardens. In the morning, the park was quite quiet, partly because of the cloud cover. In the afternoon, however, when the sun came out, it was a typical London summer day: dog walkers, sports activities, children playing. The streets and shops were busy too (perhaps not like Oxford Street in the pre-Christmas frenzy, but busy enough). I struggled to see what people were complaining about in terms of restrictions or having their personal liberties curtailed.

The Japan House itself was slightly disappointing – or perhaps our expectations for it had been too high. According to the website, it is one of only three such centres around the world, set over three floors, housing exhibitions, a library, a restaurant and all sorts of other things. You had to book in advance for the library, but we ended up having the whole place to ourselves, which was just as well, since it was just one small room: interesting books, but simply not enough of them (and not enough variety – mostly design or visual arts). The ground floor exhibition/shop was beautiful, but a bit too heavily curated, upmarket and expensive. The afternoon tea we had at the restaurant was delicious, but expensive and not very filling (especially with two teenage boys – they had to buy sandwiches to eat immediately before and after).

Of course, for a Japanophile such as myself, it was still very interesting and I discovered some fascinating historical Japanese photos. But do not plan to spend the whole day there, as we thought we would. There simply isn’t enough to do and the chairs in the library are not that comfortable. Still, it was not a wasted afternoon, because we managed to do some clothes shopping, which is nearly impossible to do in our town, which has only a smallish M&S and a SportsDirect. We did not go into any bookshops, although I later found out there is a Waterstone’s a little further away on High Street Kensington.

Sunset over Hammersmith Bridge.

The very next day, I ventured into London again, this time in a friend’s car to the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, to see Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days. I don’t think I was too popular with my friend for choosing such a pared-down, depressing play which feels very apposite for the loneliness of lockdown. But I rather enjoyed its bleakness, and the multitude of ways in which it could be interpreted: the humiliation of old age and impotence or amnesia, the burden of caring responsibilities, the grinding down of personality in a long and not very happy marriage, the need to be seen and appreciated.

Who wouldn’t want to run on such a beautiful path?

Most of the rest of my holiday was relatively humdrum. I slept nearly eight hours most days (a record for me), read a lot of undemanding books (which is not to say badly-written – just not heavy topics), only logged onto my work email once to check if I still needed to help out a colleague with a Zoom call. I had quite a bit of school and car-related admin to do, ordered a new sofa, gave the porch a thorough clean and even went to the gym and for a run. I also tried not to get angry about news and politics and news, about not losing a gramme of weight in spite of my best efforts to eat healthily and follow an intermittent fasting programme. I have watched just two films this week, mostly because my son’s laptop (which we connect to the TV to watch things) is on its dying legs: The Battle of Algiers, a powerful documentary-style Italian film about French colonialism and the war in Algeria, and Midsommar, about which I might write a whole blog post re: the misappropriation and misinterpretation of religious cults and folklore.

Instead of feeling guilty about ‘vegetating’, I call this a ‘fallow field’ period, which, as all farmers know, is so necessary to improve the yield of future crops. As part of my ‘three field rotation’ programme, next week I start the BCLT translation summer school, after which I probably will require another week of annual leave to recover. There is no doubt that I would rather be doing that than the day job (aka ‘main crop’), though!

12 thoughts on “Learning to Go Out Again”

  1. It sounds as though you took the time you needed to recharge, Marina Sofia. I’m sorry to hear about the crowded trains and some of the other disappointments, but your trips out sound enjoyable overall. And sometimes, it’s good to stay closer to home, especially in these unsettled times when we’re not sure exactly what’s happening with COVID-19.

  2. I hope you’re feeling restored after venturing out into the world. I’m admiring of your theatre visit. I’m off to the cinema for the first time since Covid hit this week. Despite two holidays – one in London and one in Sussex – I’d felt too nervous but a friend described her experience which sounded absolutely fine.

  3. Somehow, restorative vegetating seems doubly important at the moment: I think Covid, or its effect on our lives, has fried our brains. You’ve definitely not sold train travel, or te busier parts of London, but I’m glad you found at least some of your time reinvigorating.

  4. It does take some adjusting to going out again, doesn’t it? I’ve only made it to the local Big Town, and that was strange enough. I’d like to brave London again but the thought of all those people unnerves me. I do think we need time to recharge the batteries – looking forward to getting some of that soon…. ;D

  5. Sharing hopes and disappointments sometimes is good, especially as so many of us understand much of how you feel, and either commiserate with the downs or cheer for the ups. It’s often enough just to survive while enjoying the little things—nature, culture, a change of scene, family, even sleep. Well done for achieving what you’ve done.

  6. I’m glad you were able to get into London for a couple of days, but sorry to hear about your experiences on the train – that’s very poor planning on the part of GWR! I’ve only been into London once, to see the Hockney exhibition + a trip to the National Gallery, but thankfully the trains on Chiltern Rail were fairly only half full (or less that that). The Savill Garden sounds beautiful, definitely something to put on my list for later this year!

  7. It’s just nice to hear what you’ve been up to. Everything everywhere feels strange. Presently admiring the ability of our parents to keep good dispositions in spite of their many pains and challenges. I cannot even imagine getting to London. Deep breaths and another day. X

  8. Hey, we need time to recover from challenging work periods. It seems that you had a nice week anyway.
    Enjoy the rest of your holidays!

    PS: Isn’t it mandatory to wear masks in train and metro carriages?

  9. Isn’t Battle of Algiers brilliant? I’m interested in you forthcoming post on Midsommer, it was quite troubling I felt.

  10. Don’t you dare plan a trip to Cardiff and not let me know!! It’s only 30 minutes away from my home so I’d love the chance to meet up..

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