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Corona Diaries: twenty-eight thousand

May 3, 2020

Here’s how my town in Surrey feels on a Sunday morning.

A Waitrose, with freshly-minted paving stones outside. A smattering of old people’s homes at roundabouts and intersections. Charity shops, Domino’s Pizza. A park full of dogs and well-trained owners, normally. Pavements with little tufts of grass starting to peep through the cracks. Pedestrian crossings blinking to no purpose.

A couple of surviving banks, staffed by a single person for a few hours a day. Plenty of restaurants with notices of regret in the windows. A museum full of civic pride. A stumpy little rock that once sat in the middle of a medieval London street. A cricket field enclosed by roads lined by parked Range Rovers, usually populated at this time of years by kids in whites and the inevitable dogs that fertilise the square when no-one’s looking. No cricketers now.

Shoppers in their ones and twos can see others coming from afar and change course with shy smiles, slightly embarrassed. After you. No, please. Thank you.

An allotment where middle-aged diggers stop for tea parties beside someone’s shed. Distanced, of course. Always tea, and maybe a little thimble of something else.

On your way through the park, past the church and down a little alleyway next to the sixties-built library, now closed, you come to the high street. A few big cars with Mums and little kids. An ambulance, occasionally. Occado wagons, rushing to fill their slots. White vans on their way to tend gardens or to fix a broken cooker.

Not many civic monuments in my town. Just a war memorial and a crumbling column erected in honour of a now-obscure Georgian princess. Plenty of water, though not so much at the moment, as a month of drought has depleted our little tributary to the Thames. The ducks and swans don’t notice. There are still a few collections of mums and kids feeding them chunks of white bread. Time out from home schooling. Nobody fishing. That wouldn’t do.

The dead round here rarely get buried in the cemetery next to the church. It’s pretty full. Mostly they’re cremated, or laid to rest in a bigger graveyard out of town. Next to a golf course. A good progression, you might reflect, and far enough away from the main streets with their new apartment blocks springing up (much to our disgust) for us not to have to think of those who don’t need armchairs and gardens anymore.

The schools are empty. The clothes shops have windows full of fashion but nobody to sell it. There’s even a chocolate shop with elaborate creations suitable for an oligarch’s birthday party. The pharmacies are open, a few customers studiously avoiding each other and hoping not to encounter other people’s symptoms. The assistants looking very medical in face masks.

Police? Not many round here. We’re a well-behaved crowd. The odd burglary, a bit of cybercrime and the occasional rash of car thefts by people who breeze in and steal to order.

We don’t have much in the way of wildlife, apart from the birds, the squirrels and the foxes. An occasional swan sails over. There are deer in the woods, waiting to colonise us.

We have our share of celebs who live up on the hill. They occasionally descend upon us to take coffee in Café Nero. Not now though.

At this time of year we have church and school fetes where we can buy bedding plants and cakes, where the kids can throw wet sponges at adults in stocks, and we can congratulate ourselves on our charity. Not this year.

To the back of the high street, in front of the medical centre, there are old walls that suggest a bit of history, which there is if you dig for it. Fictional as well. We were destroyed by the Martians during the War of the Worlds. And if you walk through the woods near the banks of the old motor racing track, you can still hear the screams of a dying racer. Or so people say.

And that’s my little town. The population in the 2011 census was around fifteen thousand. A good deal more now. But still less than twenty-eight thousand.

Which is why as I sit at home on a Sunday morning I think of what twenty-eight thousand deaths means. The population of an entire town like mine wiped out. A football stadium full of people. A Saturday crowd at The Oval for a cricket match against Australia. The Centre Court at Wimbledon, two days in a row.

All gone, not in some Martian massacre on a single day, nor spread out over a year so we don’t notice. Instead, a rising crescendo over weeks, subsiding only now, but with some way to go before the conductor can rest his baton and turn to face the survivors, with every possibility that he’ll come back for a lengthy encore.

Best not to dwell too long about such things, I suppose. We’re still alive, and we should make the most of it. But the dead shouldn’t be allowed to slip away without our thinking about them, even if we don’t know them personally. We’ve been here before, as the names on the war memorial attest. No doubt we’ll be here again.

We’re the lucky ones, those of us who haven’t died. Our population isn’t densely packed. We don’t see neighbours wheeled off to hospital gasping for breath. We hardly see our neighbours at all. What we see is mostly empty space.

But just as those who lived here seventy-five years ago must have felt in the last months of war, we think to ourselves please let this be over. Soon.

From → Social, Travel, UK

  1. Andrew Robinson permalink

    The way some Brits are planning it, 8th May 2020 could kill more than the Blitz. Victory over Europe Day?

    • Nah, just the Brexit Party version of the Cheltenham Races without horses. It will become a annual fixture.

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