Covid-19 has crushed the world and as we seem to be heading out the other side with countries opening borders and relaxing social distancing rules, the past few months have been an experience many would care to forget. As countries around the world moved to protect their own, I became a Corona refugee, as my friends have affectionately labelled me, unable to return home to Vietnam as I’ve quite literally been stranded in the UK. In these uncertain times when we were confined, almost by invisible chains that allowed exercise, essential shopping and travel for key workers, my one walk a day has turned into an adventure where exploring my local neighbourhood has revealed a hidden treasure trove of sights and sounds, architectural delights and newly discovered gems. I have been blessed to have found an amazing house just metres from the beach in Brighton on the English coast.
While here I have jumped at an opportunity to help out with a local Ambulance service and have used this opportunity to learn new skills and explore new horizons. A key takeaway from the turmoil is that you should manage the things you have control over and mitigate the damage from the things you don’t. As a key worker I am blessed to have been welcomed into the NHS family in the UK and now more than ever appreciate the dedication, commitment and loyalty the staff have in providing essential services to the community. The social interaction and new friendships have also provided a lifeline that has cushioned the effect of lock down.
I’ve taken to walking a different path each day. So often as we were once filling our days in between work and play we missed the beauty around us and failed to realise the wonders in our own backyards. Now, taking the time I’ve marvelled at the architecture a block away. Ornate doors of different styles and colours where homeowners take pride and care, grand mansions and Art Deco council blocks that blend to form historical patchworks and a kaleidoscope of colour and design. I’ve noticed the intricacies of each uniquely painted beach hut lined up along the shore, which open up to reveal the personality of their owners who will again flock to the seaside in the coming months. Whilst the timing of a pandemic is never the right time, spring has certainly made it more bearable as gardens are in bloom, daylight savings allows longer days and squirrels frolic in the trees. When the sun shines on the English coast its magical. In fact, when it rains and the seas are choppy, there’s still a quality that entices wanderers to brave the elements and walk along well constructed paths along the shore.
On my one walk a day as we hear stories of company collapse and business uncertainty, small local entrepreneurs have endeavoured to keep the cash flowing, serving essential food items and some treats, sourced locally and have turned the economy cashless. If we take something else away, it’s that there are things we can do without and essentials are no longer essential. I’ve been living out of a suitcase that’s well packed with interchangeable clothes and easily maintained colour palettes and in all honesty I could probably live quite comfortably out of it forever. Neither my friends nor myself care that things have been worn more than a few times before. Priorities have changed and coming out of this on the other side, life for me will be simpler and less cluttered. Hopefully the world will wake up and see the clean seas and the blue skies and realise disposable is a thing of the past and conspicuous consumption is passé. New and old money could be spent wisely not frivolously. We’ll see…
There’s a new level of respect as walkers pass each other in the street and parents with small children say thank you as you walk out onto the street to allow social distancing. It’s become a habit where no one gives it a second thought. On steps heading down to the beach people wait while others pass before continuing their journeys. On the foreshore there’s plenty of room guided along paths hugging chalk cliffs and rock pools or you may prefer to crunch the pebbles that construct the beaches that are synonymous with the British seaside. I’d love to think society has rediscovered the art of courtesy and the importance of personal space. Again, we’ll see. As I turn the corner I come across a park, actually a manor house garden and a cathedral a block away, with another in the distance looming tall above the rooftops. Relics of history have allowed us to intertwine with the modern day capturing a history that dates back over hundreds of years.
Gradually the wheels are beginning to turn and wind up the economy and from an absolute standstill months ago shutters are coming off. On the corner a local bead shop has reopened. The line winds around the block people stand two metres apart patiently waiting for freshly baked croissants and pork and fennel sausage rolls. The new essentials or luxuries because we don’t have to cook them ourselves. In the park the squirrels gather at my feet as crumbs are snatched and nibbled.
I love to travel. It’s a passion that both excites and delights however recent events have got me to thinking… What will the future of travel look like? While the joy of discovery will never fade, is it really necessary to travel hours to find the perfect restaurant or beach when the ones in your own town serve some of the best food and the beach at the end of the road is uncrowded. During this crisis, mostly out of necessity, people have become flexible, taking opportunities whenever they can and businesses have redesigned the working week. There are new ways of working and the nine to five, five days a week may be relegated to history. There is joy to be had swimming in the sea on a Tuesday and eating at a delicious seafood restaurant on a Wednesday while others clamour for reservations months in advance on a Saturday night. Fish and chips taste better on the English Coast, they really do. Soft serve ice cream with chocolate flakes sticking out of them are the ideal dessert. Just watch out for the seagulls the size of albatrosses. I still don’t know how one swooped down from behind me and snatched mine from my hands. I had only just started licking it, so I bought another and was more guarded this time.
I have been to Brighton before, however now, initially driven out of a daily routine, I have peeled away the layers to reveal the intricacies of a local community where small boutiques, bakeries and craft brewers form the glue that binds the area together, and who by nature are tucked away behind small shop fronts or doorways, accessible to in the know locals or passers by who stumble upon them. Now more than ever it has become essential to support local enterprises in an effort to stem the erosion that may wash them away for ever as chains and supermarkets weather the storm with higher cash reserves and minimum wages. The coffee is always better in the cafe with two tables or with room only to stand at the counter and where the brownies are homemade and the sandwiches are freshly made. It’s a choice we need to make in order to protect diversity or risk turning every city into something akin to ‘Stepford Wives’. There is reward to be had by walking the streets and not recognising the names above doorways for both yourself and the community.
As the memories fade and people begin to reappear in the streets, it would seem reaching for the bananas across your shoulder in the market is again acceptable. Or was it ever and did we just put up with it? I still find myself asking people to step back…