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Sous les pavés, la plage!

All of the tube and train advertisements have been pulled.

‘Non-essential’ workers are house-bound, their roaming eyes aloft dark, fleshy pillows no longer held hostage for the duration of the commute by the proposition of hair plugs, a new mattress, dinner on demand.

Marketing budgets have been halted, or diverted from the public to domestic sphere, as the economy tanks and businesses scramble to compress fiscal haemorrhaging.

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London and beyond

On Wednesday MR picked up 50 rolls of processed film from as far back as March 2018. Nightly, we have made our way through a chunk of the contact sheets – each grabbing one and following the frames from top left to bottom right, rotating the sheet as necessary. The studious silence is broken occasionally with ‘oh yeh, this’, ‘this one is great’, ‘where is this??!’. On reaching sheets end we swap. Read becomes unread becomes read. The stack is in no given order, transporting us from London to The Lakes to New York to Uluru, back to London, to Sydney, to Paris. After exhausting our memory store, we start packing.

In a kind of temporal tumble turn we’re projected into the past and then launched into an unknown future.

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A sunshine state of mind

As I turned home on my regular loop walk this morning, I took up the invitation of a park bench drenched in sunshine and the soothing sonics of a nearby fountain. Eyes closed, ears full, it dawned on me that this was the first time I’d paused and truly rested in the last month.

Fixed to the bench a small brass plaque reads:

In memory of Pearl and Jack Attfield who lived in Lee Green and enjoyed this park for over 70 years.

In a month we’ll be gone from this place that has made a comfortable home for five years. I’m grateful that a modern lifetime isn’t confined to a sub 10km radius, but amidst the instability of this life on the move, I need more pauses.

Note to self: Sunshine is the cure (A lesson learned late in life – being raised in The Sunshine State, oblivious to the fact that sunshine wasn’t a given.)

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A 30th birthday in the City of Light

This year MR turned 30. Despite being European by birth he had never been to Paris , so it has been a floating idea of mine for awhile to take him as a surprise, knowing that he would love it.

Somewhere in the summer lockdown restrictions were lifted and ‘travel corridors’ were proposed between European countries with low case counts. I wasn’t sure how long these would last but booked train tickets and a hotel and crossed my fingers. Naturally, a week before we were due to travel, France was added to the UK’s quarantine list. After MR unwrapped the Paris guidebook I’d given him (the trip ‘unveiling’) we weighed up whether to proceed or postpone and finally opted to go.

No regrets. The trip was a little stifled – Paris restrictions mandated masks in indoor and outdoor spaces, and quite a few businesses were closed – but on the upside we were treated to a near empty city.

Day one we tackled the tourist landmarks, the Arc de Triomphe and La tour Eiffel, with an unanticipated stop at Galeries Lafayette Champs-Élysées where MR bought a dress shirt for our marriage ceremony. Late afternoon we headed back to our luxe room at the Hôtel des Grands Boulevards armed with Carrefour bites to form a makeshift private dinner on our courtyard-facing balcony. The buzz of the open-roofed restaurant below was welcome company.

Day two we wandered Le Marais, first revelling and later struggling in the 32°c heat. After a rest in our hotel we set out toward the lively streets of Canal Saint-Martin for dinner, eventually finding an outdoor table at Le Verre Volé where we sat ’til late drinking natural wine in the balmy evening air.

Day three MR led us to the Musée de l’Orangerie to be overwhelmed by Monet’s Nymphéas. The temperature had cooled and the weather was dreamy. Crossing the Seine, we stopped at Les Antiquaires for breakfast on the terrace before heading on to Le Bon Marché in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. At Hermès MR picked out a tie, generously gifted by AJ and CJ, for our marriage ceremony. After refilling on melon and ham at (the) Café de Flore we picked up a bottle of Mumm to drink at Pont Neuf as the sun set. Our final evening was spent at the rooftop restaurant Tortuga, with views across Paris.

Day four, due to head home, we awoke early to wander up to the Sacré-Cœur in Montmartre. Feeling completely indulged and extremely grateful we returned to London to start our 14 day quarantine.

Conclusion: MR loooves Paris 💖 and I concur. The city is aptly referred to as La Ville Lumière for its significance during the Enlightenment but also because it was one of the first large European cities to use gas street lighting on a grand scale. But to me, the City of Light, is an expression of how the stone buildings and blonde gravel illuminate when the sun appears, creating an architectural soft box for the city’s well-dressed.

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Oudolf Field

We have wanted to visit Oudolf Field for awhile and last weekend made it happen. During lockdown we’d primed ourselves with Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf, but nothing compares to the real thing.

The Oudolf Field is masterfully planted, taking into account colour, shape, texture and height to frame nature as both sculpture and theatrical performance. Time congeals in the garden, as if its entrance is a portal to an over-cranked film. Bodies parade in slow motion to find every vantage point and appreciate every contrast. The best part is that nature takes no pause. I look forward to returning in autumn, winter and spring.

Over the course of his gardening practice, Piet Oudolf has developed an informal, but intricately detailed, approach to planning. Colour and pattern, seemingly haphazard, enables an agility in application. His hand-drawn sketches are beautiful objects in their own right, appealing to any graphic designer that is seduced by intelligent, orderly systems.

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All change

No single word can accurately capture the strangeness of 2020. MR and I have been extremely fortunate that we have, in the scheme of things, been relatively unaffected by the Coronavirus Pandemic. Our jobs – and income – have remained unchanged, and we have a dedicated workspace at home each with a comfortable desk and chair. We have no children that require entertaining or educating, nor any elderly family living locally in need of care. We have had the privilege of access to food, physical space, face masks, hand sanitiser and soap, unlike a large proportion of the developing world.

Despite our privilege, I am weary. In January, scaffolding went up around the Victorian terrace next to ours, ahead of a major reconstruction which gutted the property and added a floor. Aside from two weeks in early April, due to government restrictions on non-essential work, the renovation has charged forward. Hammering, drilling, sanding, sawing, has been the soundtrack of the last six months meaning that almost all of my work video calls have required me muting and briefly unmuting my microphone to contribute to the conversation.

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