Reigate Hill in Surrey on Saturday. The image you see delivers what the National Trust promises: ‘a spectacular escarpment with sweeping views across the Weald’. And so they were. On Sunday my partner and I went a bit higher – to the top of nearby Leith Hill – where the views were, arguably, even better. I mention this because I doubt, in normal times, if we’d have thought of exploring the Surrey Hills; we’d have looked at the weather forecast, opted to set off early to avoid the crowds, and headed for the coast. There is something in this coronavirus crisis which has had us looking closer to home, and – within reason – that’s not always been a bad thing.
I should point out immediately that, by heading out as we did on both days, we continued to behave with due caution. It wouldn’t look very smart if I’d banged on about the trials of self-isolation for weeks, only to go beyond the boundaries that the government continues to set at the first opportunity. Nor would it have been very sensible for my own health. So, setting out from our separate addresses, we agreed a meeting place, walked always with social distancing in mind, stopped for our separately prepared lunches, and headed away to our separate homes at the end of each day. Frustrating on the one hand; sensible on the other. The biggest risks we faced were the possibility of twisting an ankle on the uneven footpaths (we didn’t) and one slightly stern looking cow.
In the Daily Telegraph last week (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/health-fitness/body/rest-britain-gets-moving-condemned-lockdown/) I mentioned how mental health problems are surely growing during this crisis, especially for those of us stuck indoors for long periods. And after having a couple of up and down days myself this week, my mind went back to the Surrey Hills this morning and to some of the other things, also close to home, that are helping. They range from a nearby park I’d barely explored before now to the architecture of residential streets which – when you look closely – isn’t quite as uniform as you think to the kindness of neighbours who now wave, chat, and offer to shop when two months ago they wouldn’t have done.
And then with all the technical resources so many of us have to hand these days, down times can be lifted if we make ourselves – and yes sometimes it does feel like an effort – seek out things we remember fondly from the past. I mean bits of music, maybe some TV or radio comedy (the return of ‘Cabin Pressure’ to Radio 4 Extra is very well timed), a particular book. It doesn’t have to be time-consuming or highbrow, just something that we can lose ourselves in. I’m lucky to be able to play the piano to a reasonable standard, and I found a version of ‘My Funny Valentine’ online yesterday – http://www.musicnotes.com – which has some magical harmonies in it. Learning it quietly, so as not to disturb my upstairs neighbours, was genuinely restorative.
And then there’s one option to which I’ve succumbed a lot lately. In a strange way it combines the themes of mental health and comedy. Hats off to the Channel Four controller who delivers three episodes of ‘Frasier’ each morning. I’ve said before how even a journalist can consume too much news during this crisis; well here’s an excellent way of avoiding it for an hour and a half at the start of each day.