There are people in the distance. For a few seconds I can’t tell which direction they’re walking in — towards me or away. I’m often the first to cross the road to avoid proximity. If we’re going in the same direction and I begin to catch up with them, I’ll slow down. Not necessarily because of Covid; I just don’t want to be seen when I’m on my night walks.
Every night after work I pound the pavements in my bubble in north London like a flâneur. Work tends to finish around midnight. This is my latest lockdown obsession.
Sometimes I change the route, discover a new street, a house for sale, a dead end. I watch the empty Tube train going over the bridge (the Northern line is the loudest). I’m followed by a friendly fox. I pick up the pace when it’s uphill, I slow it down when it gets too hot under my coat. I put my head down when cars approach. I never look at my phone.
I see the allotments with waiting lists that go on for years. I see the stained glass windows, the front doors, and the houses owned by other people.
My latest lockdown obsession is Pokémon cards. I’ve become a collector again, 20 years since I begged my mum for packets of the original set.
I’ve bought 30 packs from a modern set called Champion’s Path and I plan to open them at Christmas. Each pristine card will be laid on to a soft mat before it is placed carefully in a plastic sleeve and then, finally, a cushioned binder.
I try to talk to friends about it but they’re not really interested. My girlfriend is just glad I’ve got a hobby.
Have I gone mad? Maybe. I’m not alone though. Interest in the game — and the value of vintage cards — has shot up during the pandemic. I’m joined by thousands of people when I watch hours of live pack openings on YouTube. Silly money is being spent on Pokémon cards. What else can we spend our money on at the moment?
Every November I realise I’ve been holding my breath for days, sometimes weeks. The world feels heavier, my brain foggier. It’s a product of the days getting shorter. I see less light, I don’t go outside as much, and work begins and ends in darkness.
I’ve got better at noticing the changes in my mood at this time of year. It used to be a different story. As a teenager I never saw the clouds descending. I didn’t know what was happening when I suddenly found myself in darkness.
These days, I try to foster good habits. I exercise, meditate and listen to my body. I’ve learnt a lot about breathing. I notice when scrolling through Twitter is making me anxious and I put my phone down. I take vitamin D supplements.
A few months after moving into our house in north London, I stumbled upon the Dollis Valley Greenwalk. It was a rainy Monday. I don’t mind the rain, I welcome it. It makes for a quieter walk, and when I do cross paths with other walkers they tend to be alone like me.
Recently I took two friends on the journey, and when it started to rain they wanted to get the bus home. I wasn’t happy.
It was a similarly wet day when I set out on my walk yesterday, alone again. The Dollis Valley Greenwalk winds from Mill Hill through Barnet to the Hampstead Heath Extension. I join the ten-mile trail in Finchley and tend to continue into Hampstead Heath.
My walk takes in rivers, woodland, playgrounds, suburban gardens with summer houses, and a dual carriageway. I see how the other half live when I go down the mansion-lined street along the Hampstead Extension.
I go for days, sometimes weeks, without writing. I should read more, too. I check my phone too often, even after turning all my notifications off. I watched all of The Sopranos in the first few weeks of the lockdown. I thought I would begin to seriously write after that. But the only thing that makes me write is sitting down to do it. Is this serious writing?
National novel writing month, or Nanowrimo, is round the corner. You write 50,000 words in a month and you have a novel. I took part in 2017 and booked the first week off work to get a headstart. It worked. I got the T-shirt. The novel was bad, obviously, but it was good practice.
I won’t be taking part this year. I prefer to go at a slower pace. Not as slow as recently, though.