The return of childcare

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Childcare© Marco Verch

This week marks something of a watershed in our house: our childcare arrangements have resumed. After three and a half months of juggling work and toddler wrangling between us, my husband and I are able to return to our normal office hours.

The feeling is extraordinary. Suddenly, there is time to breathe. There is time to think. There is time to do a second post on this blog this week. Work on the second draft of my new novel, which for the past month has been restricted to two hours snatched at 5am before the rest of the household stirs, surges ahead. Instead of every grown-up conversation being flooded with logistics, we can afford to entertain non-essential matters once more.

This sense of a huge burden falling away makes me realise quite what a strain the lockdown period has been (and I say this in full knowledge that I am one of the lucky ones and that I suffer on an extremely high level compared to many at the moment). It also makes me realise how clueless I was about the ways in which it would affect me when this crisis began.

Back in March, prompted partly by a wave of media and social-media discussions about how people were going to fill the endless hours cooped up at home, I made a list of useful tasks I could accomplish while under a soft form of house arrest. Most of these remain unattempted, with the exception of the simple, practical tasks that could be tackled or even turned into a game with a toddler in the room.

For the truth is that, instead of expanding, time has contracted in this house over the past few months. While I did lose some client work over the period, what remained was more than I could manage in the time I had to devote to it, with the result that evenings and rare stretches when my daughter was distracted were all pressed into service in the interests of getting things done. In the most extreme period, I started work at 5am and finally switched off my laptop at around 9pm.

The hours weren’t the main issue, however. I’m used to long workdays. Back during my year reading a book from every country in the world, such a schedule was par for the course. The difference this time was that, instead of choosing to impose such a punishing routine on myself, I was obliged to adopt it because of circumstances beyond my control. After 12 years of being my own boss, this was hard to take. And it’s only now, as I sit in my writing room with the day stretching out in front of me, that I am beginning to realise quite the toll it took.

That’s not to say that the past few months have been without their positives. There are things I will miss. Although I am already lucky to be able to spend more time with my daughter than parents who commute and work five days a week, it has been a privilege and a joy to have so many days with her. Looking after her for so long without access to many of the groups, facilities and entertainments that we are used to has expanded my resourcefulness and creativity as a parent: these last few months, the hoover has become a hungry beast liable to eat her toys if she doesn’t pick them up quickly enough; freak storms have erupted in the living room forcing us to scramble for cover; and we have learnt to look much more closely at the plants and creatures we pass on our cliff-top walks.

A lot of parents are still in this situation – still juggling work (or the stresses of worklessness) and childcare. For many with school-age children, the summer stretches ahead like a desert, coming on the back of nearly four months of having their kids at home.  I can only imagine how tired they are.

 

 

 

Venturing out and seeking solitude

A few days ago, a friend in Australia sent me a message: ‘Been to the beach lately? Worrying scenes on our televisions!’

He was referring to the major incident declared when around half a million people flocked to Bournemouth on the UK’s south coast last week on one of the hottest days of the year so far.

The answer to his question was no – at least not to sunbathe or swim in the sea. Despite living 10 minutes’ walk from the coast, I – like many residents of seaside towns – have long been in the habit of avoiding the beach at peak times.

Still, as the lockdown restrictions continue to ease, I have started to venture out in other ways. Last weekend, for the first time since March, my family and I left Folkestone together and went to a pick-your-own fruit farm near Deal, a place where, wandering down rows of heavy-laden cherry trees, social distancing was no issue.

Yesterday, we went on another adventure far from the madding crowd. This time, our object was St Thomas à Becket Church in Romney Marsh (pictured above). This historic building, the foundations of which date from around 1200 CE, has survived long after the disappearance of the village it used to serve and stands alone in a marshy field. Misty and waterlogged for much of the year, the landscape makes it easy to imagine Magwitch creeping through the marshes to accost Pip at the start of Charles Dickens’s novel Great Expectations, which is set in these parts – indeed, the church was used as a location for the 2012 film adaptation.

In normal times, it’s possible to collect the key from the wall of a farmhouse some way down the road and let yourself in to look around. Covid-19 has put paid to that for now, but we were able to peer through the leaded windows and catch sight of the handsome box pews – perfect for socially distanced church services, as my husband pointed out.

As the wind whipped around the building, carrying the bleats of the sheep that roam freely across the grassland, it was possible to believe that we had dropped out of time. Daily life, other people, and the anxieties and stresses of the modern world seemed light years away.

Our isolation, however, was short-lived. As we picked our way back across the field, the next visitors were already letting themselves in at the gate. Another family seeking a trip out off the beaten track. Companions in the quest to be alone.

Face masks in my garden

Situated on a T-junction, with only a few streets between it and the gusts of the English Channel, our house tends to get a lot of litter blown into its front garden. Over the time we have lived here, I have got used to picking up crisp packets, drinks cans and chocolate wrappers that have careened down the road facing us to end up on our path.

In March, this changed. For a number of weeks after the UK went into lockdown, our garden remained fairly clear. With the exception of deposits from a few local cats (welcome in so far as they seem to be keeping at bay the rats that have apparently been invading homes in search of food as many restaurants and takeaways remain closed), there was little to tidy up.

This is no longer the case. As the government continues to relax restrictions and the national coronavirus threat level is reduced, the litter is back. It looks rather different, however. Although wrappers and cans still feature, they no longer dominate. Instead, discarded face masks are the item I most frequently find myself picking up. (By the sound of it, east Folkestone is by no means unusual in this respect: one environmentalist has claimed that there could soon be more face masks than jellyfish in the Mediterranean.)

Interestingly, after several months of being confined largely at home, old habits seem to be returning. Whether consciously or not, a significant swathe of the population has reverted to the practice of dropping objects they no longer need on the pavement.

Unprecedented though it may have been, lockdown has not proved a significant enough disruption to rewire certain behaviours: now that they can get out and about once more, people are acting much as they always did. Although the profile of what they are discarding has shifted, the behaviour has remained the same.

Odd though it sounds, it strikes me that there is cause for hope here: human nature is resilient and old habits die hard; it may be that we lose less about the way we used to live than seemed inevitable when country after country shut down earlier this year.

But, of course, there is also cause for pessimism in this renewed slew of rubbish: human nature is resilient and old habits die hard; it may be that we improve less about the way we used to live than seemed inevitable when country after country shut down earlier this year.

As some of the people on the other side of the sea a short walk from my front door might say, ‘Plus ça change.’

Going our separate ways

‘Be Kind. Let’s Look Out For each Other – Poster Coronavirus (COVID-19) Sheffield, UK’ © Tim Dennell on flickr.com

The past few days have brought a greater sense of variety and divergence to life here on the UK’s south coast. With different lockdown rules now applying to different groups of people (for example, single adults are now at liberty to form a bubble with another household, while those deemed clinically vulnerable are still advised to isolate) and non-essential shops reopening for business, it seems that the apparently universal nature of the Covid-19 restrictions in England is crumbling. (Of course, this was always something of an illusion, with wealth, safety, physical health, and employment and family circumstances having a huge impact on different people’s lockdown experiences.)

Now, while some rush out to the high streets once more, others stay cloistered at home; and while many are back to full-time work, others remain furloughed or find themselves unemployed with little idea what the future will bring. All the while, question marks remain over whether the easing of the lockdown will herald a sharp resurgence of Covid-19 cases.

In such circumstances, it’s easy to be judgmental when others’ choices don’t mirror our own. Social media today has been full of sniffy comments about the pictures of long queues outside clothes shops. I myself felt my lip begin to curl at the news that a number of Primarks had opened their doors early in an effort to deal with the crowds.

But, of course, as with most things in life, there’s much more to these choices than snapshots can convey. While it may be very easy for me to sit at home in my durable jeans and scorn those jostling for bargains in ‘non-essential’ shops, that luxury is probably not available to those on low incomes who, for several months, may have had to clothe their families without the help of charity shops. As I discovered a couple of months back, ‘essential’ can mean dramatically different things to different people.

Similarly, while I may bristle at the crowds flocking to the beaches here most weekends – making social distancing virtually impossible – I can’t know what it’s like to weather lockdown in a home without a garden or easy access to outdoor space. Among those sunning themselves and thronging around the few open seafront stalls, there are probably many who have spent weeks under extreme pressure. Who am I to judge that their passing momentarily close to their fellow pedestrians in pursuit of a 99 Flake ice-cream is so irresponsible as to cancel out the benefits of this brief taste of freedom?

A week or so ago, I met a man while out walking on the Harbour Arm. It was clear from the eagerness with which he engaged me in conversation that he was lonely. He lived on his own, he revealed, and, the previous weekend, he had seen his six-year-old granddaughter for the first time in three months. The plan had been for him to come for a socially distanced visit in his daughter’s garden and adhere to the government guidelines to keep 2m apart, but when he arrived he couldn’t resist his daughter’s offer to give the little girl a hug. ‘I melted,’ he told me with tears in his eyes.

The truth is, by this stage, most of the UK has probably broken lockdown guidelines one way or another. Whether we’ve passed too close to others on a narrow pavement, allowed visitors to our gardens into our houses to shelter from sudden downpours or looked after friends’ children in emergencies (and, by the way, I’ve done all of these), there can’t be many of us left who have adhered entirely to the – sometimes contradictory – instructions that issue every few days from No 10 Downing Street.

As time goes on – unless and until a second wave of infections builds – it seems likely that this pluralism of interpretation of government guidance will increase, with more and more of us tailoring our behaviour according to our circumstances, needs and risk.

In this respect, we are perhaps making the same accommodation with the lockdown guidelines as we make with the law in general, with each person demonstrating varying degrees of compliance. For the truth is, few human beings live entirely within the law. Whether you break the speed limit on occasion, indulge in illegal substances now and then, carry a plank on the pavement or handle salmon in suspicious circumstances (yes, all these are technically illegal, along with a number of bizarre others, and, before you ask, no, I haven’t done all of them), few of us are entirely law-abiding. No matter how much we value the concept of the law, ignorance, impatience or sheer exasperation with it being ‘an ass’, as Dickens wrote in Oliver Twist, will almost certainly lead us to transgress at some point.

So where does that leave us as we emerge, at different rates and in different ways, from the extreme restrictions of the past few months? It’s hard to say. But I suspect many of us will have to get used to turning a blind eye, trying to see a little more kindly and agreeing to disagree.

Life opening up again

Yesterday, the outer door stood open once more at the National Coastwatch Institution station at Copt Point.

The world has felt different these last few days. Walking out with my toddler along the cliffs near my house yesterday, a change was evident.

The flags were back on the municipal golf course around the Martello tower. The tennis nets were up on the courts at the local sports facility and two games were under way. Meanwhile, at the National Coastwatch Institution station, which we have become used to seeing shuttered, the lights were on and the outer door was flung wide.

 

Hazard tape still adorned Marc Schmitz + Dolgor Ser-Od’s ‘Siren’, created for the 2017 Folkestone Triennial.

Of course, it wasn’t all business as usual. The hazard tape and coronavirus warning sign on Marc Schmitz + Dolgor Ser-Od’s Siren on Wear Bay Road, instructing passersby not to touch or try to speak into it, was a reminder that life is still not as it used to be, as were the social-distancing notices at the East Cliff tennis courts. Still, the signs of everyday activity were a marked change from the stasis of the preceding weeks.

The mood on the streets was different yesterday too. Gone was the giddy aimlessness of a bank holiday outstaying its welcome, which prevailed when the restrictions on outdoor exercise were relaxed back in May and people surged out to stroll and picnic in the sun.

Instead, a quiet purposefulness suffused the neighbourhood. The world was starting to get back to work, the implication seemed to be. Life was shifting, if not back to how things were, then on to a new phase, in which people go about their business, filling some of the hitherto dead hours with a wider array of constructive tasks.

The East Cliff pay-and-play sports facility was open for business, albeit with additional social-distancing guidelines.

I found my reaction interesting. Although I am sceptical about many of the decisions the UK government has taken during this crisis and fear that relaxing lockdown too soon may lead to another deadly wave of Covid-19, I can’t deny how welcome the changes I saw yesterday felt. My body seemed lighter walking around those quietly bustling streets. The fist that has been clenched in the pit of my stomach for much of the past three months began to uncurl.

It was as though, after weeks of holding its breath, the town was starting to breathe again. And while I might find many of the implications of these changes worrying on an intellectual level, my emotional reaction to the experience of life opening up once more was one of relief. My cerebral and my sentient selves responded to what I was seeing in different ways.

But perhaps this feeling of head versus heart is one of the hallmarks of this crisis – the way it has pitted our intellectual awareness against our instincts, requiring us to curb many of our natural inclinations in order to adhere to rules that we know, coldly, are in our best interests. It remains to be seen whether intellect or emotion will win the day.

 

2020: the year that recalibrated time?

Out of Time! © Plbmak on flickr.com

Strange things have been happening to time, these past few months. When the UK went into lockdown on 23 March, it felt in many ways as though life had ground to a halt. Projects were postponed; plans were left hanging. Three weddings I was meant to attend were put off – two of them until roughly the same dates in 2021, almost as if 2020 itself had ceased to exist.

For those of us confined to our houses over the ensuing weeks, time has warped and bent in odd ways. For many, there is much more of it than we were used to – time to clear out cupboards and undertake long overdue DIY tasks, afternoons that seem to stretch as endlessly as they did in childhood. Finding myself in sole charge of my young daughter half the week, instead of the one day that was my usual pattern before lockdown, I often have to dig deep to think of ways to fill the hours productively and creatively.

But for many there is also not enough time. Not enough time alone. Not enough time away from screens. Not enough time for work. This has been my experience too – with far fewer hours in my writing room than I am used to, there is a frenetic intensity to my work periods as I scramble to achieve everything necessary, often returning to my desk in the evenings after my daughter has gone to sleep.

Meanwhile, the material coming into the house through the radio and television reveals other temporal cracks. There is the Groundhog Day effect of the government briefings – broadcast daily at around 5pm – which often sound interchangeable. Blasts from the past have come in the form of bygone episodes from popular soap operas such as BBC Radio 4’s The Archers, which went through a period of falling back on archive material before its production process was reinvented to meet social-distancing guidelines. In the absence of live sport, TV networks show footage from previous tournaments – including England’s 1966 World Cup final victory, broadcast on Channel 4 this weekend. In addition, publications run reviews of theatre productions from previous years, film versions of which have been made available for download.

In the past two weeks, the killing of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police in the US has introduced another layer into this year’s unusual relationship with time. Social media timelines are full of people looking back on history with fresh eyes and reframing stories they thought they knew in light of recent events. Even the fabric of our past is changing, with protesters pulling down statues of figures who championed racial discrimination and profited from the slave trade.

In amongst all this, it can appear as though time itself might be broken. And yet, of course, even in 2020, the earth keeps turning. Babies continue to be born. Spring moves to summer and the plums fatten on the tree in my garden.

Interminable though this period seems now, it is, in fact, a short spell. A flicker on the rolling film reel of human experience. Momentous and earth-shattering as it feels, it will, in all likelihood, one day, slot neatly enough into the chronological account people will tell one another when they try to explain how they got to where they are.

First takeaway coffee since lockdown began

Customers order through the window at Bobbies Bakehouse

It happened on a whim. Out for a walk with my toddler this morning, I noticed that Bobbies Bakehouse, the small cafe running in the signal box at the now-defunct Folkestone Harbour station, was open for takeaways. Knowing my daughter’s penchant for warm, frothy milk (or a babyccino as it’s known in the trade), I decided to treat us.

I felt a twinge of guilt as I approached the cafe. In recent years, I’ve been in the habit of carrying a keep cup to use for takeaway coffees in an attempt to avoid disposable cups. Not having had any call for it in nearly three months, I had left it in the cupboard at home.

It quickly became clear, however, that my bamboo drinkware had no role to play here: in the age of coronavirus, it seems, keep cups are more of a hazard than a help.

The cafe had been set up to minimise interpersonal contact. Instead of going inside, I was intercepted before I reached the entrance and invited to give my order to the barista in the window above.

It felt strange saying the words ‘skinny cappuccino’ and ‘babyccino’. After weeks of homemade cafetiere coffee and milk from the fridge, the terms sounded fussy and quaint. There was little time to dwell on this, though: before I knew it, a card reader had been thrust down on a selfie stick to take my contactless payment.

The boxes for customers to wait in outside the cafe

Directed round the corner, we found ourselves confronted with a line of five numbered boxes painted at 2m intervals on the station platform. A table bearing a bottle of hand gel stood across the steps up to the signal-box entrance. It was onto this that, a few minutes later, our drink order was placed (in, I was glad to see, environmentally sympathetic, fully recyclable paper cups).

There being several people after us in the queue, we had to find our way through the exit and across the one-way pedestrian system (introduced to support social distancing on Folkestone’s Harbour Arm) to a spot where we could enjoy our beverages without coming within 2m of anyone else or spilling our drinks – my daughter managed this admirably, although I failed on the latter point, managing to slop cappuccino down my front when the platform edge we perched on turned out to be lower than I thought.

The new one-way system on the walkway to Folkestone’s Harbour Arm

Once I’d dabbed myself dry, it was pleasant sitting in the open air, watching visitors strolling past and seeing more customers stop to call their orders up to the barista. Still, it was odd too. As I sipped my drink, I realised something was missing. Though the coffee was perfectly good, it lacked an ingredient: the convivial atmosphere of the coffee shop, the proximity of strangers intent on spending an hour or two in a welcoming space.

The drink in my hand was only part of what I used to buy into when I paid for coffee by the cup. And this morning, instead of a taste of normality, it felt rather like a relic from a bygone age.

 

Back to school

Glastonbury – old school road sign © muffinn on flickr.com

Today marks the partial reopening of the UK’s primary (elementary) schools. Although classroom teaching has been available for the children of keyworkers throughout the pandemic, the majority of the nation’s pupils have been at home since mid-March. From now, three year groups are officially allowed back: Reception (aged 4-5), Year 1 (aged 5-6) and Year 6 (aged 10-11).

The reactions to the move have been mixed. While some welcome the news, others are more cautious. Some schools have refused to reopen for fear that the risk of transmission of Covid-19 is still too high and it has been left to parents to decide whether or not they are happy to send their children back to the classroom. This morning, the BBC reported that half of parents may opt not to do so.

Watching from the sidelines, I feel rather grateful not to have to make such a choice. Having spent the past eleven weeks splitting the care of our toddler with my husband so that each of us gets two and a half days a week to work instead of the usual four, I can well understand the appeal of having childcare again. I also know how important it is for children to have social interaction: watching my daughter become increasingly immersed in games with imaginary ‘friends’ as the weeks have gone by has been sad. Now that outdoor meetings between small groups are allowed in England, we are starting to plan park trips and garden visits with other children. As looked set to be the case at the start of lockdown, this period of isolation will have affected the development of millions of youngsters.

Still, reports of the R-rate remaining close to one and the stories of young children suffering a toxic shock-like syndrome after exposure to Covid-19 are worrying. Regardless of the strategies a school puts in place, it is unrealistic to expect small children to keep their distance from one another. And it is unrealistic to expect those who care for and teach them not to get within 2m of their charges.

And so, as I suspect will increasingly be the case for all of us over the months to come, parents of school-age children are faced with the dilemma of weighing up risk versus benefit. They must determine for themselves whether the harm that exposure to coronavirus may do tips the scales against the good of social interaction and classroom education.

What individual families opt to do will depend on many factors – their relationship with risk, the situation in their local area, their faith in the government and in the ability of schools to minimise opportunities for transmission, the value they place on education, and the pressures on their time and resources, to name but a few. It is almost inevitable that in the coming months we will hear about those who – whatever they decide – end up regretting the choice they make today.

For now, though, the school gates stand open and many teachers are back at their desks, beginning a new half term.

Social media outrage

TWITTER © Esther Vargas on flickr.com

A couple of days ago, a Dutch writer friend retweeted something at me. ‘Did you see this one-sentence postcolonial novel? ;)’ he asked. The ‘novel’ was a tweet by London-based Lebanese-Iraqi architect and satirist Karl Sharro. It was this: ‘The British are finally experiencing what’s it like to have the British rule your country.’

The tweet was part of the maelstrom of social-media posts responding to recent news about the actions of Boris Johnson’s key adviser Dominic Cummings, who, in the early weeks of the UK lockdown, ignored the instruction to stay at home and drove his coronavirus-infected wife and young son 260 miles to a family property in County Durham.

Unlike other senior figures who have resigned over breaches of lockdown rules, Cummings shows no intention of leaving his post. Indeed, many government ministers have rallied round him, issuing statements in his defence.

The backlash has been severe. Since the end of last week, social media has been awash with fury. Thousands have shared heart-rending stories of those unable to see dying relatives or attend funerals because of respecting lockdown restrictions. Many have expressed fears that such hypocrisy could put lives at risk by tempting others to flout social-distancing rules. There have been searching questions into some of the more dubious elements of the account of his actions that Cummings eventually presented to the media, along with a huge number of wisecracks and witticisms. At press briefings, the prime minister and other senior government figures have had to face a barrage of questions about how they can support a status quo that seems to have one rule for the majority and another for those in their inner circle.

On the face of it, the crisis seems extraordinary. If you were to take many of the comments flying around at face value, it would be easy to think that this development could be terminal for Boris Johnson’s government. Perhaps in a more volatile nation – one more given to coups, revolutions and regime changes – that would indeed be the case.

The truth is, however, that we have been here many times before. In recent years, particularly since the Brexit referendum, outrage at the latest apparent failure or example of double-dealing by those in power has erupted frequently on platforms such as Twitter. Such sentiments are not new: before the rise of social media, there were plenty of instances of people expressing similar anger – against the Iraq war, against the poll tax, against the closure of the mines. Still, it’s true that in the last decade social media has amplified this anger in a way that makes it feel all-consuming when it is at full throttle. For the past ten years, many of us seem to have lived in a near-permanent state of apoplexy.

As such, I’ve found myself watching the unfolding of the latest scandal with an odd mixture of feelings. I share the outrage of many of my peers at what appears to be a flagrant instance of exceptionalism reminiscent of the kind of double standards that, as Sharro pointed out in his tweet, riddled the British Empire, but I also have an odd sense of detachment from what is going on. I can’t help feeling that the furore largely misses the point.

This comes partly from an awareness that what is being argued about on the surface here is not really the main cause of many people’s anger. While there is justifiable cause for fury among those who have made terrible sacrifices to stay within lockdown rules, the truth is that many of those calling most loudly for Cummings’ resignation are not especially concerned about his roadtrips but instead are seizing the opportunity to oust a figure they have long disliked and mistrusted as the architect of Brexit, a situation that itself has roots stretching back decades. Similarly, many of those defending Boris Johnson’s right-hand man probably do not believe that he acted reasonably but are simply concerned about keeping in place one of the lynchpins of their administration.

Little of this can be acknowledged, however. It doesn’t fit into a headline or the 140 characters of a tweet. Indeed, I’m not sure it is entirely sayable in any medium, for when you start to trace the problems back, the threads run and run, stretching down the centuries – one bad decision proving to be the consequence of another and another until, eventually, the tangle is lost in the mists of time.

And so we Brits sit in the midst of a global pandemic, with one of the highest death rates in the world, picking over the minutiae of one man’s car trips. And in so doing, we carry on the national – or perhaps human – tradition of never saying precisely what we mean.

The last bank holiday of spring

For self-employed people, national holidays often don’t mean much. In the twelve years that I have worked for myself, I have tended to treat many of them as normal working days. When you don’t get paid if you don’t work, time off loses some of its appeal.

In lockdown, this sense of bank holidays becoming less distinctive seems to have spread to a larger swathe of the population. With many of the routines and structures that define people’s schedules mothballed, days and weeks have merged.

Nevertheless, with good weather predicted, Folkestone, along with many other seaside towns around Britain’s coastline, is braced for an influx of visitors today. (This despite a number of media campaigns asking day trippers to stay away for fear of overcrowding – appeals that have already been ignored by many.)

With this in mind, and as the latest scandal rages over Boris Johnson’s close adviser breaking lockdown rules, I changed my schedule today and headed out for a run first thing rather than at lunchtime as I would normally do on a Monday.

It proved to be a good move. As you can see from the photo above, the seafront between Folkestone and Hythe was largely deserted when I set out, although, by the last couple of miles, the number of people on the concrete walkway along the beach was increasing, no doubt foreshadowing the crowds that will appear later.

Yet, though other people were largely absent, evidence of their presence was not. Several of the benches of the Leas Cliff Park were surrounded by litter left by weekend visitors and many of the bins were overflowing.

Sadly, such sights are not uncommon here in the summer – so much so that local volunteers regularly go out during the hottest months to clear the worst of the rubbish from the beaches and beauty spots, alongside the Folkestone Town Sprucers who keep the place looking shipshape throughout the year.

During peak season, many of those who live locally (yours truly included) avoid the beaches on weekends and public holidays, leaving them clear for the visitors on whom many of the town’s seasonal businesses depend.

Today, the sight of the rubbish made me realise another reason for asking people to stay away from the coast during lockdown. In addition to the physical problem of crowds making social distancing difficult, there is something about the psychology of going on a day trip that conflicts with the attitude that navigating the pandemic responsibly demands.

When we go somewhere for fun, we get out of ourselves, lay our cares aside and, to a certain extent, abdicate our responsibilities. And while we don’t all leave rubbish lying around for others to deal with, we perhaps all relax and exhibit a more devil-may-care attitude on such occasions than we would usually do.

In normal times, this can be a very important way of refreshing and reinvigorating ourselves. But such ‘holiday humour’, as Shakespeare’s Rosalind puts it, is not compatible with the vigilance and care that observing social-distancing rules requires. Lulled into complacency and bonhomie with – judging by the litter in the coastal park this morning – more than a few alcoholic drinks inside us, we probably aren’t best placed to protect ourselves and others from the spread of a deadly virus.

Still, these reflections are unlikely to change habits that seem in large part to be written into the national DNA. Already, as the sun rises higher over the white cliffs, I can hear the traffic building in the streets leading down to the seafront.

All the more reason to stay at my desk today, making the most of my one fully child-free day of the week by getting on with my work.