By Becka White

A slightly different route today for our daily exercise. My six-year-old’s school has invited us to collect some seeds ‘to plant in the garden’. I tell my son they forgot to add ‘or on the windowsill’. I wonder how many other flat-dwelling parents noticed this wording – after all, one in five households in London don’t have any outdoor space. I decide it’s me being over-analytical again.

I’ve brought some pavement chalk along to add some colour to another dull day. My three-year-old crouches at the edge of the path cutting through the small hilltop field and asks me what to draw. “How about a rainbow?” I suggest.

I look at the skyline of Canary Wharf in the distance, hazy in the heat. They call it ‘London’s Highest Earning Postcode’. Surreal to imagine those shiny, silver offices devoid of bankers – a smattering of cleaners, security guards and baristas instead. London’s lowest earners, keeping the capital going.

Photograph by author

My littlest shoves me off the path and out of my daydream.

“Mummy! People coming, make space!”.

Within a few short months (such a large chunk of his life), his fear of other humans has been totally normalised. A quick cuddle for reassurance. I peel him off me gently and he resumes his drawing. Not so much a rainbow but a tornado of colours. His fat little fists press down so forcefully, the pastel shades look almost neon.

Photograph by author

A dog-walker glares in our direction. She tuts and mutters – “That doesn’t look like exercise to me”, while her considerate dog takes a shit two metres away. My eldest son stops circling on his scooter and looks at me. I can make out his quizzical eyebrows beneath his dark, lockdown hair. I try to find an age-appropriate way to explain why people are wary, why the rules are important.

Next thing I know he’s scrawled on the ground in lilac chalk: ‘WE DON’T ALL HAVE A GARDEN’. I stop to take a photo of this fully washable graffiti – unsure whether I’m proud or sad. I realise a jogger has been waiting for me to finish. Anticipating more disapproval, I snap at him – “You just had to say excuse me, and I would’ve moved! I can’t see behind me!”

His voice calm and sincere, he replies “Wow, why are you so angry?”.

I want to say something in reply, but my thoughts are like the chalky storm at my feet. Too late. He’s already off, moving steadily towards the cluster of silver towers in the distance.

The phone that I’m still clutching buzzes. Carla’s sent me a selfie. She’s in the garden, striped bikini top in close-up, kids in the paddling pool behind her. Caption: “wine o-clock”.

Yesterday she shared a photo online of a heaving Peckham Rye. Caption: “We’re in a fucking pandemic, how can people be so selfish?! People are dying ffs!”.

Photograph by author

So many people are dying. I know how lucky I am. They said in the ‘Building Resilience during COVID-19’ course at work to note three things I’m grateful for every day.

1) I’m grateful I’ve loved but not lost this year.

2) I’m grateful I feel safe in my home.

3) I’m grateful I still have a job.

It’s no good though. Building resilience – that’s something else I’m failing at during this pandemic. I now have an online ‘toolbox’ of wellbeing strategies, a digital reminder of all the things I’m not doing. I know it’s great my employer is investing in this stuff. (Resilient workers are productive workers, after all.) But I look at the experts in their Zoom squares and think – it’s easy for you to be resilient, in your home office with a printer, and Wi-Fi that works in more than one room. With your tablet-each-for-the-kids and your disposable income. It doesn’t matter how many links to online yoga I’m sent if I haven’t got room to lay out a mat.

And anyway, why is it up to me to cope better? Why can’t things be easier to cope with instead?

I think of my best friend whose dad died alone in hospital. I think of my neighbour who’s worked at the bus garage for over 30 years and can’t get time off, even though his wife is sick. I think of my sister whose landlord upped her rent at the start of the first lockdown. I think of three things I’m grateful for every day. Another daily exercise.

Photograph by author

That night, it rains heavily. As I lie in bed, I imagine my children’s artwork washing away down the path, the bright colours blending into a murky stream.

Everyone keeps saying that the pandemic is bringing out the best in people. Community. Solidarity. Humanity. All my favourite abstract nouns.

For weeks, I keep an eye out of the window in case I see the jogger passing by. I want to tell him I’m sorry. I want to tell him why I’m so angry.


Becka White is communications manager at LSE’s Department of Gender Studies and also works in campaigns at Amnesty International. Becka writes in her spare time: she is currently working on a narrative non-fiction project as a 2022 awardee of Spread The Word’s London Writers Awards.