It’s ironic, really, that during a time when we should be focused on the insides of our homes, I’m rediscovering my city.
I’ve lived in Southampton for a decade now, and have become quite used to its pathways, landmarks, parks and destinations. I usually find myself dashing between cafes and shops, running to my next theatre production, or hurrying to and from the office with my headphones on.
My busy city life has, like most things, abruptly come to a halt. Once-packed evenings now languidly stretch before me, my weekend hours merge into one mass of ambiguous time, and my multiple planners and diaries are collecting dust.
During my office hours, you can now find me at my makeshift desk, which sits at the bay window in my partner’s (soon to be our) flat, where I work and watch neighbours go about their days in a not-so socially distanced way.
The only time I step foot into my city is for the luxury of a government-sanctioned walk. While we’re now allowed to have as many of these as we want during a day, I still only make it outside once or twice a week.
When I do make it out for some fresh air, it’s for a faux-leisurely stroll down nearby roads; we usually avoid the major parks and open spaces thanks to the sheer number of bodies soaking up the May-day sunshine there.
With so little time outside now, it’s somewhat absurd to claim that I’ve become even more connected with Southampton. But it’s that age-old, over-used saying: it’s not the quantity, it’s the quality.
My outside time is now so precious that I really want to make the most of it. While stepping foot outside was once merely a means of getting to the next place, now it’s the sole focus of my time in the big wide world. I’m not really going anywhere. I haven’t got anywhere to actually be. The whole point is that I’m just outside.
Simultaneously, because it’s a ‘treat’, I’m less inclined to multitask. There’s no way I’m wasting my walk with my head in my phone. I want to observe the world around me, I want to take photos to document this moment, and I need to be wary of oncoming folk who have apparently forgotten about the holy 2m rule.
In our bid to avoid crowds, we’re also taking the route less trodden. We’re exploring the back roads, the residential streets, the little cut-throughs and the less-than-glamorous public areas that aren’t pretty enough to draw in the sunbathers. We’ve found ourselves at the railway station, hiding in the old walls, whiling away minutes by barren shopping centres and soaking up the sun at empty car parks.
We’ve seen the sea, found history, and even been window shopping for flats we’d like to live in when this is all over. We’ve also discovered mosaics which have eluded me until now. What more proof do you need that I never truly paid attention to my surroundings?!
While I was so worried that this pandemic would tear me from my surroundings kicking and screaming, almost the opposite has started to happen. Yes, I miss my cafes, theatres, indie restaurants and cocktail bars terribly – what I wouldn’t give for a fresh iced coffee and a play in my diary right now – but at the same time that this lockdown has forced me to be more present (a whole other story in itself) it’s also ensured that I no longer take my surroundings for granted.
Like many cities, Southampton is home to amazing organisations, businesses and venues; but it’s also where you can find beautiful, peaceful or fascinating spaces that are much more than just a route to the next Place You Have To Be.
I can’t wait to see what I find the next time I go walking in my city without purpose – even when lockdown is finally over.