It’s obviously not enough for Britons to suffer almost 120,000 COVID-19 deaths and face a new strain of the virus that scientists believe is more infectious and more lethal. Not enough to suffer through a third lockdown in less than a year, a shutdown now in its ninth week in London with no end in sight.
No, all of this has to come smack in the middle of Britain’s mud season, the period officially known as winter.
While anyone in the U.K. is still losing Vitamin D, the sun prefers to take a months-long work stoppage and called winter storms kept sweeping eastward through the Atlantic. Storm Bella marched in right after Christmas, bringing gusts up to 106 mph (92 kph) and rains that dumped 3.2 inches (80.2 mm) on a village in Scotland. A sodden, frozen version of a hurricane. Storm Darcy swept in last week from the other direction, bringing an icy Arctic blast and the U.K.’s coldest weather in 25 years.
British meteorologists have as many ways to explain rain as the Inuit do snow, since the daily forecast is only an estimation of how much rain will fall when and with what intensity. Even my husband, who grew up in sun-soaked Southern California, knows that one either runs or walks or shops in the rain here; it’s hard to dodge it.
Unlike the southeastern U.S., which floods during the summer-fall hurricane season, Britain floods in the middle of winter, carrying hypothermia amid germ-laden waters. Rivers across England and Scotland are bursting: 73 flood warnings were in place on Friday alone. And this year, few gyms or schools are eligible for emergency housing for fear they will transform into COVID-19 factories. It’s a Dickensian moment.
The lockdown in London started Dec. 20, literally the day before the darkest day of the year. Forget about fun: pubs, nightclubs, museums, gyms, theatres and cinemas are closed, save for a few restaurant takeouts. Even outdoor venues like London’s Hampstead Heath swimming ponds, a bracing 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius) when I last took a dip in October, are locked.
You’re allowed out once a day for exercise, more for food shopping. And British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had to defend himself over a cycling trip to a park seven miles away, though it was considered not to have broken lockdown laws.
So the only thing left for most to do is walk or run. And seeing millions trudging in the freezing winter rain has done just what one would expect: produce acres and acres of squishy mud.
Farmers across the country are upset over trekkers who, in their attempts to avoid sodden right-of-way routes, trample around them. Only they are not marching over grass but corn, barley and wheat crops, producing mud highways 25 feet wide.
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Dogs in the parks have black mud-line stripes around their bellies. Knee-high wellies — plastic-molded boots that are often caked in mud — are worn by anyone from children to grannies with hiking poles.
Though safe against the weather, too many in London’s parks still forget the main pandemic-era weapon: a mask. In an hour-long walk through Regent’s Park, Primrose Hill Park or Hampstead Heath you can pass hundreds of maskless people and outsized social “bubbles.” It takes all the composure I can muster not to lecture every one of them.
My husband and I now avoid the grand parks on the weekends, but walking on broken cobblestones and pavement in London’s grittier areas brings sore knees and foot ailments. It’s a small price to pay, though, compared with the waves of sorrow wrought by the virus on families and medical staff.
Years from now, when my grandchildren inquire, “What did you do during the pandemic, Mimi? ” I will tell them: I spent 10 hours a day hip-deep in emotionally wrenching pandemic news. The rest of the time I was out in the rain, trying to stay dry.