Lockdown in Birmingham

For an unrelated reason, on 23 March, I went to Birmingham. I’d planned to stay a week. Later that day, the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced that the UK would be going into lockdown!

I could have got the train back. I think it was permissible to return home but I wasn’t sure. However, in the end, I stayed the whole duration of lockdown – about two months – in Birmingham.

I later learnt from my neighbour that many people around Archway — including her, her children, and their teachers — had caught the coronavirus. As it happens, I may have caught the virus too in late February. If I did have the virus, it was the mild version. I had a persistent cough and felt slightly feverish. I initially thought it was a cold but a cold didn’t develop. And even after I thought I’d got over it, it came back a week later! It was very strange.

At the time, alas, the Government was recommending that you stay at home if you thought you had the virus. No testing was being carried out for those advised to stay at home. So, I don’t know if I did get the virus. In theory, I could get tested for antibodies. But even then, the results could be negative because, apparently, antibodies can become less detectable based on time and severity of the virus.

I suppose, in some ways, I had a “good lockdown”. In February, I had started an online machine learning course and this continued throughout lockdown with mid-term and final exams in April and May. A lot of the course required me learning or re-learning some university maths. This kept my mind occupied – a good first step in staying sane.

In the UK, you were allowed an hour’s exercise a day. For me this was either a morning run or an evening walk — generally, along Birmingham canal.

My runs along the canal produced two separate incidents.

The first occurred when I was running along a narrow part of the canal. I called out to a couple in front of me that I was coming through. They tried to gather their two dogs. One was safely put on a leash. The other, however, as he returned to his owners, decided to bite the back of my left thigh! I was shocked. The couple asked if it was bleeding. It was. After a bit of a stand-off with none of saying anything, I decided to return “home” and get the wound dressed.

When I returned home, I called the NHS and they recommended getting the wound dressed by a nurse. I didn’t fancy going to hospital. With the virus doing the rounds, the cure might have been worse than the bite! Fortunately, there was a drop-in centre close by. Those with the virus were told not to go there. Helene drove me to the drop-in centre and within ten minutes I was lying face down on a bed as a nurse dressed the wound. She didn’t give me an antibiotic but said that if pus started coming out or I felt feverish, I should return to the clinic. Of course, getting a fever was also a sign of getting the virus! I would cross that bridge if I needed to.

Helene’s neighbour, Keith the Sourdough Man, gave us some extra dressings. Every day for about four days, I wrapped the wound in plastic when showering then replaced the dressing. Very luckily, the wound healed without further incident.

My second running incident occurred a couple of weeks later. I was again running along a narrow part of the canal. There was ahead of me a couple of geese and their young ones. Normally, when I see animals with their young, I start walking and skirt around them as much as I can. This is usually fine. I tried the same. But one of the geese approached me. I continued walking. The goose started running towards me. I started backing off. The goose then took off and flew towards me! I turned around and legged it. The goose turned back.

As I continued running, I met another runner – a sturdy looking Rastafarian. He had headphones on. I hailed him and he stopped. I told him about the protective geese, strongly hinting that he might want to turn back, cross a bridge and run along the other side, as I was doing. He looked at me kindly but somewhat bemused. In the end, he decided to continue. He must have thought: they’re only geese. We said goodbye and I continued, eventually reaching a bridge and returning on the other side. As I ran along the canal, listening to a podcast, I saw my fellow runner returning on the other side! I laughed. He laughed — and made a gesture with his hand, as if cutting his throat! He was not going to risk his life. These geese were dangerous.

One of the sad things I noticed along the canal is that as the weeks go by, geese have fewer and fewer young in the family. Presumably, they’re unable to protect them all from predators. However, whenever I took the Geese Attack Route, I kept my eye out for the geese. Obviously, I stayed on the other side. They were almost always near the same spot. I also noticed that as other geese lost their young, these geese kept their nine goslings. They were doing a good job. Nobody was mucking around with the family!

As lockdown continued, more wildlife seemed to appear. Herons in particular were a graceful sight. On one occasion, one heron was standing very still on an isle in the canal. We stopped to take photos, trying not to disturb it. Then, in a flash the heron dipped its head in the water and pulled out a fish! It was shockingly fast but accurate. So that’s how herons eat. I have photos of it below.

Apart from learning all about machine learning (also called AI – artificial intelligence), I also learnt to use a sewing machine. Ostensibly, this was to show Helene but, in the end, I ended up making masks with it.

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