You can keep your countryside - I'm a smug Londoner now

Rural areas continue to warn visitors to stay away, but Zoe Strimpel finds that London is the best place to be right now

As London starts to come back to life, Zoe Strimpel is happy to live in the capital Credit: Geoff Pugh

一本道理不卡一二三区When I returned to London on March 23 after an aborted trip to Australia — which was clearly going to have a better time of the virus than us — it felt like walking the plank.

I had no choice, but in I had to splash, from safe and fragrant Melbourne to one of the worst-hit cities in the world, on track to get even worse. The following few weeks were full not only of the most harrowing possible news from hospitals, but also fearful stories from many friends suffering terribly from the virus. It was clear that if Britain was bad, London was an absolute nightmare. The city I had left ten days before was almost unrecognisable: the streets were empty, the atmosphere was bad.

一本道理不卡一二三区Nobody wanted us anywhere near them either. Adding spirited feeling to the Government’s order not to go to second homes, locals in Cornwall and other beauty spots panicked at the thought of contagion from people in the “super spreader” capital.

“Hearing about the people fleeing London has p****** me off more than the bloody panic buying,” tweeted one enraged rural dweller in late March, “what a selfish society this has become.” Another raged: “For those of you thinking of ‘fleeing’ London because it may go into #lockdown. DON’T.” And so on.

You can therefore imagine my grim delight — dare I even say, smugness — when I learnt, last week, that London now has the lowest R (reproduction) rate in the country. That’s right: at 0.4, we are now the safest place in Britain to be, and we are the least likely populace to infect others. The South West — that includes you, Cornwall, responsible for some of the most aggressive ‘stay away’ messaging — is worse at 0.76, and in the North East and Yorkshire the R number is hovering around 0.8.

Yet despite our admirable R number, it seems we are still unwanted. Following Boris’s address to the nation last week, in which he gave the gave the green light to travelling as far as one wants to beauty spots for exercise, once again panic surged at the idea of being swamped with Londoners. Cumbria Tourism was “shocked” by the announcement, with Richard Leafe, chief executive of the Lake District National Park saying: “Please don’t rush to visit us”. Julian German, head of Cornwall Council, stated: “as far as we are concerned, Cornwall is not open to visitors.”

一本道理不卡一二三区Alright, we get it, you don’t want us near you. But now, dears, the feeling’s mutual.

Having been deemed the plague pit of the country, London is coming back to life — and may well be the nicest place to be for the foreseeable anyway, thank you very much. We have lovely parks, beautiful blossoms and — finally — streets becoming lively again.

一本道理不卡一二三区At least, so it seemed to me last week. On Wednesday, probably the lowest I’ve felt since lockdown began, largely because the news had been so unrelentingly grim for so long, I took a very long walk, from Hampstead to Chelsea and back. I set out glum and anxious and returned buoyant: feeling as though I’d had my very first glimpse of life after Covid-19.

Following Boris’s admittedly confusing directive to return to work “if you can”, there had been uproar about what precisely that meant and just who it liberated. But as I strolled along high streets I did indeed see people sitting at their computers in small, light-filled offices — estate agencies, architecture firms, a framer, a furniture restorer. It was as strange a sight as the very occasional planes one sees heading for Heathrow.

一本道理不卡一二三区There was a different atmosphere all round. People were sitting on benches, faces turned to the sun. They were holding takeaway coffees, almost as normal; I treated myself to my first one — well, two actually — since lockdown began. I had an iced latte from Gail’s, since you ask, and a decaf oat milk flat white from a local bakery. It felt like Christmas, summer edition.

Finally, doing these things in London no longer feels like one is taking one’s life in one’s hands, after weeks of anxious moments, following daily mishaps (forgetting to wash a packet from the supermarket before tearing it open and eating it; passing too close to other pedestrians; someone bending over you in the vegetable aisle to inspect the same aubergine) – worrying you’re done for.

一本道理不卡一二三区Obviously, the utmost vigilance is still needed so we can keep our R number low, drive it lower still and thereby save lives. But it does mean one can walk or jog with a spring in one’s step. And on Thursday, still gleeful over the R number, I went to Waitrose and walked to the Heath – passing lots of people with the inevitable closer-than-two-metre gap, as the streets were pretty crowded – without having a single mini-panic attack.

Most importantly, for the first time in months, I began to feel pleasure and gratitude at being in London – where it all started to go horribly wrong, where it became a true nightmare for many, but where it is now showing signs of its old life.

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