As we approach the first anniversary of the start of the Coronavirus pandemic here in the UK, we have been thinking back to what life has been like these past 12 months. Everyone's experience of this pandemic will have been so different with ups and downs for each of us. We feel strongly in the value of shared stories and experiences as a way of strengthening community and building empathy and understanding between people. One of the central roles of a coffee shop is making a space for sharing conversations and this is something we are keen to continue online while the physical space is not filled with the life as it always was (and will be again). We are grateful for the diverse contributions from our customers and team that we are sharing in this 'Our Pandemic Year' series.
Cycling with the Bairn
I certainly had highs and lows during 2020 but I was lucky that when Covid-19 reared its head early in the year, I was in the position that my day to day life wouldn’t change a great deal.
As the first lockdown approached, I was still looking after our young son full time, and he hadn’t yet reached two years of age. My wife was commuting back and forth to Edinburgh on the train everyday, since returning to work after maternity leave the previous August. Our son B was due to start nursery in a few weeks, at which point the plan was that I’d be able to get back into some kind of work, albeit part-time. In March 2020 we had the same daily routine which usually involved a walk to one of B’s daily classes or toddler/parent groups. Since B was only a few weeks old, our outings had always included a daily visit to Steampunk. We’d normally spend at least 30 minutes there, chatting to the staff and other regulars.
B had always enjoyed hikes and bike rides with me, but coming out of winter 2020, these had become more and more sporadic - little did I know how important these bike rides would become over the next six months. As the cafe, and B’s groups grew noticeably quieter on a daily basis, I took assurance from the advice of sources at the time that healthy people had nothing much to worry about. I think advice at the time simply highlighted the importance of hand washing. The toddler groups were the highlight of B’s week, and we didn’t want to worry him, and with C still commuting by public transport, it’s not as if we could hide from this thing. We would carry on as normal, until told otherwise.
When Lockdown did happen, I remember it was incredibly cold. Our walk to the beach that Saturday morning, seemed somewhat ominous. As we sat on a bench, enjoying our coffee and biscuit - not sure whether a picnic was now frowned upon - it was hard to envision how the next few weeks and months were going to pan out. Thankfully the cold weather was not to last and I was able to get my shorts on unseasonably early. C began working from home, but the start of lockdown coincided with her Easter holiday, which was good. So, apart from the classes and groups which had been cancelled, our day to day life didn’t change a great deal. We mainly had to stay out of C’s way as much as possible when she was working.
One of the most memorable - headline elements - of the first lockdown was the bulk buying at the supermarkets, but we luckily didn’t have to stress about that. Since moving to North Berwick, we’d been getting a weekly fruit and veg box - eggs and milk too. We’d also been able to keep well stocked with dried goods from Earth Matters on the High Street. As time went by, we felt increasingly privileged to live in North Berwick as more businesses on the High Street made their produce available for delivery (such as Anderson’s the Butcher and Lockett Bros). Little luxuries like a Steampunk coffee became an even more important part of our day. We were able to buy beans online and they were even delivered straight from the roastery a few times. Our ten o’clock cafetière, for C’s break, was a wonderful thing.
Quite soon after Lockdown began, and the weather started to improve, I was able to dust the bike off, with the aim of a daily adventure with B. All the roads were incredibly quiet so I wanted to take full advantage and show B the sights. I’ll digress for moment, into some bike chat, because it’s an important part of my lockdown and the rest of the summer...
The previous October I had sourced what I planned would be the ultimate toddler-carrying bike - a 1984 Peugeot Canyon Express, with rear pannier rack-mounted, BETO kids seat, and a front rack/basket to carry toddler paraphernalia, like nappies, spare clothes, food and drink, and eventually, swimming stuff. It had Tannus inner tyres, so I shouldn’t have to worry about changing flat tyres with a toddler in tow.
When I had worked in London Isambard’s Cycles in Shoreditch had regularly serviced my commuting bike. They’d since moved to rural Wales, but continued to specialise in vintage bikes. I like how these relationships can continue because of the internet. Having adapted the MTB for its new purpose in Scotland, they’d sent it to Law Cyles in North Berwick where Dave had reassembled it and made sure it was in working order.
I took B on a 10km loop of the town quite early on. He was wrapped up warm, and with the promise of a snack en route, he was happy. During the next few weeks and months, as C continued to work from home after lockdown eased, we ventured further afield. We’d leave the house after breakfast, loaded up with snacks and a flask of coffee, and wouldn’t return till lunch by which time C had had a good few hours of peace and quiet. Our routes would include stretches of road, which would ordinarily be too busy to take B on.
We’d park the bike in a field somewhere along the way and have snack in the shade of a tree. We built up to a 25 mile loop around North Berwick, often seeing no more than a handful of cars. Any farm vehicles spotted were a bonus as B would spend the rest of the ride talking about them. At the weekends we would retrace our routes with C in tow and B could point out all the exciting things we’d seen over the previous five days.
There were a lot of sunny days for those first few months - too sunny for a long route. So we’d switch to some shorter options. There was the ‘lockdown beach’ route - a more sustainable 10 mile round trip, which would involve a quick dip to cool off in the water when we got there, before having our snack, overlooking the sea and Fife. Seacliff Beach for a swim was another manageable route when the roads were quiet and the wind was right. The B198 can be a slog with a headwind.
There was ‘The Hill’ option, which was a more leisurely ride, no further than the Berwick Law carpark where we’d leave the bike and I’d hike up with B on my shoulders, to a quiet spot near the top looking south. The hill is extremely quiet over on that side and I don’t think we ever saw another soul but there was always wildlife to watch. As the months passed there was more and more farming activity too with combining, ploughing and drilling going on in the fields below which kept us both amused.
‘The Other Hill’ was quite tough - and only happened once, when I was feeling particularly foolhardy. The view from Traprain Law to Berwick law, Bass Rock, and beyond is one of the best in Scotland and sitting there enjoying it with B was certainly one of the Highlights of our summer.
It was all rather idyllic, and some of the most memorable cycling I’m likely to do. The bigger roads did eventually return to normal levels of traffic, at which point we stopped using them, and stuck to the back roads and cycle paths. We clocked up just over 1,000 miles and lots of homemade biscuits and coffee during 2020.
I’ve always enjoyed staying in shape, but all this cycling, and hiking with a toddler on my shoulders got me very fit. Before the pandemic, I had committed to the 2020 Edinburgh Marathon which involved having to raise £750 for charity. Once I became sure it would be cancelled I decided on what would become the cliched ‘Garden Marathon’ (albeit with a twist).
So, between the 6-12 April, I ran a one mile, 5km, 10km, Half and Full Marathon around our house. It was more than a month before my right foot felt normal again, but I managed to raise almost £2,000 for Macmillan. I’ve pushed my body hard a few times, but the Marathon which took 6.5 hours was the hardest thing I’ve ever done! But given I still wasn’t working, raising money for such a worthwhile cause, seemed like a productive thing to do under the circumstances.
Doing so much cycling with B encouraged me to venture further afield by myself at the weekends, when restrictions started to ease somewhat. In July I cycled a 100 miler through parts of East Lothian and the Borders that I hadn’t previously known very well - only the third time I’d cycled that distance. The Lammermuirs offer some great, and very challenging cycling routes, and they’re very accessible from North Berwick. It’s never as much fun riding solo, but I look forward to being able to share these new routes, views and experiences with friends, when we’re able to head out together again in the future.
Spending so much time on the bike seemed to encourage B too, and when he got a balance bike for his second birthday, early in lockdown, he seemed to take to it like a duck to water. This was helped no end by the closure of the nearby golf course, which became his playground. No riding on the greens of course (pardon the pun) but these expanses of grass allowed him to advance quite quickly, with less fear (for us) of injury if, and when he came came off. When he then got a bike with pedals for his Xmas, he took to that quite quickly too, so it’s certainly been the year of bikes for both of us.
B is lucky that we were able to spend a little time with his Scottish Grandparents when restrictions allowed us to during the summer, but we haven’t been able to see his London Grandparents for well over 12 months now, which is very sad. Because of C’s job, we chose not to push our luck with restrictions, and didn’t venture far in 2020. It was quite frustrating to see people from all over the world descend on the Highlands and Islands, but we’re lucky to live in such a beautiful spot here, and count ourselves lucky, to have so much open space on our doorstep. Hopefully, it won't be too long before we can visit London, and the rest of Scotland - fingers crossed!
Now that we’re in Lockdown yet again, but with much worse weather, we haven’t been able to explore nearly as often, or as far, but we’re doing a fair bit - this time with the running buggy, which keeps B warm and dry. He never leaves the house without his wee binoculars, which are great entertainment, and it’s simple things like this, which have kept him occupied the best over the last 12 months - plenty of fresh air and sunshine, walks, or a ride on his balance bike, or watching the birds in our garden with his binoculars...and plenty Fireman Sam and Bob the Builder - I’m not very good at doing arts and crafts with him, but then nursery will start again soon!
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