The late afternoon sun still had enough warmth to make sitting in my garden a delight.
The blackbirds were competing with the robins and a woodpecker was drilling out the occasional rhythmic drum roll — the perfect contrast to the lament of a dove somewhere in the distance.
The hoverflies had made a welcome early appearance. Magical insects that look like wasps but have the extraordinary ability to hover in a fixed spot and then vanish if they spy prey nearby.
Mounted police are seen on patrol in Whitley Bay, Northumberland. All that matters is defeating the virus that threatens us all. And if that means modest pleasures foregone…well, that’s the price we have to pay
This was as close to paradise as you can get in the centre of one of the world’s biggest cities. Even the air was clean.
Or at least less polluted than I can remember it in 40 years of living in London.
In my park, the lifeless, waterlogged bog created by one of the wettest winters in living memory had been replaced by a green carpet of new grass.
The cherry blossom lining the paths completed the picture of a spring full of new life and the promise of more to come.
But the park was closed. From behind my garden gate I watched the steady stream of joggers and parents with small children turning away disappointed at the locked gates. Sad, but necessary, you may say.
A couple are pictured in Clapham Common, London on Friday afternoon. Most of those who normally use the park don’t have lovely gardens — or any garden at all for that matter
All that matters is defeating the virus that threatens us all. And if that means modest pleasures foregone…well, that’s the price we have to pay. We’re all in this together. Or are we?
In one sense it is true that the virus is a leveller, no respecter of persons, as likely to attack a duke as a dustman. Or even the heir to the throne and the Prime Minister.
But both knew they were infected because they’d had a test. Most of us can’t have one. The costs and burdens of the crisis are not distributed indiscriminately.
Let’s put it another way: it is hugely to be welcomed that we can summon the spirit of national unity at times like this.
Imagine, instead, that you are the hospital cleaner, say, or the lad working on a building site. You have to commute. You have no choice but to squeeze onto a crowded Tube where any notion of maintaining social distance is for the birds
It is less welcome if it masks the underlying reality that we are a society still so divided and unequal that it will be those least able to afford it who will end up paying the biggest price.
There is a danger that this country risks an isolation apartheid. But I am one of the hugely fortunate few. Most of those who normally use the park don’t have lovely gardens — or any garden at all for that matter.
They may live in tower blocks on the other side of the track, quite literally. It’s one of the rougher housing estates in London. Their children came to play football on the astro turf or throw hoops on the basketball courts.
Or just to chill out. That ended last Sunday night when the local authority, Hammersmith and Fulham Borough Council, closed all parks in the borough.
They remained closed even after Boris Johnson had announced on Monday night that parks everywhere would stay open so that people could take some exercise.
My other good fortune is that I can work from home. And I’m loving it. On Thursday, I recorded three programmes for Classic FM in the space of a few hours without moving from the stand-up desk in my kitchen.
The only equipment I needed was a decent microphone, which I plugged into my computer, and a pair of headphones.
Admittedly, it meant I couldn’t stare into the eyes of Joanna Lumley — one of my interviewees — but hearing her voice was some compensation.
Compare my oasis with the predicament of the ‘key worker’ who has to go to work. And I’m not thinking here of doctors and nurses.
They are, rightly, being heaped with the praises of a grateful nation. Imagine, instead, that you are the hospital cleaner, say, or the lad working on a building site. You have to commute.
You have no choice but to squeeze onto a crowded Tube where any notion of maintaining social distance is for the birds.
The idiotic decision to reduce services was the perfect illustration of middle-class bureaucrats failing to consider what life is really like for those less fortunate. And when you get to work, there is even more stress and anxiety.
A third of your colleagues are off ill, so you might have to make up for what they would have done. Your bosses are at the end of their tether and normal courtesies are suspended.
Eventually, exhausted, you have to face the crowded Tube again, and now even more people are coughing and sneezing.
And the next day you find yourself being sneered at on social media and in many papers by those more fortunate than you.
And then there’s money. Yes, many middle-class professionals are losing income, but they’ll probably have some savings to tide them over.
And even if they haven’t, they may be able to turn for help to parents who’ve benefited over the years from decent pensions and soaring house prices.
It’s not like that for the single mother on the top floor of a tower block. Then there are the children. I’m rather enjoying having my youngest son around so much.
My concern is that during the emergency the authorities and police risk being seen as too dictatorial. Must we really treat dog walkers as enemies of the state? And after the crisis has peaked, we will see an austerity the like of which we have not experienced for generations
Teenage boys tend to prefer hanging out with friends to, say, doing a spot of gardening for their father.
But now that option is closed. And there are no real choices for poor kids in tower blocks. Just a screen and endless acres of boredom. Their mothers aren’t the ones stripping supermarket shelves and hoarding food.
You need a car to carry the loot off. So they rely on the corner shop: more unpredictable and more expensive. They probably have to buy less.
The Government may have acted swiftly to protect most incomes, but there will be many who slip through the net or are defeated by bureaucracy. There always are. And they’re almost always the poorest.
We must hope that the current mood of national solidarity lasts long enough to see us through this crisis and beyond.
My concern is that during the emergency the authorities and police risk being seen as too dictatorial. Must we really treat dog walkers as enemies of the state?
And after the crisis has peaked, we will see an austerity the like of which we have not experienced for generations. Austerity always hits the poor hardest.
One ray of hope has emerged since I started writing this column. I’ve had a reply to an email I’d sent to Stephen Cowan, the respected leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council, protesting about closing the parks.
He, too, accepts that it’s the poor who are paying the biggest price. And as I write this closing paragraph I see that the gates are being unlocked and the park is open again.
Admittedly a relatively small victory, but it’s a start. And this will be a long campaign.
A few nuggets on how to cook a chicken
I fear standards on the Today programme may have slipped since I left. On Wednesday, Stuart (now Lord) Rose, was allowed to use an interview to tell us how to get the most out of a chicken.
Day 1: Roast the chicken. Day 2: Eat some of it cold. Day 3: Boil the rest in ‘a soup or something’. How boring is that? His lordship, who made his name running Marks & Spencer, ought to stick to retailing.
He should have said: Slice the breasts off the chicken. Remove the legs and thighs. Simmer the carcass with onions and carrots for a tasty stock. The breasts are eaten first. Grill them with a little garlic.
The drumsticks and thighs should be cooked in a curry sauce and will also keep for ages. Result: three delicious meals from one chicken.
In fairness to Stuart, his advice was based on the need to eliminate waste and he’s right about that. We throw out about six million tons of food every year.
When I was little we wasted none. I mean none. And we didn’t have a fridge. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why.
The breasts are eaten first. Grill them with a little garlic. The drumsticks and thighs should be cooked in a curry sauce and will also keep for ages