Birdsong in a Silenced City: a year since first lockdown

The morning of the first Lockdown on 23rd March 2020 I awake to a strange sound. 
‘What is that sound?’ I ask.
We live alongside a busy city street and accustomed to the ubiquitous sound of traffic noise. However, this morning, it is as though that noise has turned off like a tap. The sound I hear is of silence. But there is something else. It is birdsong.

Little wren singing in the Barbican wildlife garden | Photo: Lesley Scoble

Birdsong in a silenced City

I awake to a terrifying silence—
‘I haven’t heard that kind of silence before’ kind of silence
A silence only the dead must hear
Never before has London had a so profound no sound
resounding fear 
Disquieting quiet
And lack of riot. 

Alas alack!
Deserted road street track.
‘Tis queer to hear
So much hush—
in this great City
devoid of pity—
Empty of rush!
Lacking pace
of the human rat race.

No cars abound around
Grinding the ground;
No thrum of engine exhausts
On the road.
No more
clanking miasmic metal monsters’
cacophonous roar—

Instead, there is
A loud
deadly quiet…

A silence 
In town.

‘Where are the people?
In the church with the steeple?’

I can’t believe my ears;
My eyes weep tears;
There’s been no Silence here for years!
(I’m sure never—if ever?)

In terror and panic
The manic never ending throng,
thundering along
noisome traffic has gone!

What is that sound I can hear?
What is that? 
So near?
I’ve not heard before?
Coming through the door?
Into the flat?

Ah! I hear it.
The song of a tit!
Then another and another!
A blackbird and wren,
join in—
Goldfinch, chaffinch, greenfinch and sparrow,
The caw of magpie and crow;
A wood pigeon too
Contributing coo
And clack of the jay
Starting today with a

Way too long,
I have not heard 
the tune
of a bird—

Of Birdsong

Lesley Scoble 2020

The song of a local blackbird

The Streets of London

I walk down stark, empty streets. The roads are devoid of traffic and the pavements are no longer full of early morning streams of trudging office workers clutching take-away cups of coffee. Gone is the mass bleary-eyed emergence of commuters from the underground, all heading in the same direction; only to repeat in reverse, the ant-like office workers swarming back again at five o’clock on the evening commute home.

I enjoy walking in the middle of the road

The City’s streets are so empty of traffic it allows me to play the idiot in the middle of the road.

The streets are vacant and so are the buses. Uninhabited buses glide past my window like ghost ships. Deserted tube train stations remain open for essential key workers only.

The predominant vehicle on the road today is the ambulance. Their pandemic sirens whining urgent wails throughout the city.

For some reason, the song by Ralph McTell has come into my mind and seems appropriate and poignant at this time. I love this song by the way! Here’s the chorus:

So how can you tell me you’re lonely,
Don’t say for you that the sun don’t shine.
Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London
I’ll show you something to change your mind

Ralph McTell

A few snapshots from my lockdown walks around town…

Joggers are everywhere claiming the streets causing panic among slower moving pedestrians — St Paul’s has no tourists crowding on the steps — Cautionary signs appear — I get track and traced and told to self isolate for ten days — Children’s swings and roundabouts are taped up — Benches and seats are sealed off — Southwark Bridge is never clear of traffic, but it is now! — Shop windows still display Christmas gifts (3rd lockdown) — Statues adopt the fashion for masks — A lone defiant red Ferrari waits at traffic lights on London Wall.


It is a whole year since a letter dropped through the letterbox from Downing Street explaining the problem and telling us what we need to do to save lives and protect the NHS. We are told to stay at home.

The world shrank on March 23 in part to the size of what could be viewed from the window (and still is during this third lockdown).
On that day a year ago, I watched a vulnerable person taking a brave stroll for exercise. A masked girl leaning against a wall, waiting. In the background someone carrying home essential shopping…

The Pubs close

Along with almost everything else, the pubs close! Closed shuttered pubs are now a common sight in today’s desolate cityscape. Later, when restrictions eased a bit, we collected craft beer take-aways from an enterprising backstreet local — but once more, in what is now the third lockdown, we are without a brew as pubs continue to be closed. 

Applauding the NHS

It is almost a year since we began clapping the NHS at 8pm every Thursday evening to say thank you to all the brave NHS frontline and key workers. My way to show my gratitude was to participate in the Portraits for NHS Heroes initiative and paint a portrait in oils of the hero Dr Rukhsana Salim.

My gratitude continues for all that they do. Stay safe everyone and get your jab!

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