Rosie and Jim: ‘The robin has probably been here for years; I’ve only just noticed him. He’s probably as curious as I am’

Country Life's Rosie Paterson and James Fisher are — as we all are — in isolation, entirely alone except for their computers, phones, and the sum of human knowledge via the internet. Here's how it's working out for them.

Every day, Country Life’s team is sharing stories, tips, ideas, recipes and random thoughts to help spread a few smiles. We’ve shared recipes, looked at clever tributes from farmers and celebrated the power of flowers.

Today, it’s the turn of Rosie Paterson and James Fisher — who have both ended up entirely alone — to share a slice of their lives. 

I may have taken the idea of self-distancing a little too far. 214 miles too far, to be exact.When the Country Life office closed its doors, I left London for the relative safety of Devon. My parents — and potentially a sibling or two — were supposed to follow later on that week, but then the lockdown was announced, and I found myself very much alone.

I’m now just shy of two weeks in not-entirely-deliberate isolation. Perhaps 2020 was not the best time to be single. I can see why dating apps are reporting activity as usual.

Technology, however, is a double-edged sword. I made an initial effort to stay in touch with friends and family over Houseparty, a group video chat app. But the constant notifications quickly became frustrating.

At the weekend, I took part in a yoga class, streamed live on Instagram through my phone. I’m still blown away by how well gyms and trainers have adapted to the current situation, and ever-thankful for their positivity and motivation. I also dialled in to a video call on my laptop with my best friend and my mum, who were doing the same class.

Rather embarrassingly, my mum (who is averaging three virtual workouts a day) had considerably less trouble setting up the video call.

So I’ve turned away from the screens to pass time. Chiefly, to cooking. Nothing elaborate: rhubarb and ginger compote, using locally grown fruit. Wild garlic pesto, using leaves foraged from the coastline. Homemade mayonnaise, using eggs from a neighbouring farm. It took up most of my Sunday, because I was terrified of adding in the oil too quickly and curdling the mixture. London might have Deliveroo, but I have a whole larder outside my front door, waiting to be explored.

The upside? With no one to share all of this food with, I get to eat it all by myself. The downside? No one told me about the clocks going forward, so I spent an entire day living in my very own time zone.

The robin hasn’t been to visit today. The blackbird is plodding around, picking at seeds, and the pigeon is roosting quite happily, getting ready to release a horde of squabs that have a liftetime of redecorating the heads of tourists ahead of them. But no robin. He’s my favourite, bouncing around between the chairs and shrubs, carelessly enjoying the freedom of the outside world. Maybe he doesn’t like the seeds I’ve put out for him.

I stare at the garden a lot. It’s one of the few things I’ve tried to do in this period of enforced self isolation. I spend so much time flying around this city, in a desperate hurry to be places and see people, that you can often miss what’s right in front of you. The robin has probably been here for years; I’ve only just noticed him. He’s probably curious as to why I’m spending so much time indoors, looking at him. He probably finds my staring a little intense. Maybe that’s why he’s gone somewhere else today. ‘There’s nothing wrong with you, it’s just that, I need some space. It’s all got a little intense.’ I’m jealous that he’s got the option.

I like this garden a lot more now than I ever did. It’s not the most beautiful, but it’s constant and it’s bright and it’s alive, much more so than this city is. I wonder what the animals of London must be thinking right now. Does the pigeon think the human is extinct? Does the usually bold urban fox still have the desire to be so brazen on the bins when nobody is watching?

Through no fault of their own, the countryside way of living has been thrust upon 8 million people; life is quiet, the air is crisp and we rely on our neighbours, those we usually ignore, for support.

The benefits of Nature and community have long been lauded in the countryside. Maybe now they’ll be appreciated here in urbe, too. It’s amazing what you can see when you’re forced to slow down.