Too often it was a sandwich at my desk, wolfed down. Sometimes a run — when I could find the time and energy. But more often than not lunch breaks were office-bound.
What was I thinking?
Since the coronavirus lockdown turned me and millions of others into reluctant homeworkers, my lunchtime exercise has become a cherished daily ritual.
At the beginning of confinement, when we were permitted to leave home just once a day, that precious hour was a chance to escape the one-bedroom flat where I otherwise spent all my time.
And while more frequent exercise is now permitted, I have kept up the practice, rotating between walks, runs and longer bike rides. On weekdays, at about 1pm, I say goodbye to the cat who is my lockdown companion and head outside, usually with little idea where I am going.
From my home near London Fields, a compact and popular park in the east London borough of Hackney, there is no shortage of places to explore on foot.
North to Clapton and Hackney Downs, a previously unloved green space given a fresh lease of life in lockdown. West to De Beauvoir and Islington, whose wide 19th-century streets and elegant squares are ideal for social-distancing.
South-east to Victoria Park, reopened after an ill-judged council decision to padlock its gates, with the option to continue on to the waterways, woodlands and wild spaces of Hackney Marshes.
And the walk I will take you through here: south-west to Shoreditch, an area synonymous with tech start-ups and boozy nights out, but now fallen silent.
London Fields is at the heart of the neighbourhood that has been my home since 2006. When I bought my first-floor flat, it was because I liked the local nightlife. If I had known I would be stuck here during a pandemic I would have chosen somewhere with a garden.
The park itself was for centuries a stopover for farmers taking their livestock to the meat market at Smithfield. Local place names still reflect this heritage: Sheep Lane, Lamb Lane, the Cat & Mutton pub.
More recently, it has become a popular hang-out spot for young Londoners, who flock there on warm evenings and weekends to drink in the sun.
When the lockdown was imposed, the people of Hackney generally fell in line with the rules and stayed at home. Yet the sheer number of people living in such a built-up area, most of whom have no access to outdoor space, always made social distancing a challenge.
As spring has turned to early summer — and noticeably since the government revised its stay-at-home messaging — local…