The reduction of nearly all UK news down to updates on Covid 19 and Conservative Party propaganda confirms the state of UK politics as even worse than that depicted in ‘The thick of it’, a golden oldie of a series which I occasionally watch with Jessie and Ella on a group Netflix platform each week. But the light also shines through daily like a forgiving dawn. For those with a rural lockdown, country walks are bountiful. I have never seen so much variety in the sub-rural wildlife: bumble bees, deer, field mice, squirrels, foxes, rabbits; and, er, many different types of unknown and unrecognised butterflies. Daffodils, primroses, bluebells, wood anemone and birdseye all seem to have jumble-crowded out in the same month as if they know that lockdowns are not (so far) usual events. Small birds look me knowingly in the eye, as if to say, ‘welcome to my world as it should be’. One early morning I was startled to be eyeballing an inquisitive deer through the bathroom window just a few feet away. Nature luxuriates, exhaling powerfully, pushing the whitish green shoots from the ground in its new and unexpected starring role on a planet occupied by 7 billion humans. Added to which, my principal role in the lockdown setup has been to dig over, prepare and seed or plant seedlings in the vegetable garden where a twitchy robin is my constant companion as it looks for worms squirming in the turned earth. The digging was physically testing as the plots had not been dug over for a couple of years (although mercifully they had been covered with black plastic) and my knees, hips and back ached as I dug and made the first plantings. Courgettes, tomatoes, potatoes, peas and beans are now pushing through. On May Day, I received by delayed post a carton of seeds from a supplier in the Auvergne. I promptly added beef tomatoes, chickpeas, spinach, and white beans to pots the same afternoon to celebrate the jumping glee of Beltane.
The house is generous in space and therefore adequate for its nine occupants and each of their chosen activities, hobbies and interests. Among the activities are of course the staples of caring, cooking, social and online media, washing clothes and dishes, gardening, grass-cutting, cleaning rooms, windows and curtains. To these are added the less obvious extras of body building, basketball, French and German literature, FIFA, treasure-hunting, croquet, quizzes, running, job-hunting, dog-walking, pottering, group joshing and providing general background noise ‘selon gout’. I am not yet aware of any hidden vices or virtues under the communal roof. There is nothing nasty in the woodshed except gym equipment and there is no Auntie Ada Doom, yet. No one has imported the virus from Waitrose, the newsagents or Wilko’s, although there does seem to be a random phantom disruptor of the natural order. Items of clothing disappear mysteriously; garden implements fork off for days then suddenly re-appear tucked under bushes, if at all. Wallets, mobile phones and sundry articles develop legs and wander absent-mindedly to nest in other rooms than where they were left. These occurrences surely cannot be attributed to the newly emboldened wildlife? Nevertheless, the garden blackbirds and jackdaws, with their new-found habit of looking humans defiantly in the eye, seem to say, “This is my place as well”.
However, surprises are kept to a minimum, and we all live according to the categories of others without too much complaint. We have varying degrees of emotional reaction to the situation, mostly worry and concern, especially for each other. Thankfully, none have fallen ill and we are mindful of spaces and gateposts when out and about although I have not yet made it past the adjacent fields with the dogs. Others have the roles of venturing into the silent and sullen outside to bring home the bacon and Linda McCartney’s meatballs. I still spend too much time applying for jobs and bidding for contracts which then typically dematerialise as if I was playing some sort of career whack-a-mole with Dr. Who. I am also struggling to restrain the onset of lalochezia at the hapless Prime Minister’s burbling and fatal falsehoods.
On the day the London Marathon should have been run, thrice LM medal holder Ella organised us to take on the Two Point Six Challenge and divided up a full marathon of 26.2 miles between us, sisters and cousins. Over £400 was donated to the Alzheimer’s Society in honour of Grampa Miles, who was diagnosed last year and in memory of Grandma Stanbrook, who died in 2000. My arthritic contribution? One mile. But thankfully younger family scions did the rest…
Nephew Joe’s birthday was the first in our family group’s lockdown, and Gwen baked the first collective isolation birthday confection, a tasty vegan lemon drizzle cake, quickly despatched. Gwen has had a busy month – after revising hard she took her final exams remotely for her foundation degree in canine behaviour at Askham Bryan College in York. She now looks forward to a third year in which she will take her BSc. In a happy double whammy, Jessie applied for a more senior job in the probation policy team at the Ministry of Justice, was selected, and started work on Skype a week ago; her partner Jurrat interviewed for content manager at the Medical Research Council, got the job just a couple of hours after the interview, and he too started a week ago. Ella has been working hard in her media communications role at Cruse Bereavement Care. The charity’s services are much needed at this time, as so many people in the UK are grieving while isolated from relatives or loved ones among the record numbers who have died in this country. I hope this unimaginable suffering will soon be acknowledged respectfully by those who managed this crisis.
Yours from a world that’s just a little town
Photo: Gwen and Lionel in Broad Oaks Lock Down, April 2020