Covid-19 Lockdown, A Rural Diary - Week 7 and VE Day Celebrations
May 4th-7th and the 75th Anniversary of VE Day
Looking back over the past six weeks it is notable how things have subtly shifted.
You may remember that we began with the initial self-isolation stage which swiftly moved into official Lockdown when it was clear people were not being sensible and adhering to the guidance (around the Mothers' Day weekend when there were the longest queues ever seen in Snowdonia, the Lake District, The Peak District and countless beaches, parks and green spaces all over the country were rammed with people). We Brits are not always very good at being told what to do. Freedom is at the heart of our democracy. We quickly learned, however, that for once we had to play the game. And so the panic set in as everyone envisaged this strange business of being imminently 'locked up' in our own homes as had already occurred in other societies all around the world. These were the days of zero loo paper (which everyone is still trying to comprehend) and countless other empty shelves. No tins, pasta or pet food in sight (including bird food, interestingly) - and let's not even mention hand sanitizer.
The media went into a Covid-19 frenzy which has not ceased. At first I think we were all hanging on their every bulletin and the Daily Briefing from Government became a must-view. It was a whole new world and many found it rather frightening. We all frantically set up new WhatsApp groups and exchanged funny videos, or photos of our gardens or our daily walks, to help maintain a sense of community and friendship and solidarity. And then, bit by bit, we all adjusted to our confinement. We all calmed down a bit. We found new routines, new hobbies, new ways of doing the things we'd always done when we were free.
By week 7, our household was certainly set into a rhythm - something which almost felt 'normal'. The exercise routines, the shopping lists, the once-a-week trip to the supermarket; the zoom meetings, the WhatsApp groups, the phone calls to friends and family, the favourite TV series and the much looked forward to coming together at the end of the day for a drink and a meal.
I cleaned the bathrooms again come Monday morning, hoovered and washed floors and cleaned some windows. Mundane stuff. I continued to watch Healthcheck UK Live every morning which kept me informed and my spirits high and I listened to an enlightening and encouraging Ted Talk by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks on one of my late afternoon walks.
From the philosophical to the secular, I also listened to a Naked Wines webinar on the Tuesday evening and enjoyed it immensely, losing myself for a while in a world of Languedoc vineyards and the lovely lady from Leicester, Katie Jones, a winemaker who had lost and regained a livelihood there, who had battled hard and kept her faith in La France Profonde against severe odds. Having lived near Toulouse for a year, many moons ago, in my own version of La France Profonde, I fell in love with Languedoc and see it as one of my spiritual homes. It was bliss to be taken back there for an hour, if only in my head and heart and on my computer screen...
On my own patch and in the real world, I have no vines to lovingly tend so instead I hacked back overgrown hollies and wild, unruly rhododendrum ponticum in the continual battle to tame nature and allow more light into the dell for the bluebells to flourish. I had a bonfire, cooked with the wild garlic growing abundantly and used mole hill soil to sow herb seeds. I also came across some old bean seeds and, with misplaced hope, planted them in the vegetable patch. Highly unlikely they'd germinate, so if the forecast frost came in a week or so it wouldn't matter anyway!
Meanwhile the weather remained beautiful and I had a glorious mid-week walk with G and Lily up high onto Combs Moss to drink in the magnificent far-reaching vistas of places we could see but couldn't touch.
We finished an unseasonal jigsaw of The Snowman (needs must) while watching Spring change its clothes in the garden with the lime green of new leaves taking over from the pink, white and yellow blossoms. The copper beach took on the colour of its name, the purple tulips shone darkly in the border, and as the sweet heavenly scents of viburnum and daphne faded, the wisteria started to unfurl its soft blue blooms with the promise of perfume to follow.
G completed her monumental effort of Running To Croatia with her university hockey team, a group charity challenge raising funds for disadvantaged children, clocking up an amazing 120km just by herself. Respect. I can't run to the garden gate.
A notable milestone was L's official ending of formal education. School's out forever. No more children to go. The day had finally come that I had long dreaded. The end of an era. She should have been enjoying a sunny Leavers' Day at school with all her friends, getting drunk as a skunk in the evening in some bar or club or party. Instead we hung up bunting and jolly signs and messages and I made her drop scones for breakfast. We walked to the reservoir to enjoy a glass of prosecco in the evening sunshine to mark the occasion. We sat on the bank, our feet practically in the glassy water and watched the changing skies reflected in its mirror. We threw stones and watched the waves of energy spreading out in concentric circles. The simple things: the stuff of life. We came home and made bad cocktails and ate a good meal. She inadvertently got drunk as a skunk in her bedroom on a Zoom call with her mates who had spontaneously decided to do a drinking game. Not quite the day she'd long ago envisaged, but not so bad really.
G and I contributed some recipes to the Community Cookbook initiative set in motion by some friends in the village, and I in turn shared on social media the recipes of a cookbook compiled in the 1950s by Brighton and Hove housewives. It seemed suitably timely and nostalgic in the run-up to VE Day as we all turned our thoughts back to a former era of collective endeavour and the ending of a very dark period of modern history.
I think it is true to say that it was healthy to take the focus off our current situation for a while and to understand that, however long and dark the tunnel, there is always light at the end of it. A reminder of the unimaginable losses and hardships of WW2 perhaps helped put our current situation into perspective and lent a much-welcomed sense of occasion and celebration as we all geared up to the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe, that first clear step to the ending of said war. In the Great British Home Chorus we were singing We'll Meet Again, The White Cliffs of Dover, and A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square - such nostalgia - together with a special focus on the Military Wives choir which made Gareth Malone a household name and the King of Choirmasters. We were encouraged in our village community to decorate our houses and share photos of them and to create suitable bakes for a Victory tea. The sun continued to shine, we cooked outside over a log fire, we watched the Queen's speech, and there was a sense of optimism in the air for those of us fortunate enough not to be hospital staff or other key workers - for them it continued to be, sadly, a very different story.