An infection

My sister seems to have the bug. Two cousins are also showing signs. If I were to get in touch with my sister-in-law right now, I’m pretty sure she too would be afflicted by it.

It’s the family history bug, and my sister has it bad. She has moved on from the well-trodden paths, the more illustrious connections, to the lesser known and more obscure. For the first time, our mother’s side of the family is being explored as well. My sister has joined family history societies and taken out subscriptions to genealogy websites. The work of delving, sifting, note-taking and cross-referencing has begun in earnest.

It’s easy now to get started. So much is available online. My sister is trawling through parish registers of marriages, baptisms and deaths, obituaries in local papers, contracts, leases, legal documents of all kinds. All handwritten of course. Yes, it’s easy to get started, but it requires tenacity and an eye for detail to make progress. Hundreds of clues are there to be found. Unlike a treasure hunt though, they lead not to one big horde, but to a myriad of little prizes.

In the last couple of weeks of detective work, nothing too gruesome has been uncovered. But there are unsolved mysteries. There are also so many personal tragedies: an abandoned child, children dying young, mothers dying young too, children being brought up not by parents but by other family members. Why did A leave Monmouthshire for Pembrokeshire? Why did B leave London for Leicester? We may never know. There are brief glimpses of lives abridged by disease, childbirth or war.

Red herrings pop up to confuse the unwary – duplicate names in one family branch, a mistake with a second Christian name or confusion over spellings. Maybe it’s simply an acceptance of multiple versions of the same name. Sometimes a trail, once hot, peters out into a decline in circumstances…poverty, illiteracy and just not somehow mattering enough to leave much of a written mark.

My interest is in the human stories – the past of our ancestors, recorded at a few key moments. While our present is constrained and our future is uncertain, trying to discover some of our past feels meaningful and achievable. So I too am infected with this enthusiasm.

On birth, rain and the time to reflect

I spoke too soon. The downpour sort of rain arrived this morning. No thunderstorm and no gloopy, sticky, tropical stuff. But still lots of it. Rain. And a strong breeze too. After weeks of unbroken stillness, the grass was freckled with pink and white apple blossom.

I did admire the clematis, but it wasn’t at its best. A little bedraggled, windblown and underperforming. Rather like me today, I feel. Am sporting socks (for the first time in several warm weeks) and an oversized sweater belonging to the husband. On top of the usual ensemble.

After admiring and rinsing my two trays of sprouting seeds – (gosh, how that takes me back to the eighties and Bristol’s Gloucester Road!) – I made an easy soup. This was a riff on the spring vegetable theme, sourced from fridge finds, ranging in shades from the palest of sage to the most vibrant leprechaun green. We ate bread from a packet at lunchtime. Despite being brown and seeded, this felt very wrong.  The aroma of freshly baked bread has become the new feelgood norm, rather than the exception to it, in our five weeks plus confinement…

A baby for Boris – the news popped, unbidden, onto my phone. He’s joined ‘the club of six’ apparently. The other members, (who were also Members), seem to be from similarly privileged backgrounds. Strange that. But whatever you think of Boris, what a year he’s having?! Definitely not an uneventful 2020 for him and still only April.

Also on my phone there was a video of a poetry reading. Distinctive and powerful but not the kind of material I usually read, and nothing like the material that I write.  

On Sunday, I was asked some questions by email by the enthusiastic Romanian student. One of them was the ‘magic wand’ one… if I were allowed to come back, be born again…those impossibly unlikely scenarios. Feeling wrong-footed and still a bit unwell, I’d now give a different answer. I would come into my creativity younger, angrier and grittier, with a lot of angst and attitude, and the ability to swear convincingly. A bit taller perhaps too; that would be good. But much grittier.

‘I’m getting a bit bored with my own company,’ my friend said. She’s isolating alone now, as are so many others. I must remember how lucky I am.

The barometer drops

The barometer has dropped. It feels chilly but rain hasn’t cleared the air. I was nursing a dull headache earlier in the day. Apparently, barometric pressure headache is a thing. Maybe that was the explanation.

There have been surveys, more of the ‘how is Covid-19 impacting your business?’ kind of thing – two completed and one shelved for another day. An email from the registrars, a furlough payroll to run – but mostly I’ve been holding the day at arms’ length.

Before the temperature fell there were supersized bumblebees, usually more than one, in the conservatory every day, and I was getting up-close-and-personal to several – trying to rescue them. So a little bumblebee sting research over a coffee seemed apt. What did I discover? That only the females – queens and workers – sting. That a bumblebee can sting more than once. That they are less likely to sting than a hornet or a honeybee, and, most unexpectedly, that they are sensitive to colour, and particularly partial to light blue.

We’ve had most sorts of rain today, except the dramatic torrential sort. There’s been mizzle, drizzle and steady persistent dreary rain. The donkeys, whose coats are not waterproof, have a purpose-built shelter in the field where they usually graze. We took them out late morning when the weather seemed to be brightening (and when the BBC had told us it would). They were quite Eeyoreish, biddable, a little droopy, palpably below par. A donkey does not necessarily do the sensible thing and take cover in her shelter in inclement weather. This evening, they stood soggily at the field gate, seemingly pleased to see us and disinclined to dawdle on their way home.

We passed the pink clematis which, suddenly, has fully clothed the telegraph pole in the yard. I’ll look properly tomorrow.

A day of separate parts

A haiku is a form of poem, originally from Japan. It has three lines, with seventeen syllables, in a 5-7-5 pattern, and is meant to be read in one breath. Traditionally, haiku poetry drew from the natural world, or abstract concepts, for its subject matter and the haiku poet focussed on a brief instant in time, or sudden observation. There were other rules too, but I think that’s the basic idea. A modern haiku does not necessarily keep to the form.

 I’ve been trying to write a haiku or two today.

Crazed bumblebee, he
hurls himself at glass, at last
the open window.

Deathwish bumblebee
flings himself at glass;
at last, a window.

You get my drift. Enough already about glass and windows.

                                                                                *****  

One of my cousins was cremated in Scotland this morning. I’ve always felt, but rarely articulated it, that the end of life deserves a proper fanfare. A summing up and a sending off. These sorts of goodbye gatherings aren’t possible right now. I’ve been trying to write a haiku or four today.

9.30 today
a cremation; no mourners –
a life extinguished.

No funeral so
sixty seconds of silence;
respect for a life.

Just sixty seconds,
leave me these to sit silent
one minute, one life.

Socially distanced
mourning; one minute’s silence –
separate respects .

                                                                                *****

This afternoon the sky is darkening. Rain is promised and the air feels heavy. I’ve chatted to an old friend in Cardiff; we’ve done a little gardening, a little paperwork and now the arthritic spaniel is fast asleep in the office next to us. It’s a day of disjointed moments, conflicting emotions…but yes, the bumblebee did escape unscathed.

Hope is the thing with…

Not feathers. Whatever Emily Dickinson wrote. I’m not a fan of feathers. Substitute leaves for feathers.

Under normal circumstances, we’d be hosting weddings right now. But circumstances aren’t normal. Spring weddings have been postponed, some to later in the year and others to next year. It’s not possible to predict how and when we’ll be released from lockdown, what will happen with the social distancing rules, when there’ll be a vaccine…

‘To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.’ Audrey Hepburn said that. To plan a wedding is also to believe in tomorrow, in the future. Leaving aside arranged marriages and dynastic couplings,  a wedding is about stating in front of witnesses, whether that’s just one celebrant, (as was the case here in January), or two registrars and two hundred guests, that you love each other and want a shared future.

A wedding is – stripped to its core – about saying it aloud, about intention and about hope.

There’s a lot of gardening going on right now, from repotting a single houseplant to digging new vegetable beds and to larger polytunnel and greenhouse projects. A lot of this is motivated by staying in and keeping busy, enjoying fresh air and exercise, and some of this is inspired by a wish to be less dependent on the vagaries of supply, to control one’s destiny one leek at a time. But however ungreenfingered you are, there’s a primal human element to this too. Reconnecting with the earth, and doing something positive for the future.

One day, not too far into the future, we’ll be able to hold the weddings of the couples whose plans have been put on hold. In the meantime, maybe some of them are growing things too.

Sweet serendipity, a kind of medicine

It was my daughter’s birthday on Thursday. Her daytime festivities comprised a walk and a picnic. In late afternoon we all came together to drink tea and squash and sing ‘Happy Birthday’. All eleven of us fellow inmates gathered on what we call the terrace, but which is actually a west-facing paved area between the former slurry pit, (aka the walled garden), and a converted farm building, (now biomass boiler shed number one).

As is customary at these events, lockdown or no, there was something sweet to put the candles in. But instead of cake, my daughter had chosen to celebrate with Bakewell tart. The two Bakewell tarts made for the occasion were indeed baked well. They were things of beauty and truly delicious. Those of you familiar with the above-mentioned English delicacy will know that there is an essential jammy layer.

One of Thursday’s tarts contained orange jam; the other – red jam. We naturally enquired what flavours they were. ‘Fridge jam’ was the reply. They had been made from surplus, from odds-and-ends of fruit, plus, naturally, sugar. And, because they were only designed for family consumption, there was no labelling – no list of allergens or ingredients. ‘Lucky dip’ jam was the name my mother used to give her equivalent creations. Small glass jars of serendipity, providing all of us with the perfect sticky excuse to try at least one slice from each tart.

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In the previous post I mentioned a convalescence watching movies on TV with my father. Here is the poem based on my memory of those times – ‘Medicine bears’.

On wit and gin

My mother worked in nursing, apart from a few brief months as a GPO telephonist, from the age of 17 to her premature death at 50. While she worked nights, I recall watching old black-and-white films with my father. Not all were age-appropriate but, if my father had been asked to justify exposing me to such material, it would have all been about the dialogue. He admired a snappy one-liner, a withering put-down. The English-only rule was broken for Raymond Chandler and a couple of those quick-fire sparring movie partnerships from the 1930s.

More modern films left my father unimpressed. He found them banal and saccharine. World-weary cynicism was one thing,  but when it was combined with a laconic delivery – superb.

The first TV I remember was acquired, or rather made, by him when I was six, convalescing in bed for just under two months. Recuperating, trapped, I read a little but watched much more. Now, confined to home in the nationwide notgoingoutclub,  I’m forgiving myself the dip in energy levels, the short attention span. I’m letting a lot of barely average TV wash over me, except of course for the ever-present, unavoidable news. Luckily, there’s usually an evening G&T to take the edge off the relentless sadness, the vitriol of journalists, the incompetence of politicians.

And luckily too, there’s this place, and there’s family.

Night skies, failure and fridges

The fridge is full, jam-packed to bursting, from the bottom two salad drawers to the top shelf, with tomatoes, and there are more puzzling things I can’t even describe. For the first few seconds I’m not sure if I’m sleeping, recalling fragments of dreams or even where I actually am. This has happened a lot in the last few lockdown weeks.

The fridge in question is the small old one which works. It is totally lacking in tomatoes.

It seems like the edges of sleep, dreams and being awake have blurred a little. I’m not getting any assistance from the fancy watch I was bought for my birthday – my laziness really. I’ve mastered the basics of how many steps a day and how my heart-rate fluctuates, but the sleep analysis part leaves me cold, confused, with cramp in my left foot and half the duvet missing. The fancy watch, in broad terms, seems to be all about circles, completing them and then colouring them in; it beeps happily when either of these is achieved.

Apparently, my differing sleep patterns have been noticed also by the husband; I am regularly found face down planted in the bed. And this has never happened before.

Astronomically speaking, the week thus far has been an unmitigated disaster. Despite two attempts of wrapping up warm and gazing attentively and patiently up at the night sky, the results have been failure. Nothing at all. We were hoping to spot either Lyrid meteor showers or satellite trains launched by a megalomaniac billionaire. Nothing, except a spectacularly bright Venus and close observation of space-sharing cat politics – Miss Baxter and Oliver.

But in the afternoon, there was good conversation with old friends, a slowworm discovery on our walk, and an amusingly slow amble with the donkeys, gathering mouthfuls of herb Robert, of dandelions and of willow on their unhurried stableward way.

The poem below is from a very slightly more successful stargazing night – it’s in ‘Cardiff Bay Lunch’.

 

 

 

 

Don’t mention the flour shortage

For a cat in lockdown it’s more or less business as usual. Eating, drinking, dozing, hunting, being fussed, basking, sleeping. Repeat.

For Miss Baxter, life is pretty good. Food and water are plentiful. There is no flour shortage to furrow her brow, no compulsion to spend her days usefully, creatively or socially – facetiming, zooming and skyping. Even if she doesn’t learn a new language, upcycle an old teapot, forage and pound wild garlic pesto into pungent submission, or make the flourless cookies, (as suggested by Hugh F-W), her world will not end.

Because there are no visitors, she’s less elusive than normal. She feels no need to hide away from the noise and bustle of people arriving, leaving and just being around.

Miss Baxter is unapologetic about pleasure.

Throughout the day she follows the sun around the house, finding the warmest spot to lounge, curled up or stretched out, whisker to tail-tip. Just now she’s moved to the conservatory to lap up the full benefit of afternoon rays. The only sounds to disturb her are a few frantic flies, distant bleats and occasional snatches of half-conversations drifting in through the open windows, from the once-a-day exercisers, walkers, cyclists and a couple on horseback, making strenuous progress up the hill.

For a cat in lockdown in exceptional April weather, it’s business, more or less, as usual, but wound down, slowed down and enjoyed with pure, sensuous, feline satisfaction.

 

 

 

 

 

Epithalamium (sort of) and chocolate sticks

Writing my last post was triggered by the NHS lantern suggestion. This reminded me of August 2008 when, for the first and only time, on the evening of my son’s wedding, Chinese lanterns were lit and released from the farm. Knowing what we now know, I naturally wouldn’t do it again. Whether or not it’s legal, it wouldn’t feel right.

I wrote a poem for that wedding (but it was for the couple, not specifically the bride, so not really an epithalamium). However, this is such a lovely and unusual word that I’ve borrowed it for the title of the post! The poem was in ‘Juice of the Lemon’ and I’ve popped it in below.

A word that does occur in the poem is ‘matchmakers’. In their human form, they’ve featured in the nuptial process for centuries, and they still exist in some cultures. In their confectionery form however they were invented and named some forty years before my son’s wedding – in 1968. They were packaged in boxes, (with gold sheen and black lettering), made to a slide and shell design, similar to the way in which boxes of matches are constructed. They were tiny, a third of the length of the current chocolate sticks, with about seventy of them placed into each box. They were launched originally as a quality ‘nibble’, intended for sophisticated late 1960s adults and for special occasions, not for everyday.

What has happened in the last few weeks in my home, and in others I know about, is that the normal, the everyday and expected have all gone into a giant melting pot with the treats, the unexpected, the celebratory and the special. The future is no longer mapped out or known with any certainty, but there is pleasure and comfort in family, in friends and in the little things. And that doesn’t just mean chocolate.

 

 

Rainbows – yes, lanterns – no

Back then, we did all the research that seemed required. Our main concern was fire. We didn’t want to be responsible for a chimney or a tinder-dry meadow being set alight, or even a hay-barn. We were assured that the paper structures would drift gently downwards when the flame went out. And, should one happen to snag a branch on its descent, it would just stay there glowing until extinguished. No problem.

Our other concern was eco-friendliness – we didn’t want the carcase, the thin wire ribs to be left, littering, polluting. We wanted it all to melt away into nothingness, leaving only the memory of flight. So, those that we sourced had slender twiggy struts, with not a wire in sight. We felt safe, pleased with our sustainable alternative.

What we didn’t think of, and only heard of afterwards as these things gained in popularity, was how one in flight might be mistaken for a flare, might alert one of the rescue services, might waste someone’s precious time, resources.

But it took an image of an owl punctured and mutilated for us to realise that a paper bird, whatever its bones were made of, could still maim and kill.

So be uplifted; share the symbolism of airborne hopes, but just breathe your thanks and wishes into the night sky. No lighting of lanterns. We know better now.

The picture is of the tipi meadow lit up, but with wild flowers.

 

A trip, a poem and a theft

I seem to cross the bridge less often these days, and of course, it’s not possible at all right now. In Midsummer 2009 I drove from West Wales to Northampton in my little mini to collect a prize and to visit old friends. The prize was for the poem ‘On Meeting my Cousin’, in which the cousin is called Mark. The poem was inspired by the time my cousin Paul came to live with us when I was a child of five or six, just after we left Wales.

Looking back from the situation we’re in where an outing to the nearest little town to visit two shops and the vets for essentials becomes a brief respite from cabin fever, this solo outing to Northampton seems like an adventurous frivolity! I must have spent more on fuel than I won in prize money. I also got horribly lost, and to cap it all, the husband’s motorcycle ‘tomtom’ was pinched when I left the car to pay for fuel and chewing gum at a garage. Net loss then, chalked up to experience.

My last post was about Paul, who died last week. Here is the poem loosely based on the time when he was a significant figure in my childhood.

Just one of 699 – Paul Hugh Derek

A cousin living in Pembrokeshire has been searching online for an obituary. No obituary is there. There may not have been one written. The death was on Tuesday 14th April in Edinburgh, one of the 699 total recorded (although we know figures, and reporting of statistics, vary) in Scotland up to 15th April.

The deceased was a widower, having married, in his middle years, a woman from the Isle of Mull. He left no children. He was half-Welsh, a quarter English and a quarter Indian. He was a former translator who worked freelance from 1979, translating from French, Spanish and Italian into English.

According to a website for the translator community – there are communities on the web for everything you could possibly imagine – Paul, the deceased, specialised in the legal, financial and mechanical engineering sectors, with expertise in reports and patents. He worked for companies and agencies including Renault, Goldman Sachs and the EEC.

He was my first cousin, another cousin, and he died of Covid-19.

I hadn’t seen him for decades. The retired and retiring professional man I’m reading about is not the 19 year old who blew into and through our lives, when he had been sent on a ship from the antipodes by his exhausted mother. She had hoped my father would be able to connect with Paul, talk sense to him and ‘sort him out’. Our little nuclear family admitted defeat after a year or two of trouble. According to snatches of rumour and anecdote I heard across my early years, Paul remained restless, rootless and unsettled for years until he found his vocation, his life partner, religion (again) and somewhere which felt like home.

We were in touch occasionally. The last time with any depth or meaning was a few years ago, when he flew to Western Australia to donate a kidney to his younger sister. This was not the act of the feckless chancer I recall from childhood. Paul outlived his sister.

He was my first cousin, a man of talents and contradictions,  and he died of Covid-19.

 

Bravery reveals itself variously

My dreams have been peopled with sideshow freaks, circus acts, feats of wild bravery, shrieks and gasps, but right now, the big top has gone and it’s a grey Saturday morning. There are new sounds – distant, homogenised creature noises, and small, purposeful rustlings beside me.

Something is being constructed out of an A4 sheet of paper. Is it a plane, boat, bird – duck or swan? Is it origami practice or a rehearsal for the world napkin-folding championships, (to be held, of course, online)? I can’t guess. Turns out it’s a template for a little piece of lead needed to complete a window repair. This morning’s project, up on scaffolding.

Sweet peas are potted on. The companionless spaniel is cajoled to walk the fields just with us, his brother gone. And another bold act unfolds, live on my phone, as a cousin’s wife in the West Country shaves her head – a glorious red bob – raising money for the NHS. Heroism everywhere.

16th April – asses, loss and lemons

Yesterday marked two weeks since we lost Dougal. There is still a very large Spaniel-shaped hole in our lives but, fortunately, his brother and litter-mate seems less bewildered now.

Yesterday was also our anniversary, an oddly low-key day although, since low-key is the new normal, it shouldn’t have been surprising. The twin highlights were donkey-rustling and dessert. Donkeys are cunning. Donkeys are clever. They lull you into a false sense of confidence when you occasionally relax security measures. On one such occasion, yesterday, they took themselves off to explore greener pastures and to evade capture for the day.

Now what you don’t want is an over-indulged donkey grazing unchecked on lush new growth. You don’t want a donkey (or two) having stomach-ache, or colic, or laminitis. You also don’t want a donkey (or two) getting out into the lane and meeting traffic. At this time of lockdown however, there is almost no traffic to worry about and the two escapees seem unscathed by their adventures. They were relatively easy to catch after hours of gorging, and happy to be led home late afternoon, with no dawdling or hedgerow foraging en route.

I mentioned pudding. Having discovered a really simple vegan recipe for lemon posset back in January, the husband has made it for me many times since. Last night’s pudding surpassed superlatives. We over-indulged too!

For my daughter’s mother-in-law’s sister

For my daughter’s mother-in-law’s sister
is a splendid specimen of woman, lady
of a certain age, not old enough
to be at risk, not at leisure and so,
alas, furloughed.

For my daughter’s mother-in-law’s sister
is fine in style and substance, efficient,
proficient in many areas. No shirker. She is
a grandmother, and she keeps a flat in Hove
with a view
of the promenade.

For my daughter’s mother-in-law’s sister,
deskbound for decades, now footloose, fancy-free
but for how long? She has signed an official piece
of paper. Latter-day landgirl, she must
make ready, hold steady, join willing ranks
who’ll plug the labour gaps
this summer.

For my daughter’s mother-in-law’s sister
will be a classy fruitpicker, in eyeliner,
bright blue, in cropped white linen slacks, a panama hat,
red painted toenails, practical walking sandals.
Decrees say she is needed; she must dirty her hands
for this country’s good.

For my daughter’s mother-in-law’s sister
must go down to the fields, a trug just hung
carelessly at her elbow. No shirker,
she’s a wonderful worker. She will toil
and labour and save the day
this year’s harvest.

My daughter’s mother-in-law’s sister.

No Visitors

This Easter no cars pulled up filled with hot, tired children and pooches, with couples who’d had words about directions, with tales of nose-to-tail M4 jams. This Easter there were no visitors to greet, meet, feed, water, talk to, say farewell to.

There were no visitors.

This Easter no one came to ask for an extra key, more logs, or kindling, matches or firelighters. This Easter no one needed directions, or a restaurant booking, or a taxi. There were no visitors.

This Easter there were no recommendations sought for pubs, beaches, places to walk. This Easter no one asked for the hot tub, or an extra blanket, or BBQ coals or a plaster. There were no visitors.

This Easter the children still hunted for clues, but by themselves. This Easter the only cooking smells were our cooking smells. This Easter the only noise from children was from our children.

This Easter there was still chocolate and over-indulgence; the children feasted stickily. This Easter we were favoured with fine weather and good health.

This Easter there were no visitors.

Cheating, scandal and milking the media

We’ve just been watching ‘Quiz’, a drama based on true events – the supposed cheating , mostly in the form of strategically placed coughs, which enabled someone, a Major Ingram, to win a million pounds in a TV quiz show Over three nights the story unfolded of the build-up to the contest appearance of Major Ingram, his win and the subsequent investigation, persecution, trial and conviction of the contestant, his wife and a co-conspirator, ( a man with a tickly throat irritation).

This furore dominated the papers and TV – headlines, gossip and editorial – late in 2001 and beyond. The flames of public interest were fanned further by an ITV documentary about the scandal.

What struck me, and the husband, yesterday evening was that this story wasn’t even glimpsed on our radar at the time.  In September 2001 we were staying at the airport in Atlanta when the Twin Towers were hit. There was a brief lockdown and our return to the UK was delayed. In the following weeks and months we were totally focussed on trying to deal with the dramatic downturn in the fortunes of our little airline-related business.

Did they do it, and does it matter were questions we didn’t consider, until last night

I won’t underline any parallels but here is a poem I wrote called “12th September”.

 

On grooming…

I’m thinking I’ll be scruffier when this is over. Due to Covid-19, perhaps, the hairdressing salon in the village, (let’s call it ‘Scissors’), is closed. For ever. The cutting is not the issue. My daughter-in-law has said she’ll give me a trim, sort out my fringe before it becomes a health and safety issue – I will trade with her so no problem there. But am I going grey? For ever. Will I let myself? Or will I grasp an alternative out of the bag, a hair dye bunny out of the hat? I’d have to order it online and I’d need an accomplice.

Will I embrace purple, or is that too obvious?

I’m thinking I’ll be scruffier when this is over. There’s a suggestion, more than a suggestion of can’t- be-arsed right now. Why file my nails or pluck my brows? Who’s there to see my efforts? Why bother? I shaved my legs for the first time in weeks and thought – what’s the point? We’re banned from beaches and pools are closed. Short, summery skirts are not practical attire for breezy, brambly smallholdings. I’ll leave my lilywhite limbs unexposed. Thighs can be rediscovered another day. Or not.

I’m thinking I’ll be scruffier, contentedly scruffier, when this is over.

Faradiddle – what a firkin!

Yesterday, mid-afternoon, the incident of note was a minor explosion. It must have been about four p.m., and I didn’t actually hear it. The conservatory where I was sitting, writing lists, is across the other side of the farmyard from our little rustic bar. More of a phut than a bang then.

‘Y Bar Bach’ is of course not currently graced by punters, but the door to the bar also leads to our laundry area, so when I unlocked to take a pile of washing out of one of the two machines, I was met by an unmistakable smell – earthy and sweet. The floor was sticky, in parts treacly; the plug was absent and there was a slight dusting of scum on the top of the last plastic firkin of local beer delivered before lockdown. I wiped it, revealing the label – ‘Amber Ale, 4.0%, duty paid on 39.35 litres.’

My immediate thought was that it was gone, wasted, useless, yet another casualty of the current chaos. And then I wondered if 39 or so litres  could be poured onto the compost heap, or could I hive a little off first for some sort of smelly hair treatment? But two of the menfolk appeared and a pint glass was found to test it. ‘Absolutely fine’ said my son-in-law, who knows a thing or two about beer. ‘But it won’t keep. It’ll be spoilt within twenty-four hours.’ What a shame.

I needn’t have concerned myself. The firkin was propped on its side on the wall by the farm gate, next to a charity pot and a packet of disinfectant wipes. One-by-one the husband, son and son-in-law, plus a few locals from the hamlet, (meticulously observing hygiene and social distancing rules), turned up with bottles, jugs, flagons and buckets. Within forty-five minutes, it was emptied.

Not everything that happens in lockdown is grim. There are occasional serendipitous plusses.