Aunt Jane

My cousin Paul died of C-19 a month ago. His mother, Ruby Valerie Jane, my father’s older sister, was a favourite of mine. She was intelligent, rebellious, accomplished, a successful businesswoman and more than a little bit mysterious. Later in life, she painted, researched her mother’s family tree and was, apparently, a champion Scrabble player.

In her youth she was beautiful, an exotic-looking flower blooming in West Wales. There are conflicting family stories about her private life. I wrote this a few years ago about her and found it again recently. Some of it may be true. Or very nearly.

Aunt Jane

Guests at a wedding on a chilly March day, he stands behind her, leaning ever so slightly over her, head and shoulders and half a chest taller – a long, dark, solemn man with a lean-jawed face gazing at the photographer in the distance. No smile on his face but a hand, broad and bony, is resting on her shoulder, the spread of his fingers claiming  all and more of the space between the edge of the velvet collar and the seam at the top of her sleeve. Mine, he says, and aren’t I the lucky one?

The coat is fitted neatly to an obviously neat waist, fastened by a single oversized button. Dark shoes with rounded toes, their platform heels just visible. Gloved hands clutching the handle of a small bag: a hat set at a jaunty angle, perched on formal and elaborate curls. And her eyes are looking at nothing. Even from the distance of over half a century, they’re shiny, dark and unfathomable.

I know now that she married him soon after, that they emigrated to Australia  with her three almond-eyed children. Back home, he, her second husband, was seldom mentioned. She moved to Auckland, then back to Western Australia, was mentioned – the grown-ups whispered – in some scandal or other, and moved on again, this time shedding each one of my cousins in a different establishment – boarding school, art college, university – in different countries across the southern hemisphere.

When she returned, briefly, to the country of her birth, she had miraculously acquired money and respectability, along with an ampler girth and a lavender-coloured chignon. This was when I came to know and love her. Aunt Jane’s conversation oozed humour, a certain worldly, pragmatic wisdom, and common-sense. She was a small, powerful woman who was not to be trifled with!

Earth, dust and the memory of ghosts

Earth, sand, mud – what’s not to like if you’re a young child? My daughter and son-in-law have just made their two children a mud kitchen for their newly created garden. There’s great excitement about this. A family friend left a box on their doorstep containing pots, pans and kitchen equipment she no longer needed. So the project is completed and ready for play.

One of the donkeys likes to roll anywhere there’s a loose surface – earth, sand, concrete dust. Her morning routine is two rolls in the farmyard. Down to the ground, onto her back, from there to her left side and then up onto her hooves again, with some effort. Now we have no need to keep the camping area donkey-free, the ladies have the run of the whole field. Over the last couple of weeks, Honey has made herself a grassless, dusty, shallow indentation, an earth bath, in the middle of the flat camping ground. She can now complete her ablutions there. Like Baloo the bear, she’s found her perfect place to scratch.

Earth clings beneath my nails. Over the last eight weeks or so, it’s become difficult to keep my hands properly clean, keyboard clean. My excuse for not wearing gardening gloves is that adult ones are just too big for me.


If there are ghosts here, we’ve not yet met them. Or they’re extremely benign spirits, just minding their own business. We had no ghostly encounters in the last house either. But in the house before (two houses ago), where I planted that pittosporum, there were definitely presences. We all felt something.

When we left that house late in 2002, I planted, (or buried), a  glass bottle and this is the poem I wrote about it.

Kitchen comments and weather wishes

As far as culinary success goes, the last couple of days have been mixed. There was fabulous pizza on Saturday evening – take-out again – but that was created by my son-in-law, with my daughter assisting. No, I meant personally. Me. Moi.

My new creation on Saturday was radish greens pesto. Using the leaves on the top of some polytunnel radishes and substituting sunflower seeds for nuts. Absolutely delicious.

The cornflake flapjack experiment today was not a triumph. The plan was to make something simple and sweet to be enjoyed by all ages. And not to waste anything…even if the cornflakes were slightly soggy. And gluten-free. I’d also run out of cupcake cases, so I pressed the mixture, flapjack-style, into a square cake tin. And refrigerated it. Sadly, what went into the fridge as a gooey mess came out of the fridge as a slightly colder gooey mess. No suggestion of setting.

But it’s not all about looks, or even texture. We’ve been happily using fingers to scoop up the stickiness.


Despite the breeze, when we brought the donkeys in tonight, the air was heavy, slightly sticky. The sky was all shades of grey, even bruised grey-purple to the northwest. The right gatepost of the field had rotted away at the bottom. It must have just collapsed today. We felt extremely lucky that the donks hadn’t discovered it, and gone roaming.

May and July are usually are our busiest wedding months. Under normal circumstances, I’d be watching the sky, comparing forecasts and silently willing the weather to hold. or to turn, by the morning of the next wedding. Despite our location – in the west, in the UK – many guests seem to hold us personally responsible for ensuring good weather for their festivities. I blame Pinterest and Instagram.

This desire not to disappoint, meteorologically speaking, weighs heavily on me for the whole season. But, tonight, what we need, what we really need, is a clearing of the air. An absolute downpour.


Three pet sheep and a long Latin name

On Saturday, we moved our pet sheep down from the fields by the bike park to the little paddock opposite the stable. Where they were before they had access to far too much grass. We were concerned for their health. Also, the oldest of them, Blackberry, has recurring foot issues and we wanted to be able to keep an eye on her.

Getting them down to the farmyard was an interesting operation, facilitated mostly by shaking a bucket of sheep nuts. We were also assisted by three small herders, two six-year-olds and a three- year-old. We are now re-familiarising ourselves with how vocal the sheep are.

Over the last few days, bird noise has intensified, but the air has become much clearer of ovine bleating and calling, (from the fields of neighbouring farmers and smallholders). Our three – Blackberry, Gwyneth and Gwilym – are filling the sheep noise vacuum.

The sheep paddock is also close to the new flower bed and to the tyres where we’ve planted seed potatoes. The potatoes, so far, are not doing very well, but I have hopes for the little shrub we planted just pre-lockdown. I’ve always loved any flowers, plants or trees with variegated leaves. Pittosporum tenuifolium variegatum. I don’t know if it has a non-Latin name. We had one before, two houses ago, and it was an absolute corker.

There were lots of odd things about that house. It was beautiful but in the wrong place. It sat awkwardly in a garden which had had two chunks bitten out of it in the name of property development. We planted the pittosporum just after moving in. In the nine years we lived there, it flourished. It grew from a tiny plant to a huge, healthy specimen over eight or nine feet tall. I’m hopeful about this one…

Slow-mo and speedwell.

Sleep and dreams are disturbed and strange. Energy plummeted, then has stayed low for days. I am not alone; we are not alone – in experiencing odd, conflicting symptoms and emotions. So many I know seem to have hit the lockdown wall in the last week.

A friend says – ‘I almost cried yesterday. My toothbrush was taking too long to charge. I felt exhausted waiting for it: the tears were just there, ready, willing me to let go.’

And from another  – ‘I’m not even going to try to teach any more. I’m a parent, not a teacher. Juggling classroom, kitchen and office  has pushed us to the edge. I want our relationship back. Home-school can wait.’

A third friend tells me she’s given up the news for a fortnight now. TV. Radio. The ever-present phone. She’s given it up. She’s at saturation point. There’s nothing she wants to watch or read or hear. She’s full of stuff, sounds, images, information and misinformation – not sad or anxious, just overloaded.

Meanwhile witch-doctors, purveyors of webinars, gurus and influencers assault our senses. We are urged both to enjoy the slow-mo, to be kind to ourselves but at the same time to be prepared, to get in training for the cut-throat competition on the other side of all of this.

I’m not keeping a gratitude diary or forcing myself to look for any end-of-tunnel lights. When I step away, I’m cheered by a small story about the hoopoe blown off course. And by the sight of bright blue speedwell sprinkled in the hedges.

Pelargoniums and a teddy named Baby

Turns out my son had rescued it. It was on one of the sites where he and his team are building a bike track. They rescued the bedraggled teddy and put it into a digger cab as a mascot. A scruffy mascot which had seen better days. When the site was closed (due to the virus), the bear came back here with all the heavy machinery. It moved from floor to pallet to wall to floor again, too dirty and threadbare to have a small human owner.

At some point in the last week, the elderly spaniel picked up the bear and claimed it, the first toy he’s been near in over ten years. ‘Baby’ now goes with him everywhere, sleeping, dozing, waking. Sometimes we have to take it away from his mouth in order to coax him to eat something. There is smelly comfort there and it’s touching to watch. But, with or without Baby, we are very conscious that the dog is not doing well.

Today was a mostly office-bound day, the furlough payroll again, then moving accommodation bookings made before the lockdown extension to later in the summer, this winter and next spring. These may be the final adjustments, or we may need to change bookings again. No one knows.

I expected to greet today with some clarity and with a plan for the next couple of months, but I didn’t. The feeling of wading through lumpy porridge persisted until late afternoon when we went out. The destination was a bench at the front of a bungalow up the lane. There a nimble 90-year-old is selling pink and white pelargoniums. I was given one of these by my daughter-in-law last week. I bought three more for the conservatory.

The wind has dropped now and it’s going to be a warm evening. Spaniel is fast asleep with his Baby.   

Spaniel and Baby
Spaniel and Baby

Paper aeroplanes and a concert (or two)

The children had made and coloured in a flag. We brought plates of food. I am surrounded by people who bake often and well, so I’d got out of the habit of baking. But yesterday afternoon I made a passable chocolate cake. The girls wore party clothes and all four kids flew paper aeroplanes in the garden. We had tea and G&Ts.

Our poor spaniel is suffering so no walk last night, or tonight. After putting the donkeys to bed and clearing up the worst of the chaos, we watched some of the VE Day coverage, including Katherine Jenkins. Her dresses were extraordinary.

I think it was the summer of 2007 – definitely no later than that – when I went with the husband and his father to see Katherine Jenkins live outdoors in Aberglasney Gardens. My father-in-law had all her CDs and it was planned as a special treat for him. Because he was in a wheelchair, we were led to the front row. He had an aisle place and we sat next to him. He knew every number, from wartime classics to arias and he either hummed or sang along to all of it. People shifted in their seats and shushed disapprovingly in a very British way. We were embarrassed but my father-in-law didn’t care. Or was blissfully unaware. He was having a ball.

Looking back I think – good for him! He caught shingles not long afterwards, and never fully recovered.

Today, after the First Minister’s announcement, I blocked out booking calendars for another three weeks. Worries nibbled around the edges of my thoughts but I pushed them away. No visitors for a while yet. Don’t know where, don’t know when…

I want to make a giraffe’s head

The donks look awful right now. Their coats are between seasons, and they don’t shed prettily. Twice a year, there’s about a month when they appear unkempt and unloved.

They’ve rediscovered the last dandelions as a tasty snack to nibble on their way out to the field. Herb robert and cow parsley are considered delicacies too, but fat hen is out of favour. They know what they like. Docks of course are a big no, and they avoid most wild flowers with precision. But we have to distract them,( as you would a determined toddler), from eating  the oxeye daisies and the willow hedge.

Do most children still know about dandelion clocks, buttercups under the chin – ‘do you like butter’ and making daisy chains? I hope so.

The youngest ones’ mum is feeling better, on the mend anyway. She is enthused by a new project, constructing a giraffe’s head which will hang on the end wall of their cottage. For decoration.

‘Like some people have reindeers on their wall,’ her six-year-old explained to me helpfully. So, while we ladies were using the cottage on the back of the farmhouse as a hair salon yesterday afternoon, the children were collecting oddments of chicken wire for the sculpture.

My daughter-in-law gave both me and my daughter a trim. I can now see out of my fringe and while I don’t feel exactly like a new woman, I feel like less of an old one. We ate cakes again and the conversation moved from giraffes to incubating chicks to the easing of lockdown – the hows, whens and whats.

We’re planning to emerge briefly from ‘quarantine chic’ later today and have tea in honour of VE Day. I’ll bring out assorted vintage tea sets after lunch. Some of us may even put a dress on.

The season advances daily. Jasmine is opening against the wall in the farmyard, joining the clematis and the potato tree ‘Glasnevin’. There’s not a strong scent yet, but yesterday evening I went right up close to inhale the perfume. Sunset was staggeringly beautiful.

Garlic and the fairies

Going to the doctor, or the dentist, is viewed currently as a last resort. Other bugs, illnesses and health problems haven’t suddenly stopped but we like to pretend they have. We’re avoiding surgeries and hospitals, unless we can’t avoid them.

Even the three-year-old knows about the ‘nasty virus’. A couple of days ago I printed out some information sheets for very young children. ‘Coronavirus’ is a character in a picture story designed to explain but not to frighten. I printed out two copies for the youngest. They’ll be able to colour them in as well.

I delivered a box of ‘Celebrations’ to their cottage earlier. Their mother isn’t well so I’m not sure what we’re celebrating, but the children will enjoy them anyway. Walking back to the farmhouse I picked a couple of hedge garlic leaves. And ate them. We’ve got chives in the grass, clusters of wild garlic by one of the yurt platforms, (sadly without its yurt right now), and hedge garlic is growing everywhere. Any passing vampire would doubtless get to the bottom of the lane, sniff the air, have a re-think and turn back. At this time of year anyway.

But the tonic fairies have visited in the night. The bottle crate is full and it’s mostly populated with empty fevertrees. Our secretive visitors may not have found a vaccine for C-19, but they could have picked up a little malaria immunity.

Last night’s supper was gin-free but the garlic was flowing. A vegan mayo experiment changed, due to the addition of ramson leaves, into a runny but tasty dipping sauce for fried potatoes. Mary Tudor famously said that when she died and was opened up, ‘Calais’ would be written on her heart. It might be ‘garlic’ written on mine, but hopefully we won’t find out.

The gift

I found the head. And the spleen. And a speck of blood under my dressing-table this morning. It was my first task, after luxuriating in a very hot bath (thank you solar).

Just around dawn she’d come in through the cat-flap in the front door, up one and a half flights of stairs and into our room. She was making that ‘notice me’ yowl. It meant one thing and one thing only. The arrival of a gift. A live one, which she then chased around our bedroom.

In a half-awake state, it is hard to find a mouse. We couldn’t see where it was, and had no idea whether it had survived or not. So we decided to catch the cat, remove her and bolt the door. There are several reasons for the bolt. I’ll return to them another time.

Cruelly expelled, Miss Baxter scratched at the carpet outside. So my second task this morning, after disposal of rodent remains, was to re-post the carpet edge under the brass strip, and to collect a small fistful of carpet fluff which had been shredded by an angry cat.

This cat is our fourth ginger and the first female. The other three went to the big feline hunting grounds far too early. Her immediate predecessor, Cooper, is buried under a juvenile walnut tree in the veggie garden. Miss Baxter is the only cat who has arrived in stages and by stealth. She was found sleeping rough in one of the barns, and she has infiltrated. Despite her appearance, she is basically just a ruffian.

It seems hard to believe that, less than two months ago, I was out of the house and into the farm office by nine every morning!

May the Fourth

Yesterday was Star Wars Day, celebrated by fans around the world. Apparently, some binge-watch the films, (set in a galaxy far far away), and exchange classic lines of dialogue with like-minded earthlings. ‘May the Fourth be with you’ is a neat little pun – an appropriate greeting for the day. I’m told it originated on May 4th 1979, when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. A full- page ad was taken out in a newspaper congratulating her – ‘May the Fourth be With You, Maggie!’

After the initial excitement of the first couple of films, I was unmoved by them. The youngish Harrison Ford had a certain swagger about him, but it was Carrie Fisher I admired. Despite the huge Princess Leia side bun hairdo, she seemed incandescently intelligent. I’ve read ‘Postcards from the Edge’ twice, (and seen the movie), and I felt very sad when she died suddenly in December 2016. A waste of a multi-talented individual, a woman of wit and wisdom, who had many more serious troubles to contend with than earmuffs.

The husband likes a bit of swash and buckle. He’s been binge-watching, not Star Wars, but The Last Kingdom. There have been four series so far, based on a series of books by the prolific Bernard Cornwell. They are set in pre-Norman Conquest ‘England’ and feature kohl-rimmed eyes (the men), much horse-riding, many battles, and some unpronounceable names riddled with vowels.

 I’ve been less gripped. I have to close my eyes and ears at the gory bits. Scenes of torture, execution, etc aren’t really my thing. But that period in history has always interested me, and the main character is quite easy on the eye.

What fascinates me though is the range of hairstyles amongst the male protagonists – from close-cropped to bowl cuts to flowing ringlets to undercuts and manbuns. Some beards are plaited and ornamented too. Complicated to maintain in those turbulent times I would have thought.

I am not usually trusted with anything sharp. My lack of prowess with a blade causes people to look away, hold their breaths. Over the weekend, the husband decided it was time for action. He took himself away to a quiet place and attacked his hairiness with ancient clippers, better suited to trimming the whiskers of a mouse. The outcome was not good – scalped in some places, mullet in others.

Yesterday evening he gave up his hat disguise. He traded a tidying up of the disaster zone for a bottle of wine. My daughter-in-law, who has many practical skills, came to the rescue armed with Babyliss for Men. The husband now has hair of the same length all over. It is bristly and a lot shorter than I’m used to. But he looks like he means business.   

On the difficulties of being green

I’m not referring to the Kermit the Frog song. There was once a TV series called ‘It’s Not Easy Being Green’,(or rather three series), set in Cornwall. It followed a family’s renovations of a 400 year old farmhouse, and their ‘green’ journey. For a while this was compulsory viewing in our household. I suppose because we were, in a smaller way, doing something similar. But with the added challenge of trying to create a viable business. And without the film crews!

One quotation from the series was – ‘I don’t want to wear a hemp shirt and hairy knickers.’ I have no idea if hairy knickers are, or have ever been, a thing. I can’t imagine anyone wanting them. But hemp shirts – yes. Some of the nicest, comfiest, most treasured items of clothing I have bought for myself or others have been made of hemp.

Trying to be green, or as green as possible, involves making a lot of mistakes. It’s not a state; it’s a  journey with many minor adjustments en route . And, like everything else here, it involves maintenance. Our two solar thermal systems, (for creating hot water), have been underperforming for a while. There’s been no time or spare headspace for the husband,( or son who lives on the farm), to tackle the complex problems. But time became available on Saturday morning, and the solar thermal systems came to the top of the ‘to do’ list.

The process – which was messy and disruptive as often seems to be the case – involved hoses, ladders, running up and down the stairs in the farmhouse and much male shouting. But after a few hours, the mood was positive. ‘We’re on a solar roll,’ said one of my menfolk.

I’d like to report that the solar thermal was indeed fixed on Saturday morning, but alas, absolute joy was fleeting. All is not quite solved yet, but, apparently, we’re going in the right direction.

Boxes – cupcakes and pizzas

Saturday May 2nd. We should have been hosting a fortieth birthday party in the Barn today – one of the many recent casualties. In the afternoon the birthday boy delivered two boxes of assorted cupcakes, four in each, for us all to share. We spoke through the open conservatory windows about how he was spending his lockdown birthday, and how he’d planned to spend it. We were touched by his lovely gesture.

The cupcake boxes were made of lightweight smooth card with a kind of rainbow band around each. We’d just been folding pizza boxes – a brief contribution to the takeaway evening – the second such event since mid-March. Making up boxes is a soothing, repetitive activity, as was also the planting of potatoes later in the afternoon.

Each potato planting pot comprised two tyres filled with earth. We put them against the fence, beyond the end of the farmyard, between the donkey stable and the double decker bus. Orla, our helper, gave each potato a name as it was placed into its ready-made hole. This was a much overdue task and a lot of the potatoes had started to look like human heads with faces and hair. Some we called ‘mad scientists’. One in particular bore more than a passing resemblance to Groucho Marx.

A close friend’s daughter has encouraged her to learn to knit. My friend’s been following an online tutorial and can now do both plain and purl stitches. She’s finding it to be relaxing, almost meditative. And of course it helps to pass the time. The multi-coloured scarf she’s knitting could prove to be a record-breaker, as she’s not yet learned how to cast off.

World is crazier and more of it

Last night, when I went outside to clap – in my case, pan lid percussion – it sounded like I was clapping into silence. If there was applause down in the village, it was swallowed up by the damp air before it reached here.

Captain Tom, now promoted to Colonel, was one hundred yesterday. Amongst all the greetings, honours, cards and gifts, there was a flypast his home – a spitfire and a hurricane I think. No birthdays here, but, late morning, a large grey metal bird flew low over the farmhouse, the vegetable garden, the fields. It must have been on a training exercise of some sort, and seemed oddly out of place .

May Day’s almost over. No maypole. No morris dancing. No bonfire. The lane’s been even quieter today, a winter Sunday afternoon kind of stillness. We walked through the woods and wet fields this afternoon with the arthritic spaniel, the first time in three days. He had seemed too uncomfortable to take out before so we’d just let him rest, chill out. Three days is a long growing time at the moment. Grass, brambles, wild flowers, everything has put on a huge spurt. The May is only just starting to blossom. Dandelions are becoming clocks, but daisies and bluebells are co-existing happily. In the garden we have cornflowers and Canterbury bells, and all the things we don’t want as well.

The news confuses and disturbs me. We all need our symbols, our emblems of hope, our Captain Toms. Perhaps tomorrow, when we eat pizza, it may feel like the beginning of Summer.

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.

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.

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.

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.