The first daffodil

The first daffodil

The first daffodils. One is flowering and one is almost. It seems extraordinary, as the snow has only gone in the last couple of days. Green bulb shoots are evident everywhere, popping up through mulched brown leaves and grass, but not a suggestion yet of a crocus or a snowdrop appearing.

And I posted a card – to the parents of a New Year’s Day new baby boy. My daughter-in-law has just come round to borrow my fairy cake tin for a home schooling maths lesson. My nephew has challenged the husband to Zoom chess at the weekend.

It’s getting dark and Jenny’s now curled up in her basket by the radiator. We all got muddy on our walk this afternoon and, once again I proved to myself, as I squelched and slid through mud and leaves, that I’m no mountain goat. Unlike the Capricornian husband.

Post  festive season viewing is very lean. We watched ‘Traces’ – ok but nothing special, gave up on ‘The Great’, about Catherine the Great, after two episodes – (disappointingly daft), and whiled away an hour or two with Tom Hanks in ‘Cast Away’. Somehow I missed that one the first time round. Mildly diverting but forgettable were the biopic ‘I am Woman’ about the life of Helen Reddy, about whom I knew absolutely zilch, and a silly 2010 crime caper with a good cast, including Bill Nighy and Emily Blunt – ‘Wild Target’.

What was more interesting than the two latter films was the google and Wikipedia fun afterwards, finding out more about Helen Reddy, and trawling through all the famous, and infamous, Blunts. Twenty years ago, a couple would have watched a film and all the ‘I wonders’ and ‘wasn’t that the guy who was in…’ would have remained just that. A few minutes of curiosity and random speculation with no probable satisfactory solution.

It’s the time of day when what-do-you-want-to-eat discussions happen and when I dread the turning on of TV or radio to hear the evening news – with the three constants – the pandemic/vaccine rollout/latest horrendous statistics, the next chapter in the unbelievable presidency election and election aftermath and the post-Brexit delays, glitches and hiccoughs. I  dread it all but find it compulsive.

Ascot without the crowds

“This Year” Simone’s Royal Ascot ITV poem

I was asked to write a poem for the opening of this year’s Royal Ascot. Poems commissioned for TV are strange hybrids. You write them to a brief. Time, invariably brevity, is of the essence. And it’s an odd experience hearing someone else voice your work. Having said all this, it was an honour to be asked again.

Sourdough and sad tales

It was a quiet weekend, cool, grey and yes, we had rain. The real wet stuff. Which makes the lowering of water level in the new pond all the more surprising. The pond-clean sachets have finally worked. The water has cleared from the grime and slime of a week or two ago. There’s no leak, so this level drop has to be caused by evaporation. This evening we’ll hose in water, otherwise the fish will soon be paddling. Not swimming.

Yesterday afternoon, while the spaniel was dozing across the husband’s lap, our neighbour knocked on the door. To warn us about foxes. On Saturday afternoon he’d lost eight laying hens and four ducks. He thinks there must have been two predators, working together.

Many years and a house ago, we had two young rescue cats, siblings, who did this. They picked on the weakest baby bunnies in the field adjoining our garden. Sometimes they’d drag a victim in through the kitchen cat-flap – one pulling, one pushing. Clever, efficient and appalling.

The rabbits weren’t always dead, or even injured. I vividly remember watching some TV drama one evening, when a young rabbit darted out from behind the screen. Hale and hearty but startled. And hell to catch.

The spaniel was needy at the weekend. No walks, little food, much falling over. He’s still drinking and he wags his tail. Much cuddling seems to be necessary. We know that what we’re dealing with is a slow goodbye.

Lunch today majored on homemade sourdough baked by my son-in-law. I almost certainly ate too much and am now feeling it. It’s warm in the conservatory. The dog whimpered so I lifted him onto the sofa beside me. A fortnight ago I wasn’t able to do this alone.

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.

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.

Born to Race

Technically, this was before lockdown but Covid-19 was the reason this year’s Cheltenham Festival almost didn’t go ahead. I was asked to write a poem for ITV for the start of the Cheltenham Gold Cup race in 2020. The poem which was broadcast on March 13th was a lot shorter than my original but…