We look east, towards London. The veil of pollution usually draped over the capital has lifted. R has dusted off the small antique telescope and Soviet made monocular that live in a box of his father’s effects and confirmed, with these solid instruments, that, yes, Canary Wharf, over thirty miles away, is now visible.
Down by the old millrace, where I take my local walk, nine Mandarin drakes bob sociably in the shadow of a leaning ash. Just one pair of these pert, dome-headed ducks came to nest last year; flood defences, built here twenty years ago, turned the millrace into a section of the Thames. The work disrupted the Mandarin’s habitat so badly that it was said they were gone for good.
A chevron of swans passes so low that I hear air whirr through feathers. For a moment it is 1971 and my powder blue Raleigh Twenty bicycle stands upturned on our suburban, concrete drive, resting on saddle and handlebars. I oil the chain and spin the pedals, making a sound like the whirring of swan’s wings.
Returning via the steep, ancient, chalk and flint path through the woods, I stop to greet the Falling Uphill tree. Long ago, the crumbling hillside slid from under this big yew, perhaps during a storm. The tree fell back, its branches stretching uphill in a metaphor that makes me smile. Aren’t we all stumbling, but on a generally upward trajectory towards some kind of understanding? Today, the Falling Uphill tree seems to reach out; a brittle, tapering thumb sprouts from an exposed root. I take the offered hand, a perfect fit, and miss the feel of meeting new people.
Almost home, I detour slightly to join R who has clambered up the Saxon burial mound that bulges from an old churchyard a hundred metres or so from our door. I reach the top and stand beside him. We look east, towards London. The veil of pollution usually draped over the capital has lifted. R has dusted off the small antique telescope and Soviet made monocular that live in a box of his father’s effects and confirmed, with these solid instruments, that, yes, Canary Wharf, over thirty miles away, is now visible. From this place of silence and rest beneath our feet we have a clear view into the arrested heart of modern Finance.
No more bustling towards the doormat when letters drop. Instead, I approach with caution and disinfectant spray then tweezer damp envelopes into a quarantine pile, where they linger. What content could be urgent just now?
Pecks and kisses quickly exchanged as R and I pass between the kitchen, bathroom and separate Zoom meetings are filled with more tender and focussed connection now that a threat, however faint, hovers over their continuance.
I’m getting used to the absence of traffic noise from the road, and its accompanying whiff of exhaust fumes. A thin, acrid pall is usually thrown over the greenbelt during rush hour and school run. How the trees must be celebrating!
In the garden, my favourite blossom, the fat, white, waxy pear, reveals a faint scent of fresh fish. I spend too long on the internet reading about why this is good, and sexy, then return outdoors to stand, cupping the fat fragility of a dark pink cherry blossom in my palm. The cherry has a different scent but with the same underlying hint of ammonia. In less than a month these heavy droplets of colour must fall and join a browning petal carpet. A month seems longer now.
The freshly scattered daisies on our handkerchief lawn close up their petals at night, as if lowering their eyelids in sleep. I knew this happened but hadn’t paid attention until now.
While cutting tender broccoli leaves and gathering them into a waxy bouquet I wonder if we shall still be locked in for our anniversary.
R dislikes butternut squash. In the old normality we so rarely sat down to eat together that, after fifteen years, I didn’t know. What else might we learn about each other as we stay home?
I rediscover my Spanish cookery book and find that making a good tortilla is easier than I’d expected.
Eggshells have no discernable scent.
This latest basil has a hint of anise.
Every flavour is enhanced by the knowledge that it may not be available on the shelves next time.
I gather washing from the line just before supper and pause, holding dry towels to my face. I breathe in, and breathe in, and breathe in, grateful for healthy lungs and oxygen to fill them.
Owls do not always hoot. Sometimes they cry plaintively, perhaps searching for a mate.
R and I stand still and silent next to the pile of felled laurel logs; we hear the mice and voles still going about their work.
Venus shines like a little ruby tonight, keeping a safe distance from the full, pink, magnified moon.
Claire O'Brien is a prize-winning author of funny stories and fairy tales for children. She has been published by OUP, Orchard and Franklin Watts. Claire also writes about Buddhism and mid-life (Mudpiebooks). Currently, she is working on audio fairy tales and a fantasy novel for 7-12 years inspired by the fairy tales of Madame d'Aulnoy. She Tweets at @ClaireOBriennow and her website is https://www.claireobrien.co.uk