May 12th 2020

May 12th – the 83rd anniversary of the coronation of George VI and Queen Elizabeth.  My mother recalled being part of a pageant that day in the village they lived near in Sussex and I remember her telling me that she was dressed up in a pair of green silk breeches and a silk coat, reminiscent of a Gainsborough portrait.  Her sisters were part of it too, there being four of them.  My mother died in August last year and I am glad she is not alive to witness what we are living through now in 2020.  It would have been hard for her, living alone and not in good health, to be expected at 94, but nonetheless it would have probably propelled a move in to a nursing home and then where would we, and she, be?

So yesterday I thought of her a lot and her memories, as I began thinking of how to record my own for the day.  It was a day of beautiful weather in Wiltshire, where I live in Bradford on Avon.  Sometimes it can be cruelly cold in the middle of May – I have been reading about the Ice Saints of May who can strike fear into the heart of any grower, gardener or farmer at this time of year, but for us yesterday it was warm and sunny.  A blessing as we are allowed out for a short time each day to exercise and I had a wonderful walk at Great Chalfield in the fields where until recently ewes and their lambs were grazing.  The lambs are teenagers now and they have been moved on to other grazing but I could hear them making a big din somewhere around the estate.

If you were unaware of the global situation and had just read my first two paragraphs, you could be forgiven for wondering what was happening – what were they living through? Well, it is a world-wide pandemic of a virus known as coronavirus or Covid-19, which has brought everyday life to a standstill and radically changed the way we live, at least for now.  We have had to stay at home for the past seven weeks with a lot of restrictions, too many to go into here but gradually these are being lifted in the hopes that the virus is past its peak.  It is a killer and we understand the need to stay safe and make sure the health service is not overwhelmed but troubles lie ahead, the economy having been brought to an abrupt standstill at the end of March in the interests of containing the virus.  Difficult not to think of these things, even on a warm May day and while I was walking alone I did.

I live alone for most of the week as my husband works away from home and since the crisis began nothing has changed on that front.  So yesterday I woke at about 6am, which I love as I love the early morning and the fresh possibilities it brings of the day ahead. A cup of tea and a read for about an hour of The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel – the book of the moment as it was published just as we went into lockdown and is such a huge tome, that all of us reading it can probably count just holding it as part of our government-mandated exercise for the day.   I used to listen to the Today programme on Radio 4 but no longer, driven away by its relentless negative tone.  So on we go, and what I do when I do get up is go for a walk for an hour.  Up the hill and into the countryside, just enjoying the peace and swapping distanced greetings with the occasional other walker, cyclist or horse-rider who use the same route.

Breakfast and then the morning can morph quite quickly into lunch and what to have, the odd household chore being done and wondering how to fill the afternoon, if there is no supermarket trip to undertake (all we are currently allowed).  Yesterday I had mushrooms on toast.  People write of how their days are filled with Zoom calls and, for example, my own family in the next village is busy home schooling and looking after three children under six.  My own days are not filled with Zoom or homeschooling or working from home, apart from looking after the home, but still the restrictions are tough and tedious.  

Lunch is followed by another walk, coming home from picking up a small package from Waitrose in Melksham.  A happy surprise is passing my family – also out for a walk, with scooters and bicycles in tow and the baby in a backpack.  We are so lucky to live close to them and it is special to bump into them (not literally as we keep apart) in these times of not being able to freely see them.  Benjy is pointing at everything from his elevated position in his backpack and the girls chat through the car window, eager as ever to recount what has happened to them, who has got a bruise, who fell over doing as cartwheel and bashed their chin.  I could listen to their bird-like chatter all day and the house, when I get home, seems even more silent than before.

The afternoon wears on and in the early evening I speak to one of my brothers who lives in Dublin and we swap news, not that there is any, and speculate on what may happen in the coming weeks.  We have been doing a weekly WhatsApp Art in Quarantine with some friends and other family and last week in honour of VE Day I recreated Laura Knight’s famous wartime picture, Ruby Loftus screwing a Breech Ring, which he said he liked a lot.

I turn to the telly in the evening, like every other night, and catch up on a Grayson Perry programme.  He is so encouraging, friendly and sympathetic and despite his glorious camp alter ego, so down to earth and it’s a really nice hour.  Supper is some concoction of chicken and noodles, which is quite nice but I do long for a decent steak or a roast chicken, which will have to wait until the weekend when the worker returns (that is, my husband)!  In bed by 10pm as ever, another chunk of Thomas Cromwell under my belt and asleep quickly after the light goes out.  

A day like so many others under lockdown, but one with some special moments and the sun too.  I think back to my mother in her green silk breeches and jacket, which must have looked wonderful against her flaming red curls and not for the first time wish I had asked her more about her life and written it all down.

Clare Travers is newly living in Bradford on Avon, after many years in Shropshire, Lincolnshire, Cambridge, Zaire Kenya and Turkey.  The places she has lived get more exotic the further one goes back.