Solvitur ambulando – It is solved by walking
10th April 2020: Hazy, warm Good Friday – summer light. By Maxim Griffin
So. Welcome to the weirdness. It’s been a strange few weeks – I’ve been working relentlessly – nights with adults with complex sensory issues and challenging behaviours – I hardly saw the sun in March.
I return home via the supermarket. I can skip the queue outside because I’m a key worker and the supermarket has a special hour for key workers. The chap on the door ushers me in – “Morning mate, you have a good night?” I tell him it was like Stalingrad. This is our routine – strange how easily this new routine fits.
I pick up a few items for my first weekend off in six weeks. Cider, cooked meats, cheese from northern France, string, superglue, brandy – I intend to live well this weekend, like a Napoleonic general – we feast when we can. Home. Someone in the queue outside says something under her breath, drumming nitriled sausage fingers without patience on the handle of the trolley she is using to demark a boundary in rattling trolley arcs.
A haze – diffused sun. Home. Routines – wash, change, eat, sons, dog, sleep. Only a couple of hours – no shift tonight.
11am – I pull on Dutch army overalls and prepare a bucket of coffee and a bucket of marmalade. My sons are outside with my wife. They’ve been in the garden since the schools shut. I call it Gardencore.
First rule of Gardencore is that I am the archbishop of Gardencore.
Second rule of Gardencore is No Meanness (something Liam Clancy said to Bob Dylan – “No anger Bob, no envy, no meanness.”)
I plonk myself down on the plank bench I fashioned and make short work of several coffees.
The lull and ebb across the gardens and over the allotments – bird drone and bees – a chat about putting the kettle on – the young father smokes – lawnmower drone – wood pigeon, sparrow, cough – cough.
By my seat is a firepit and a stack of sticks set aside for campfires. From the nearly flowering clematis are longer staffs set with items, debris and windmills – bricolaged wands, crosiers, charms – I make them with Derek Jarman in mind and his garden of herbs and debris down at Dungeness. He wore overalls too – St Derek. I nail a hagstone to my fence for Kurt Schwitters too. My sons write proclamations on the fence in white chalk – BUM – BUMHEAD – and vague figures related to the giant of Cerne Abbas. The washing line is filled with socks, a bright quilt and my wife’s remarkable green dress.
With a limb of green sycamore I fashioned a bow for garden archery – cane arrows – we practice and refine – it’s rather powerful and sails bolts over the shed regularly – often into the potato patches beyond our border. I joke with my sons that if push comes to shove we’ll hunt long pig and have plenty of veg to roast – there is an air of benign, CBeebies Colonel Kurtz to proceedings. Good.
My youngest son toddles and chunters from slide to earthen pit, carrying watering cans to produce a muddy puddle. John likes muddy puddles. Everyone likes muddy puddles.
Elsewhere, an argument between other children – dishes are being washed in an unseen kitchen – a conversation on a landline – a siren – a stonechat, a starling, a cough – cough.
The afternoon hours amble forth – this new heavy pottering. Limited geographies – I pine slightly for the coast but busy myself in unlikely tasks – a skull shaped glass with rosemary and lavender and other, nameless yellow flowers – a kitchen table vanitas – I show my sons Dutch paintings and notice how over the fence and track the apple trees are as though Vincent Van oiled them – these are the blossom times.
The sky clears to the bright light of British Summer Time – doesn’t get dark til half eight. Come – look lads – I’ll show you magic – from the pockets of my overalls, a lens – wide as a reel of tape, handmade – my father-in-law under the instructions of Reg Spry ground this lens himself, emery cloths and other fine abrasives – to me it is as a flint hand axe – a portal to the deep past, to hold it up to the night sky is to magnify the light of dead stars whose shine is still reaching our retinas. Come lads – I can also harness the sun. A few magic words for effect – Atem – Ra – Helios – the beam is focused on a handful of tinder which erupts in flame within a few seconds. Look lads – actual magic.
Time to cook – we fashion a small fire and chuck a box of French cheese in the ashes – I look at the news – New York has it hard – Spain too – London – no signs of peaking yet – perhaps when this is published the world will be different still – one hopes.
In no time we unfold a gooey miracle of camembert – hot cheese with crusty bread and garlic. Muddy fingers and tired faces – the lads are doing well – no bickering today – good – keep an even keel – they retire to a Star War in their bedroom.
At magic hour the toddler sleeps and my wife wears the remarkable green dress. Cider – uncomplicated and efficient – I’m tired enough more of the time – this new weirdness calls for added oblivion – the backs of my hands are raw with chemical burns and soap scars. An insignificant injury in the great scheme of things.
Quiet out. Over the fences, a young father smokes – I hear a cork and plates and a radio plays The Specials and the bricks are warm still and the stars in their positions muster as darkness rises. There are no cars – many birds – owls, chiff-chaff, gull on a pebble dashed chimney, not a plane in the sky.
The news rolls in like a sea fret – numbers become abstract – more applause on the doorsteps tonight. A big swig of apples from a cold tin.
Solidarity to all – keep it tight. Remember – no anger, no envy, no meanness.