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9th May: hot summer heat, no clouds as such. By Maxim Griffin

The sunrise has aligned with my bedroom window. A fat, angry sun that shimmers and wobbles. Listen to the wood pigeons. A green, dewy morning, a haze, a ground mist – gulls low on the early thermals, drifting.

Days have no context. Days off are quite rare. Everything is vague, Sundayish – the news is an abstraction of numbers and defeats – they got it wrong. It was VE day. The bunting is still up. I saw a man with a Churchill T-shirt drink Pimm’s and Vimto from a can. A nightmarish bank holiday that lasts for weeks.

I make two pictures a day – quick, expressionist things with whatever materials I can find about the house – one in the morning, one in the evening – quite large for me, A3, shed paint, oils, Humbrol, watercolours – some are luminous, some murky – good practice, good discipline. My sons are busy with Coco Pops and Paw Patrol (a cartoon, it is dreadful, but John likes it) and I make coffee and paint.

John and I sit on the doorstep. Coffee and wood pigeons – the swifts have returned – we watch – a couple loop and reel – still no vapour trails. John wants to go out, to go to nursery, to go to the playground – he has a sense of the situation.

“After the virus?”

Yes mate – rumours are that they’ll lift the lockdown soon – ease it – seems stupid to me. Better to hold the line. Bunker down.

I strap John to my back with a kind of harness. Two sharp whistles and Banjo the dog is with us. Yes mate – get your ball. We light out to take our exercise.

At the top of the road – Union Jacked hedges and bunting – the bunting is identical over four houses, hand-drawn rainbows, pages cut from newspapers – LEST WE FORGET etc, CLAP OUR KEYWORKERS etc, in the gutters today a disposable face mask, a plastic cup. A privet hedge explodes with tiny birds that dash onto the road and dash back. At the junction of the road and the footpath, two boys were killed by a train in 1864.

Along the perimeters and boundaries that grow uncut – Queen Anne’s lace, young nettle, dandelion, dock, ramson, ground ivy, violets, reeds, grasses. I pass John two dock leaves – he flaps them – dog goes forth as I pelt a tennis ball across the field – over the way another person with a dog – we wave like scarecrows and our dogs ignore the etiquette of social distancing in a tumble of sniffs and wags. Good dogs.

The seeds of grass disperse as dogs plunder through them. In the ditch beyond is a gift box of underwear and laced things from golden tissue paper. It was not there yesterday. Huh.

Warmer now – through the green burr and long shadows the coo of wood pigeons intensifies – through neat semi-detached red bricks with white wood trim and gardens that match – that same bunting again – was there an offer on? I count a number of St George’s flags, several Union ones and a rogue tricolour.

John is excited. John is excited because he knows a playground comes next –

No mate –

“After the virus?”

Yes mate –

The primary piping of climbing frames and slides is ribboned with snapped hazard tape – laminated sign – CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE – STAY SAFE.

From here a track to the main road – a small supermarket outside which four people queue.

Up through the pebble dashed houses – fewer flags, more rainbows – more toys in gardens, more slides and front lawn barbeques. At a gate a dog barks –

Yes mate, good boy.

Beyond a tumbling hawthorn, the cemetery. Through iron railing and nettles the older section overgrows beautifully – meadow like, dandelions and the first poppies creep up through weather greened marble and sandstone – pillars and angels – a magpie on a cross – another on a gothic arch – two for joy – I’ll take that.

We’d go in but we’ve got the dog and the groundskeeper is a mate of mine – another time John – we’ll go and say Hi to my mum and dad – find that fella who fought in the Indian wars – from the crest of the burial land you can see the ships off east.

We haven’t been to the sea for a while, have we John?

Downhill – through town – what day even is it? I think it’s Saturday – must be – I’m working tonight. The butcher is opening and I can smell pies. Fresh, hot pies. Food prepared by other people seems exotic and luxurious.

Those blue nitrile gloves again – in gutters – the etiquette of social distancing – step off the pavement, step on – squeeze into doorway – nod, thank etc – some folk haven’t got the steps yet, haven’t learned the dance.

John wants to see the river – see some ducks. We head around the back of town, along Charles Street – no ducks so Banjo piles in the river – uphill – passed allotments – coming on nicely – old fellas already hoeing and chuntering – there’s a good view across town from here – you can see the spire, the cemetery, out to the bypass, Hubbard’s Hills and Fisher’s Hill – this is the territory for now.

Back down to the river at a different point – behind the grounds of the hotel where the railway went – tumbling blossom from an apple tree on a Victorian rail bridge now grassed over. We stand on the stonework and spy a single trout downstream – cow parsley and rhubarb – the branch of an ash tree has fallen, a blue rope swing has been strung up.

Along a little – a different bridge – concrete, lower – not far from home – a black cat through privet – a wood pigeon purrs on top of a blue minibus – blue nitrile gloves.

Home. Unbuckle John. Get Banjo his food. Kettle on.

More swifts, swirling, looping, working their reels, warming down from the long flight from Africa.

John wants to dig in his hole in the garden.

Yes mate.

Comments Add your thoughts.

  1. Joyce Muirhead June 25, 2020

    Whenever I finish reading anything written by Maxim Griffin I have to blink and look around and refix my bearings and realise I am not walking around with my son on my back and my dog at my heel, so immersed do I become in his world. 

    I do hope his wanderings and musings during this epidemic will be published in book form sometime soon - a 2020 plague diary.

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