Solvitur ambulando - It is solved by walking
8th February – a heavy dusting. By Maxim Griffin
Gulls are coming in low against the squalls – blizzards over the night – red branches, black branches – the sky is heavy, lumbering on. Lincolnshire always looks like a Bruegel in these February blasts. Drifts on the barrows, raw earth, woods with a reputation – figures trudge through, hunched, with dogs. I’d be out there too, but, for reasons, my family and I are in the thick of a fortnight or more’s isolation.
I’m trudging through remembered landscapes, gliding over memories – the Wolds, the outmarsh, Saltfleet – pillbox to pillbox – we are bunkering down. Outside of town is a clump of trees called Saturday Pits. In plague years the sick would be sent there to sweat it out or get skeletal – in this plague year we have Netflix, kimchi flavoured noodles and friends who bring paracetamol and dog biscuits.
The boys are out in the back garden – half an inch of settled snow is enough to start a fight – a yellow skip is being delivered up to the allotments, spraying slush over fences. We’ve settled into a routine: scholastic Zoom meetings, admin and work at the drawing desk – one of the boys grew dangerous looking blue crystals from a kit his uncle sent, another son is busy creating tiny geographies for little soldiers and there is always Minecraft. Endless, rolling Minecraft.
I’ve been looking after people and knapping flint after dark – I’ve exhausted my supply but made a couple of okay arrowheads. Probably won’t be until summer before I can get to where the flint rises best around here. A couple of weeks back I had to go to Lincoln for the vaccine – even crossing the threshold of Wragby felt taboo – there’s a great wheel of flint I stashed in nettles at Goltho years back – could have stopped to pick it up – there’s a couple of hand axes waiting to be released from those nodes.
Worth noting that having the vaccine is no bother – you get tea and biscuits and a sticker afterwards.
Lunch is important – there are tasks and choices – a bit of input – ham? Cheese? Grated or sliced? Squares or triangles? Pickle? A crescent of crisps? There are only two bags left so I’ll share them out pub style – a few slices of apple and a flapjack after.
Cups of tea, housework – the kitchen floor is always filthy despite being mopped three times a day – all those boots and paw prints – the garden is a scale replica of Agincourt. The storms of January still sit on the shallow top soil – if you dig down a foot you hit Victorian foundations of a row of houses that stood here. I find bits of pottery sometimes – china and earthenware – the familiar blue and white delicacies of the Willow pattern. We find other things too – I’ve a quick eye – gravel from next down leaks under the fence and through a stroke of luck every fistful reveals the tracks and traces of prehistoric sea life – bivalves and coral debris from when all this was Pangea.
Airy, wet flurries fall all afternoon – not settling properly, just teasing substance – floating in coils – like Ridley Scott is piping it in, like that first 20 minutes of Kingdom of Heaven. “I once fought for two days with an arrow in my testicle.” I know the feeling mate. I’m trying to show the lads some films in the afternoon – stuff they won’t have seen – 1933 King Kong on the iPlayer – ace – we had a showing of Master and Commander the other day too – the boys like ships.
The sky is clearing, still a grey murk towards the Wolds – the vapour trail of a jetliner headed west – we look it up on the flight radar site – huh – from Uzbekistan – lowing winter sun fades into an oncoming squall of snow.
Drawing hills I cannot reach – places I know with my feet – four winters ago, I warmed a tin of Irish stew in the shelter of a rhododendron whilst blizzards cut the territory to ribbons – it was the most delicious meal.
A squabble has broken out – slights and injustices – some complication over a clause of Minecraft – I dish out judgement and tasks – empty the dishwasher, chop the onions, cool it. I’ve told the lads to imagine we are polar explorers waiting out the winter – imagine this is Framheim or the Endurance – imagine we are with Franklin and The Terror – what’s for tea? Spag Bol.
I can hear the freezing slush under the footfall outside – it’ll be like an ice rink later – that Ridley Scott snow again flickering through headlights – a neighbour taps on the window – leaves a carrier bag of bits and bobs on the doorstep with a thumbs up – paracetamol, ibuprofen, bread, sandwich things, many crisps, milk, pop, rocket lollies.
Dark. The youngest to bed, the others pottering ambiently. The dog is twitchy. Knows what time it is. I go through the ritual – boots, collar, lead, poo bags and trudge him out to the top of the garden and back. We’ve had our once a week treat of walking to the wheelie bin. I grab a handful of kindling and fashion a tiny campfire in an old brass dish I keep for such occasions. A few minutes of crackling embers and flame – the motion of the heat doing strange things to the motion of the snow.
I settle in at my desk, clawing out ditches and dunes with black ink thick on an old brush – I cover all my old haunts – drawing lengths of Roman road, tunnels through chalk and the horizons of the Wash. I paint a vision of Mablethorpe in high summer, raging – the fossilised seabed body of Odo’s church and the shadows of a mammoth on the school playing fields.
The Weirdness is only going to get weirder – might as well buckle up – I can’t get out on foot but I can draw my way on paper – Snow again – February blasts hard against the window.
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