I am learning solitude; I am learning it in a new way. I have always enjoyed my own company, have plenty of to-dos and projects to occupy my time – books, more books, gardening, walking, yoga, day dreaming, writing (if the head is in gear) – but this, right now, feels altogether different. This is a fusion of solitude and lonely. A not very happy cocktail. It isn’t often I feel lonely, in fact it is quite rare. I’ve even found myself wondering about the idea of a new partner – hours of stimulating chit chatter, comfort in another’s arms – but no, that’s not it, that is certainly not the answer, and for all the wrong, wobbly reasons. I am just a little socially starved. That is all. And it’s temporary. I don’t need the extra demands of an intimate other right now – it is currently enough remembering to feed the cat; and when she is away at her father’s (and more so, during this lock down), I can talk to a furry creature, that unlike a well worn beau, doesn’t criticise or answer back.
I miss the good mornings and how-are-you’s at the school gate. I miss the hugs and making plans; a movie at the flicks, a theatre performance, a trip to a museum. I simply miss the familiar, even the mad, irritable dash to her swimming lesson on a Thursday afternoon. But really, this is only a small concession – I have a roof over my head, a fridge full of food, my garden, her, and thankfully my health, and toilet roll. I did get sick towards the end of March though. I had a sore throat, chills, achy joints, a tide of tiredness that kept coming and going, pulled by the moon; and my sense of taste and smell went a little wrong, sort of disappeared; I couldn’t smell baked beans, or taste the lemon in my battered fish. It lasted about ten days. Did I have the thing? Who knows, and does it really matter? Perhaps it was a practice run for a second wave.
But I am paying more attention to the silence during this very long day, all the sounds that fill it; the black bird’s chirpy, chiripy song, the rare hum of an overhead plane, the community clapping at 8pm. The next-door -but-one-neighbour’s huffing and puffing to his HIIT routine. The children scraping the pavement with chalk flowers and hop scotch squares. The thrumming of rain on the roof tiles. The heavy pad of my feet as I run. Lawn mowers. The man unloading the Tesco van. The productive bustle of ants in the grass, a sort of crackling sound, like something cooking. Dogs barking…
January and February seem like a blurry watercolour. I now refer to this period as the before. It was a mild one though; shoots through the soil, daffodils way too early, the absence of the mob of starlings in my neighbours tree, their chilly electric cackle. And it was wet and very, very blowy; a storm every weekend in February. And while the rain fell horizontally in the gales, like sheets of glass, I got to grips with put-it-together furniture – I’m not so great with nuts and screws – but some how I did it (I admit to fixing the chair legs on back to front); my garden cabin now a warm, welcoming space for my work, replete with chairs (legs currently on the right way round) and shelves and lights that actually function, that look like the product in the assembly leaflet.
Fortunately I am better with vegetables than a hammer or a spirit level, and there were a few winter warmer favourites in my kitchen this year; coconut dahl, sweet corn chowder and among the other soups I tried; cauliflower, almond and turmeric, and sweet potato, butterbean and smoked paprika. Now the days are longer and warmer, I have been rather partial to recipes from The Green Roasting Tin: roasted cherry tomatoes and bay orzo, and beetroot and chickpea curry.
I also cleared out my loft, removed all the no longer needed stuff. A lot of it was simply packing material: card board boxes within card board boxes and bubblewrap, bags stuffed within bags, and lots of small rusting electrical items; a fan, a heater, a damp electric blanket. I rediscovered lots of long forgotten items from my wedding; the deep burgundy shoes, the hair clips that fastened my bun, a pearl bracelet and matching choker. I have kept them for her, proof that she was brought into this world with love.
…and at the end of January I celebrated two big birthdays; my best friend’s 50th (we went to see a contemporary ballet performance set to dark techno and hypnotic visuals), and she turned double-digits, and another trip to the theatre ( a local drama group’s performance of Oliver Twist), a spa party – cucumber over the eyes and crimped hair – with a gaggle of her friends, and followed by a rowdy sleep over with a her favourite two chums. Mummy, can you give us some privacy. Mummy, can we have some more popcorn (please). Mummy, can we stay up till eleven. She feels closer to thirteen than ten. It’s no longer cool being walked to school by mum. She often strides ahead of me, but there are still those mornings when she will hold my hand, scooter along beside me, chat passionately about saving the planet, or complain about a spelling test.
I began writing this rambling post weeks ago, and since then so much has changed. The candy floss blossom, once skewered on branches, has fallen and faded to dust, as too have the for-get-me-nots and bluebells. It’s hard to believe that soon the light will be gradually waning again. Such sobering and unknown times these last few months. The juggle of work and home schooling continues. Will she go back to school in September? Will the restaurants reopen? Will I get to celebrate (selfishly) my 50th birthday?… it’s a wait and see, a future (I hope) of more kindness to neighbours, community first, as well as face masks and soaped hands and conversations six feet apart. Probably like you, I know people who have lost (and so many tragic losses, it’s so very hard to comprehend), and I am very grateful for my life, that I still get to wake up to bird song, the warm promise of a summer’s day, the cat poking me in the eye… And no longer so immersed in solitude; I have been for a few walks and bike rides with friends (one at a time), can now have a cuppa and a good natter in my back garden (talking to myself or with friends and thankfully, family), can even drive hundreds of miles to test my shortsightedness (thank you senior Tory aide)… But seriously the most important thing will be to hear each others stories again.