In lockdown, small things become sweeter. The forty minutes of official freedom to leave one’s dwelling and wander forth into a strangely silent world has released a chorus of birdsong in clear skies unpolluted by fumes and clatter. It is a strange silence above a crazily paved path into a misty future.
Yesterday I found a path beside overgrown hawthorn bushes planted decades ago to form prickly hedges to deter cattle from straying into adjoining fields. Now overgrown, they are waiting for May to burst into a profusion of white mayflower, the precursor of summer. That symbolism was carried across the Atlantic in a boat of that name by English adventurers just over five hundred years ago.
It has a stinging scent likened by some to cat urine – memorable but not entirely pleasant. I once placed some branches of white mayflower into a deep blue vase, a visually resplendent display that I was urgently asked to remove. Its scent clouded the atmosphere.
As I pause to think, I look out of the window, dusty because the window cleaners cannot venture out, at the splendour of white chestnut ‘candles’ swaying in the breeze. There are many other truly majestic horse chestnut trees in Yorkshire, but few in Italy because they succumbed to a disease. Last summer I drove along the road that circles the walls of the Tuscan town of Montepulciano. Planted with horse chestnut trees for welcome summer shade, their leaves were crinkled brown, the trees doomed.
Since the publication of my last book, In Restoration, I determined that my next one would have a male protagonist so no one could think that I was writing about myself. I wanted to explore the life of a young male inventor, Nicholas. Now that everything is in turmoil because of the virus, I feel that the only way I can help is to get the book published as soon as possible and make a donation from its sales to the NHS coronavirus appeal. It is the only way I feel I can do something to help.
Confined now to our small back garden with the forget-me-nots running a pale blue riot under a scatter of white and purple tulips, I await the roses. The geraniums are still sulking after a long winter in the magnificent garden shed, built last year to straddle the end of the narrow garden. Neighbours thought it might become our summer bedroom, with the two windows framing a view of the minster’s towers! Instead, it houses the two dustbins and a range of tools hanging along the walls on the largest nails we could find. On the other side are three rows of shelves. They were soon crowded with gardening, car and other paraphernalia that might come in useful, all to be sorted on the next rainy day that the countryside is thirstily waiting for. Slightly dramatic decision-making may help to occupy the weeks of lockdown ahead corralled inside house and tiny garden. It is far worse for so many others in apartments with limited access to public parks. Worthy tasks lie ahead. There is not only the shed to sort out but also the loft. Let’s hope there is enough creative clutter in both places to last beyond the lockdown of our days.