This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.
The gabion baskets burst with wildflowers. I don’t know if seeds were dropped into the baskets deliberately, or if they have taken the opportunity to root in the cracks. As yet, they are mostly green. But there are highlights of yellow, pink and a touch of red. So many varieties of flower, some in quantity, some no more than a sprig: coltsfoot, sow thistle and nipplewort, valerian, hairy violet and scarlet pimpernel; ribwort plantain, ragwort and bladder campion. A handful of poppies has bloomed and soon the wall will be crimson with them. I see my first ladybird of the year crawling along the wire. My first butterfly, a red admiral, flutters onto a dandelion.
It’s taken time to be comfortable at home again, without feeling the rooms were too small and that I had to escape. When lockdown was just a whisper, I worried whether my panic attacks would allow me to cope with confinement. Fortunately, they were more under control by the time lockdown became a reality. I work from home now. The days are often frantic. I’m classed as a key worker, helping to provide access to critical services through our libraries. Things change quickly, requiring a response. I’m on my phone so often it burns my ear.
But lockdown is also an opportunity. An extra hour in bed, being at home for Winston, pottering around the house as a break. Usually when I’m out at work, lunches are taken up with walking home and back to check on Winston. Now I have the luxury of a half hour walk. Each day I walk to the river, past the new houses on the bank shored up by the gabion baskets, past the former dry docks and on to the ferry landing. There’s a steep hill to climb on the way back, so it’s a decent effort for a short walk. I hear my first kittiwakes of the season. Most nest further upriver on the Tyne Bridge, but for as long as I can remember there have been kittiwakes nesting on the two tall buildings at Ferry Mews.
Rainbows painted by children appear in windows. Every lunch time the clip clop of hooves announces the passing of a horse and gig taking advantage of quiet roads. In lockdown, every day is Sunday. Almost – though not quite – the Sundays of childhood, when shops were closed and the day was filled with family duty gatherings and school the next day. I hated Sundays as a child, but I welcome the enforced Sundays of lockdown. My days aren’t so different to those before. Normal had already changed. As yet, I don’t know anyone who has the virus. It still seems far away.
Winter returns for a few bitterly cold days, as it usually does in spring, but then it is gone once more. In the park, the crows have begun re-building an old nest in a sycamore alongside the railway line. He brings her twigs as she caws and settles into the nest. They have become more territorial, chasing away gulls and wood pigeons, but they still swoop down for peanuts. The celandine and the daisies are flowering.
Once, I would have debated whether my writing had value in such times as these. I would have worried that others had more important things to say, that my soft words were irrelevant. But it’s in these times that we’re compelled to make sense of what is happening to us. If you’re a writer, you write. If I don’t write now, in these strange times, then why write at all? It doesn’t matter what I write about, it matters that I put one word in front of another.