Days are slow in a year that moves alarmingly fast. June sizzles. Days too hot to do much of anything. Too hot to walk far. Too humid to move around. I long for the sea, but reports of crowded beaches keep us away. Then the heatwave breaks at last. Wind wicks away heat. Showers drench and thunder rumbles. Relief. But relief doesn’t last long. June tips over into July and the wind dies. The air is close and still once more, only the grey-tinged clouds offer any hope of respite.
I walk to the river, down to the old docks, under a broiling sky. Gulls soar and somersault on the air currents. The river chatters past in grey-blue peaks. The yellows and purples of summer wildflowers are in evidence, but the gabion baskets have been crisped. A few hardy clumps of valerian, nipplewort and wild parsnip remain, but mostly the rusty baskets sprout shrivels of yellow and brown.
There are fewer people around than at the beginning of lockdown. A purple-haired man wobbles towards the ferry singing a song. Further along, a family is fishing. There is a cruise ship docked upriver at the marina. It has been here for weeks. Usually cruise ships visit for a day or two, but this one has nowhere to go. I walk to the ferry landing to check on the kittiwakes. They have made the barest of nests from seaweed. Now covered in guano, they are like dusty wigs shoved on a shelf. I think I can see three chicks among the chaos on the sill.
In the passage of this virus, this feels like the strangest time of all. Everything is changing and yet nothing seems to have changed. Rules are being relaxed. I have hugged my mother-in-law. I have visited work. Many people are behaving normally. And yet the virus is still here. We are moving – sometimes slowly, sometimes too fast – inevitably to some kind of new normal. I wonder if I have imagined these last few months in which everything was different.
My creativity has flagged. The painting and drawing has paused. I still don’t feel like I have anything to say. My novel has been waiting for review. Early this year it was long-listed for the Mslexia Novel Competition. Later, it was identified as a ‘quality manuscript’ by a manuscript assessment agency. They’ve asked to see it again once I make some changes, with a view to possibly recommending it to industry contacts. And yet it sits there untouched, highlighters on top, ready to be looked at again.
I turn from the river and walk up the steep bank towards home. The empty windows of the old school burst with vegetation. Bindweed throngs the banks and brambles are in flower. Halfway up, the rain comes: fat dollops of rain that soak me quickly. It is the kind of rain that usually accompanies thunder, but there is no storm. I revel in the reprieve from the heat and keep moving.