#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 89

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 89

Day 89

I dig into the earth and pull out a weed, carefully trying to avoid pulling out any of the wild flowers I planted a few weeks ago. Kneeling by the currant tree, I repeat the process over and over again, my attention focused on keeping the wild flowers in and the roots of the tree undamaged. I follow the curve of the grass edge, weeding out what we have seen grow and didn’t like.

‘I’m going for a walk,’ my partner announces as she steps into the garden.

‘With J.?’

‘Yes.’

‘Okay,’ I reply a bit uneasy. J., a friend of my partner, has been in various protests recently and lives with someone who has had little care for the rules of lockdown.

‘I’ll take a mask,’ my partner adds seeing the concern on my face.

‘Okay. Say hello to J. from me,’ I add smiling.

‘Will do.’

My partner turns around. Soon I can hear the car engine purr into action. My hands are deep in soil, worms are wriggling free of the earth I am turning. I am uncomfortable with my partner going into Bristol, going to see someone with little control over her environment. I need to let go of those fears. I cannot stop my partner or myself from seeing friends when we both know none of the persons involved are irresponsible. I need to learn to live with the virus and the threat attached to it. It is not going away.

The sides and back of the garden free of weeds, I step back towards the patio to look at my work. I feel like we can breathe again in the garden. Nothing is growing wild and out of control anymore, overpowering the neighbouring trees and the grass around. We don’t want a tidy garden, but we do want colour and life instead of choking weed. Slowly, it will come into shape.

I carry my piles of weeds into our green bin and return inside for a shower. Clean and refreshed, I settle into the living room with my laptop and go over our finances. June is the first month when I have not been paid in full, my employer no longer filling in the gap between the furlough scheme and my full wage. It is not much but enough to be felt. I tally up our salary against our bills. It is not a figure I like. We can afford everything but not much else. It is a luxury, I know, but one I have grown used to living with. I am uncomfortable with the thought of being unable to save, of losing my job as my employer still refuses to make any mention of a possible return date to work. Still, we can afford our house, we can pay our bills, and we can keep eating healthily. We are okay.

I head upstairs to the put my laptop away. In the study, the storage unit catches my eye, some of the musical and camera equipment gathering dust, unused for months. I pull them out before I have time to think, check everything is still intact and working and before I know it, I have a pile of electronics to sell. I sit on the sofa bed, open my laptop, and begin to research second-hand pricing for those items. I add them up, the total coming up to a satisfying amount. I grab my camera to take photos of the items conditions and within the next hour, they are all put up for sale on various websites.

I shove them to the side of the study, easy to grab and reach if they sell quickly. I return downstairs and check the clock. It is past one o’clock. My stomach grumbling, I decide to make lunch instead of waiting for my partner. By three o’clock she is still not back. I worry that she has had lunch with J., taken off her mask and rendered it useless that way. As the thought strikes me, I shove it aside. My partner is more responsible than this. I trust her.

I read for a while before revising some of my Portuguese lesson. They are becoming more complex, the easy knowledge of French and Spanish not enough to get me by any longer. By four o’clock, my partner comes home. We follow the cleaning routine we have set up from coming back from a shop. Clothes are thrown in the washing machine with the mask, my partner hands are cleaned, and she heads for a shower. It feels superfluous and necessary at the same time.

Later, we sit on the sofa, eating an apéritif in front of an old half-remembered episode of Columbo while playing a game of Scrabble.

‘How was J.,’ I enquire my mind relaxed.

‘Yeah, pretty good all things considered. She’s really concerned about returning to work though,’ she adds.

‘Yeah,’ I murmur. I think back of my days working in a library, the public unleashed in the building, the raging wars at the computers, the surfaces touched, the staff desks unprotected in the middle of often stuffy structures.

We say no more on the subject, my partner worries at returning to work in libraries known and shared. For now, it is Sunday evening, and all we want to do is relax.

Day 8672

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 86

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 86

Day 86

‘I’ve been in the UK for ten years today,’ I tell my partner as I finish swallowing a piece of toast.

I can still see myself stepping off the Eurostar with a suitcase and a heavy backpack. All my worldly possession I thought I couldn’t do without were carefully packed within. It had not been the first time I had set foot in St Pancras International train station but it was the first time I was doing so without a return ticket. I was terrified and exhilarated in equal amount.

‘Ten years,’ I murmur. I can’t comprehend that number or the difference between who I was when I arrived and who I am now. ‘I was due to go to the pub, have a carvery, wear a football shirt and cargo pants, have fish and chips, and a full English for breakfast.’

My partner looks at me horrified. ‘Well, not really,’ I clarify laughing. ‘I would have never made it through all that. But I would have definitely gone to the pub.’

I grab my cup of tea and take another sip of the burning hot liquid I now consider essential to my days. I remember L., one of the boys I was looking after as an au pair, six years old and eager to drink tea like a grown up. He would be given milk with a hint of tea, his face delighting in sharing moments with adults. I haven’t thought of L. and A. in a long time. They would be grown up now and I am unsure I would recognise them if I passed them in the streets.

‘Are we still okay to pick up the sewing machine after we go to Argos,’ I ask my partner.

‘Sure. We can have a walk in St Andrews Park afterwards too.’

‘Good idea.’

We finish our breakfast and get dressed lazily, our days having lost all sense of urgency to them.

In Argos, we pick up new water filter. The lawnmower is not ready yet. Through the backstreets, we drive to another part of Bristol. My partner knows the way well from working in a library nearby.

I get out of the car, knock on the door and step back two metres away. The door swings open quickly.

‘Hello, I’m Allysse, here for the sewing machine.’

‘Ah yes.’ The man gestures towards a corner of the entrance. I lean my body to the side, twisting my waist to see the machine sitting atop a chest of drawer.

‘Do you want to check it?’

‘I’m sure it’s fine. You say it’s working, I trust you.’ I smile, adding. ‘I’m only starting so I don’t really know much. I’m mostly sewn by hand so far.’

‘You’ll definitely find this much easier,’ he replies, relaxing a little. ‘I’ll pop it on the wall there.’ He points to the dividing wall between his and his neighbour’s front garden.

‘Thanks.’

I hand him the money, adding. ‘I’ve just taken it out of the cash machine.’

Both notes are the new plastic ones, easier to clean if he would like to.

‘Thank you,’ he replies. I extend my arm for him to take the notes. He does so. As they slip from my fingers to his, I step back, leaving him space to get out of his house with the machine. He positions it on the wall. We awkwardly say our goodbyes and I pick up the machine, heavier than expected in my hands. I carry it to the boot of the car where my partner is waiting. I tuck it in safely and cleanse my hands with hand sanitiser.

My partner lock the car and we follow the unfamiliar street to the end until we reach a road we know. We walk uphill until we reach the park.

‘It’s strange to be here without a pizza,’ I comment. I have only ever come to this park in the evenings after work, joining my partner outside of one of the libraries she works at, picking up a pizza, and coming to eat it here.

We walk around the park, avoiding running children and dog walkers. A van sells coffees and cakes near the playground. People are queuing, a metre apart from one another, deep in conversation with friends. If I ignore the lock on the playground door, the park appears normal for a Thursday morning.

We walk back towards the entrance of the park. A woman is standing there with her child, tidying her small dress before snapping a picture on her phone. She stands up, putting her phone back in her pocket, and sees us for the first time. ‘Oh sorry, are you waiting to go?’ The woman cheeks turn red.

‘Yes,’ we reply. ‘But it’s okay. We’re not in any rush.’

She skitters to the side, gesturing her child to follow.

‘Thank you,’ I say still smiling.

Back home, I clean the sewing machine with disinfectant before setting it down on the living room floor. I look at it for a while, at once familiar and foreign. I open the instruction manual and start at page 1. I read the names of the parts and touch them on the machine as if that would imbue them with meaning.

Carefully, I wriggle the thread through multiple loops before it can slide through the needle. ‘Okay…’ I tell myself. ‘Now what?’

I press the foot piece but nothing happens. I switch on the light and this time, the needle spurs into action, the thread flying away from it, back inside the machine. ‘Not like that then,’ I laugh. I try again, and again, dipping in and out of the user manual. ‘The problem with this manual,’ I tell my partner as she walks in from the kitchen with a hot cup of tea, ‘is that it assumes you know about sewing machines already.’

I try again and fail. A few minutes, my partner hands me her phone. ‘Would this video help?’

‘I don’t know. Let’s see.’ I prop the phone against the machine and watch as a person on the screen tells me all about sewing machine. Theirs is different from mine but I find the same features easily enough. I repeat their motions carefully, switching my attention from the video to the user manual. ‘Ah, I threaded it wrong,’ I tell my partner who is reading a magazine. Not a good start,’ I laugh.

‘Always keep the footer down before sewing,’ the voice from the phone says.

‘I didn’t do that either.’

I press the lever at the back of the machine. The footer traps the piece of spare fabric down. I pause the video and press the foot piece. The needle springs into action, the thread going in and out of the fabric, creating a line of tight stitches. ‘Success!’ I exclaim, raising my hands in the air. ‘And it only took about an hour,’ I add laughing at myself.

I carry on watching the video and practice sewing some straight lines of stitches until the thread pops away from the needle again. I put the machine away, tidy my remaining fabric by its side and move upstairs to work through the essay I wrote about Brexit. It traces my experience of life in the UK and the ramification of Brexit in my life. I was due to share it publicly today but I won’t. My website is still under construction as my brother and webmaster battles his boss and I feel it is inappropriate to share at this time.

My experience remains a privileged one compared to what I have read and learned from the Black Live Matters movement. My words can wait. I polish the text nonetheless and post it on my website, hidden behind a wall nobody can get through without a password.

In the evening, we prepare dinner and eat outside, the heat of the day less oppressive in the shade of the garden. ‘Cheers,’ I say raising my glass of beer to my partner glass of wine. ‘It’s not the pub but it’s pretty good like this too,’ I add feeling cocooned and safe within the boundary of our home.

We tuck in, watching the sun mellow the colour of the sky behind the barricade of trees next to the house bordering the edge of our garden.

‘Fancy a digestive walk,’ I ask my partner as we finish our meal.

‘Sure.’

We tidy up and get out of the house, walking through familiar streets. In the park, people are gathered in wide circles, sitting on camping chairs. Music is thrumming gently from one area of the park where young men are playing a game of football. I close my eyes for a second and listen to it all. I remember, a year ago, laying in my tent in a campsite, exhausted from the day’s walk, hearing the exact same sounds. I take a deep breath and we carry on.

The sky shines yellow and metallic blue, as the sun dips in and out of clouds. Long grass tickles my bare legs as we walk further into the park where tree grows and the council lawnmower doesn’t go. I take my partner hand in mine, the evening breeze cooling our bodies down.

Day 8572

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 85

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 85

Day 85

I awake with a headache that I know has nothing to do with the heat already gathering in the air.

‘Too much to drink,’ I moan as I roll over to my partner.

‘Yeah,’ she whispers back at me.

‘I’m going to take it easy today,’ I add.

‘Good idea.’

We hug for a moment until our bodies grow too hot. I get out of bed and prepare breakfast. We eat in bed. I finish a book and research how to sew shorts. I am growing tired of looking through too many shops to find nothing at all I like and have decided to make my own. It looks easy enough.

Breakfast over, I head downstairs and find the spare fabric I have left over from making a cover for my Nintendo Switch earlier in the year. It is too small for a pair of shorts but a sleeveless t-shirt might just be doable. I draw a pattern based on an existing garnment and cut it roughly. I leave it alone until the afternoon when I return to it and begin to sew by hand.

I slide a DVD of Hero Corp in the player and switch my focus from TV to thread every few minutes. Time tick on and I have a makeshift sleeveless t-shirt. The threading is weak and I have no doubt it will break but it doesn’t matter. I slide it on, my breasts catching on the fabric and making it almost impossible to put fully on.

I run up the stairs to the study where my partner is.

‘Tadam,’ I exclaim.

‘It’s…’ she begins to say trying to conceal her laughter.

‘Way too small,’ I finish her sentence, laughing fully.

‘Yeah, way too small.’

‘But it’s all the fabric I had,’ I add in defence of my work. ‘Can you help me take it off?’

We battle the fabric, the stitching holding much better than expected and I breath again out of the too tight top.

‘It wasn’t difficult to make but it’s a pain to do it by hand.’

‘I can imagine. Look, what do you think of this,’ my partner enquires pointing at the computer screen.

‘If it will do the job,’ I reply. On the screen is a photo of a simple small lawnmower. ‘I know nothing about this. I trust you on this.’ My partner doesn’t know much more than me on lawnmowers but she has used some and researched reviews more than I have.

‘I’ll order it then. We should be able to pick it up tomorrow.’

‘Super. Thanks for doing that.’ And with those words, I head back downstairs to tidy the mess I have created. Fabric and thread back in their storage, I open my laptop and type in ‘sewing machine’ in a search engine. Prices are higher than I would be happy paying. I look around second hand website and find a local one at a cheap enough price to my liking. I send a message and before I can turn my computer off, a replies come. Someone is due to collect their machine that very evening. If they don’t come, the sewing machine can be mine.

I slump on the sofa and rest, the heat of the day too much for me to bear. I think of my bicycle and how I could create breeze this way. The thought of riding one of them does not riddle me with anxiety. I stand up and uncover my daily commuter. The saddle doesn’t need oiling, the tyres are still full, and nothing squeaks too much. I check the clock. It is nearly five. I decide to wait until rush hour is gone. I do not know how much of it there is but I do not want to find out.

‘I’m going for a ride,’ I tell my partner half an hour later. ‘Do you want to join?’

‘I’m good. We’ve already exercised this morning.’

‘I know. But it’s just a little ride.’

‘Hangover,’ she adds.

‘Sure thing.’

I hop on the saddle and push the pedal forward. My hands rest easily on the handlebar, my grip steady and secure. Each movement is like a memory coming back to me, my body knowing it far better than my brain. I pedal on and on, the wind rushing against my body cooling me down as temperature soars well into the twenties. I look back as a pedestrian comes towards me on the pavement by the road. There are no cars. I swerve in the middle of the lane, creating distance between them and me. I switch back to the side of the lane. A car passes me by in the opposite lane. I raise my hands in thanks for the space given.

I reach the duck pond I had intended to be my destination but I do not want to stop. I keep pedalling through alleyways and empty streets until I reach the giant commercial centre at the edge of town. I know I could cross it and join cycle route 4. From there it is a short distance to the Servern bridge. I am itching to go, to sit by the estuary, watch the water flow below and vehicles go above. But time is ticking and I have no water. I take a turn into an unknown street, follow a sign I have never noticed and end up looping back on myself, freewheeling down the last incline before reaching my street.

I slide the bike with my squished body between the growing bush by our fence and our garden gate. I rest the bicycle agains the fence, the cover it lying on the ground, kept in place by a brick. Next time we go out for a day,’ I tell it without speaking. I remain rooted to the spot for a moment longer, my eyes fixed on the bicycle, a smile on my face.

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 84

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 84

Day 84

‘Hello,’ my neighbours greets me as I enter our road.

They are on their way to the park with their dogs and baby J.

‘Hi,’ I greet them back. We always seem to cross path when I’m on my way back from a supermarket trip. ‘How are you doing?’

‘Doing well. It’s so nice to have the sun back.’

I approve.

‘I just saw your partner, she told me you’re going to the arboretum today.’

‘Yes, we’ve been going every week. Have you been?’

‘Not in a long time no.’ Before I can reply anything she adds, ‘you should come for a drink in the garden when you come back.’

‘We’d love to,’ I reply smiling. We have been talking about drinks in their garden for weeks and like most things to do with neighbours, I had assumed it would never happen.

‘Have a good walk,’ we both wish one another as we part ways.

Back home, my partner and I follow the routine of unpacking, cleaning, and tidying the food supplies for the next couple of weeks. Before we have time to pause, it is time to leave for the arboretum. We pack a hurried lunch and jump in the car, heading straight for the motorway.

We show our ticket and membership cards and are let through. In the car park, we find a spot of shade and rest the car under it. Opposite us, a couple is enjoying a cup of tea under the awning of their campervan. Resting in their camping chairs, they look at ease. I strap my backpack around my back and we head through the gates, inside the arboretum. Our feet follow the known patterns of the paths. We turn into each narrow path we find until there is barely room for our feet between the overgrown grass. We emerge into an expanse of grass with few trees and a recently mowed ground. We lay our blanket on the ground and unpack the bag. I peel the avocado, chop it in little cubes. I chop some tomato and goat cheese, adding salad leaves over the top. We pour the vinaigrette my partner made before leaving and carefully toss the salad in our makeshift camping plates.

We eat in silence, each of us delighting in the freshness of the ingredients in our plates, the last few meals with floppy vegetables forgotten at the first bite.

We could walk on, but sitting under the shade of a birch tree, the sun casting dappled light through the surroundings oak leaves, we cannot resist the temptation to lie down and close our eyes. Birds sing and cry above our head, flying from one tree to another. Flies and spiders explore the unknown territory of our skin. I doze on and off until a dog bark wakes me. My partner is still reading her book. I sit up to meditate, my mind drifting too often to the sounds around me – the white noise of tree leaves in the wind, the sharp thrill note of an unseen bird, the quiet chatter of people on the path nearby.

We start packing and resume our wandering, our steps taking us to the café for a cooling ice-cream. We find another tree to shelter under to enjoy our ice-cream before making our way back to the car. I text our neighbour to let her know we’ll be back in an hour or so. I set the GPS to take us through the back roads of the countryside. We meander through narrow lanes, passing cyclists and horse lorries every now and again. Fields, hedges, and quaint houses line our view until we join the labyrinth of A-roads and ring roads around Bristol. The charm of the journey gone, we raise the car windows and count down the minutes to our front door.

We knock on our neighbours door shortly after having parked the car.

‘We’ve brought pistachios,’ we say cheerfully as our neighbour opens their garden door.

We settle on the outdoor sofa, our neighbour (D.) sitting metres away in a recliner chair. Her daughter (L.) and husband (J.) soon join us. Drinks are offered and poured, nibbles spread on the table, and we all start to relax.

I think of the first time I properly spoke to D. at the beginning of lockdown. She had come knocking on the doors of our row of houses. Lockdown at been strictly enforced then, fear raging through people’s mind. Tears had lurked at the edges of her eyes, taking all she had not to let them fall. Her dog walks with our immediate neighbour has now resumed and I have only ever seen her smile. Sitting here, in her garden though, I can see a shadow pass across her face when we talk of travel and holidays. We laugh at stories from the past but we do not dare talk about plans for the future. We broach the subject as a hypothesis ‘Is there anywhere in the world you’d like to see?’

A second drink is poured into our glasses as we learn about the lay of our streets and people living in it. The guys we bought the house from weren’t very nice apparently. We never met them and apart from their names and furniture choice, we know nothing about them.

A third drink is poured and my head is spinning. I know I will regret it the following day but I don’t care. I have missed being able to go for a drink with friends, sitting together, talking about nothing and everything as the sun shone down on us. Finally J. fires the barbecue and we take this as our cue to leave. It is nearly nine o’clock by then. We cook a hurried dinner and collapse on the sofa for a while before moving up to bed.

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Day 10772

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 107

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 107

Day 107

My hands are beginning to sweat under the warmth of a duvet, two blankets, and a dressing gown piled over me. I wipe them awkwardly on my t-shirt, my range of movement very limited. I am sitting hunched over a crowded wooden chopping board. I take a deep breath and focus on the task at hand, my eyes squinting in the dim makeshift red light by my side.

I bring my cardboard template of 120 film and carefully mark a line next to the edges. I take it away and feel around for the marks on the photographic paper. They are hard to spot in the dark but I do and score them until I feel the wood of the chopping board below.

I create four sheets of paper to fit in one of my medium format camera, stuff them inside my processing tank, making sure to close the lid as tightly as I possibly can, and throw the covers away from me.

‘I need a better dark space,’ I mumble as I jerk my body upright, the light breeze coming from the window a relief on my skin. But I know I won’t really get a better dark space for a while. I can turn my bathroom into a darkroom but the process is long, requiring too much effort when I just want to spend ten minutes in it.

I grab my old folding camera and the processing tank with the paper inside safely protected from light. I slide them both inside my dark bag and transfer paper to camera. I feel the paper under my fingers, both sides sleek and slippery.

‘Shoot.’

I lower my head in defeat. I forgot to create a marking on the paper so I can recognise the emulsion side without looking at it. With the fibre based paper I have used previously, it was easy to feel the difference, but with this resin coated paper, I have absolutely no idea of which way around is the emulsion side. I take a gamble, and load the camera.

I run downstairs, open the garden door and set up a shot by one of our mint plant. I take a light reading with my phone, hope for the best, and take the shot. I repeat the process three times until my four pieces of paper are exposed, all rated at different ISO. My hands slide under the sofa bed in the study and grab the soda crystals, cheap coffee granules, and vitamin C from their hiding place. I mix the ingredient together, the stench of fabricated orange smell and cheap coffee invading the bathroom within minutes.

I pour the mixture into the processing tank where the sheets of paper are, hoping they don’t end up all sticking together, images printing on one another. The timer goes off, I rinse the paper, coffee stain draining down the sink. When the water runs clear, I pour in some fixer and let it do its job, before giving the paper another thorough rinse.

I twist the dark funnel out of the tank and dip in for the paper. They are swimming away from one another, the emulsions not having stuck to one another. I pull the paper out and burst out laughing.

‘I loaded it wrong!’

Weak images with numbers written on them stare back at me. I guessed the light sensitive side wrong.

‘It’s back under the dark space for me’, I mumble as I drop the paper back into the water for a wash.

I repeat the entire process, cutting off a bit of paper at the right hand corner so I can easily load it in the camera. This time, I come up with images exposed on the correct side of the paper. I return to the study, sit at the desk, open my darkroom notebook, and begin to write my findings of the day.

Day 10372

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 103

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 103

Day 103

‘Cheers!’

I snap a photo of our glasses together, brimming with the golden brown liquids inside. I take a sip and sigh.

‘It’s been so long.’

‘Yeah…,’ my partner agrees quietly.

I turn my head to the side where the road is and beyond a the house with a stone wall and ivy climbing to the roof. There are flowers in pots by the windows, purple and blue. The grass verge at the front is messy, uncut and unruly.

I take a deep breath, my soul quivering. It is easy to ignore the low drone of the A-road just beyond this otherwise idyllic village. They even have a village store, the sign freshly painted in glossy white, the letters bold and black against the pale background.

It’s been a good day, I think. And this is the perfect ending to it.

We drove along quiet roads in the morning, meandering our ways through the back lanes of North Somerset and Wiltshire to reach a sleepy village at the northern edge of the Cranborne Chase AONB. I walked here with a friend nearly a year ago, the memories of that walk etched so deeply in my memories, they still make me quiver. We traipsed for hours in the countryside without seeing another soul, dipping down into the valleys below the hills where we trod for refreshments in pubs. We dipped into river, refreshing our souls and bodies into their cool waters. We laid our head down in fields and forests we shared with bucks and does, our eyes glowing with the fire of each sunsets we witnessed.

The world was different then. Hopping into a train to meet up was an easy thing, dipping in and out of pubs and cafés to ask for a pint or a coffee and a refill of our water bottles was not something to plan.

My hand reaches for a warm chip in the bowl in the middle of the table. Hot to the touch, it nearly burns my tongue but I do not care. I am sitting at a pub, at the end of a long walk on a Saturday, and it feels a little bit like life again.

We had not intended to stop at the pub. When they re-opened we both agreed not to go, but here, in the later afternoon haze, our bodies spent from the walk and not quite enough water, it was a matter of fact to sit at this table outside this pub.

A member of staff had disinfected it before our eyes as we approached. Cocooned in a two metres wide bubble marked by black and yellow tape, we sat down, not thinking about the consequences. We squirted hand gel into our palms, a gesture that is becoming too familiar, the smell of the particular brand we have been using a part our olfactory memory now. Another member of staff came to take out order, a sign at the door ordering us to wait outside.

I take another sip of my ale, the liquid tasting better in this setting than it would have in a bottle in my house. Locals come and go, shouting at one another across the distances marked on the ground. A man swigs the last of his whiskey glass into his mouth before continuing his conversation.

‘She’s a weird one,’ he comments about a girl I do not know but instantly like.

‘Don’t say that,’ the woman interjects.

‘Well she is,’ he insists as they walk away, peace returning to the village, the drone of the A road audible once more.

My partner calls the pub from her cellphone to ask for the bill, the members of staff too busy inside to patrol the outside tables at regular interval. I step into the entrance of the pub, the card machine losing connection if it gets out. I tap my card as quickly as I can on the screen and step out, waiting for confirmation the payment has gone through.

We sling our backpacks on our shoulders again. ‘The river route or the road one?’

‘The river route.’

It is an easy answer, one that doesn’t require any thought even though the light is beginning to fade. We still have a couple of hours of daylight ahead of us. We find the river easily, the air a little cooler by its side. We duck under the A-road, motor vehicles unaware of what lay beneath their wheels, and leave it behind, bleating sheep gradually getting louder around us.

Through nettles and overgrown paths, we carry on until we run out of path and have to join the asphalt again. We tread it quietly, our steps taking to the middle of the road. We pass houses, conversations dipping as people see us pass, an unusual sight in their quiet rural escape.

We reach the car, drink from the water bottle I left there on purpose, and start our journey back. The sun is dipping below the horizon, blinding our eyes to the road ahead. I dip my head out of the window, repeating over and over ‘you’re okay. You’re okay. You’re okay,’ to my partner who can barely see the road through the glare of the windscreen.