#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 11 to 13

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 11 to 13

Day 11 to 13

I roll over in bed and grumble at the sharp repeated note in the air. Who is taking so long to disable their alarm on a Saturday morning? The note carries on, shrill and loud. I turn on my back and listen closer to identify the culprit.

It is not an alarm. It is a bird. I smile at my own stupidity. Of course it is a bird. I listen to it for a bit longer now appreciating its presence. I soon notice more melodious songs too. I lay there, paying attention to the world outside of my tent. There are birds and the occasional car on the road behind my street. Snug inside my sleeping bag, I can easily pretend I am at a campsite, waking up after a peaceful night. It would not be the best of campsite for having a road so close but then traffic is negligible so I can forgive it.

My bladder is bothering me but I do not want to move. It has been a long time since I have last woken up in a tent, this tent particularly. I jog my memory in search of the last time I have used it. It could have been in 2018 at an Outdoor Bloggers event. It had blown away from its pitch, the ground so sodden and muddy that pegs couldn’t hold it in place. The memory makes me smile even if it also reminds me of the terrible flu I suffered from following that week-end.

I had been camping since, mostly wild camping, and had used my smaller lighter tent. It isn’t as spacious though and since I am only in my garden, I had thought I would treat myself to the ‘big’ tent. It had been my abode for months on end in 2016 when I had cycled through Spain and in Portugal. I had made it into a home and habits gain at the time still survive today. Books, clothes, bags, and cooking gear are neatly arranged in the way they were when I was touring.

The memories come easily to mind in the green tinted world of the tent. I have been writing about this trip the week before and I don’t have to try very hard to recollect what it was like. But I don’t get time to travel back in time as my bladder insists I need a trip to the toilet block.

I unlock the back door of the house and sneak into the toilet. My partner is still half asleep in bed. I let her be and go to the kitchen to make tea. I bring a cup upstairs for her before retreating to the garden. I change from my pyjamas to a short and t-shirt, settle at the garden table, and drink my tea tuning into the world waking up around me. Windows are being opened, a dog barks occasionally, a blackbird hops on a fence, a motorbike whizzes past.

My tea finished, I browse the selection of books I made earlier this week for the bank holiday week-end. It mostly contains travel books. I briefly consider the old guides of Somerset but put them aside. I look at the cycle stories next. It definitely is perfect weather for a ride. But I discard them too in favour of José Saramago, Journey to Portugal. It has been too long since I have consciously thought about Portugal, about the language and its culture.

I open the book and begin to read. There is a particular kind of pleasure at taking each word in, slowly going from one to another to make a sentence whole. I linger on the feelings and impressions described, recognising place names for having passed through, visited, or simply seen the names on my maps back in 2016. But his trip is not mine. He is Portuguese and has the advantage of knowing the country, of sharing a language and being able to converse fluently with people. Time separates us too, a few decades in which change has taken place. But I recognise his journey in the places he visits and in his desire to take stock of his native land.

My partner joins me as the morning advances. She brings her paints out and begin work on a new page. The sun is warm on our skins, too warm for this time of year but I don’t care. The heat only adds to the feeling of holiday. We have been taken out of time for a moment, allowed to forget and press pause. In just a few days reality will come back. I will sit at my desk at home and work. I will remember the crisis around us but for now I’m travelling.

As our stomach grumble, I retire to the kitchen and lazily prepare lunch to the sound of jazz from the radio. We can hear the neighbours in their garden as we eat our food. One of their son is losing at their game of pétanque and is quite sore about it. I smile imagining this scene repeated the world over throughout time. The main finished, I bring dessert to the table. It is a cool lemon cheesecake with a glass of Grand Marinier at the side. I drink the alcohol slowly, letting the liquid dissolve in my bloodstream. Finished, I retreat to the tent. It’s too hot in it, the sun beating relentlessly on it to create a sweat box, but I don’t care. It is nice to drift to sleep.

The afternoon carries on with more reading under the sun until the air cools and we take a walk. Back home we open a bottle of wine and prepare an apéritif that will serve as dinner. We put the food on the garden table and talk as the sun goes down. The evening grows colder and we have to put a jumper on. It is a little too cold to stay out for much longer but I do not want to get back inside, not just yet. There is a stillness to the evening I am loathed to disturb. There isn’t a breeze in the air, the music from the neighbour’s house has long stopped, and the children have been put to sleep. I could be at my childhood campsite listening to the drone of the waves nearby, I could be with my family in one of our gardens quiet after a long dinner spent talking and laughing. I am in my garden, the last touch of warmth in the air carrying with it the weight of memories true and imagined.

Eventually we step back in. We sit on the sofa with our books and read. I have left Journey to Portugal in favour of a Maigret story by Georges Siménon. Atmospheric and slow, I dive into a long ago France that no longer exist. I think about my grand father who first introduced me to Maigret. There are books with dark blue covers in his house in the Jura mountains lining a wall. They are all Maigret stories. I read my first in his chalet as there nothing else to do but read and tell the time by the song on the radio. He would have liked to see me read Maigret again, or at least I think he would. We could have shared a smile over a common love for the detective. But we won’t. My grand father passed away a couple of years ago, his memory all that remains.

I read on until my eyelids stay close for a little too long at each blink. I fight the fatigue coming in but it’s no use so I go to brush my teeth before venturing back outside to the tent. I fluff up my sleeping bag, slide my body inside making sure the blanket I’ve sneaked in covers me from toe to neck, and fall asleep to the lulling sound of a TV too loud in a neighbour living room and the occasional motor of a car.

I awake to the sun illuminating my world green. The birds are singing and I remind myself yet again that it would be good to learn about bird songs. Their voices are too anonymous from my lack of knowledge. But now is not time to learn. I have banned my laptop for the week-end, restricted my phone usage, and switched the TV off. The birds are joined by the chorus from an online church. It is Easter Sunday and services are still happening the world over. No matter the language, choirs in churches always sound the same as they do from my grand mother’s TV in the kitchen on a Sunday morning.

I crawl out and listen to catch the last of the chant but it is soon over. The voice of the minister is too low for me to hear. I go inside to visit the toilet block and make the first cup of tea of the day. It promises to be warm and I have no other plans than to read and relax. But first I set up an Easter egg hunt for my partner in the house. Other than eat chocolate, we have not taken parts in Easter traditions for years. But in this lockdown, I find myself warming to tradition. They bring normality in my life. They have a history in memory and repetition that anchors me down.

All the chocolate found, we eat some and settle in the garden to read, paint, do nothing at all.

In the evening we go for our daily walk before dinner. We select a different route than usual, one we’ve never walked. The streets are deserted. I wonder if people are sat around a roast with their family on Skype. Our neighbours have gone somewhere for the day and there has been a few more cars parked in our street. So I suspect some families are not using Skype.

‘Cyclists,’ I say mid conversation with my partner. A warning issued without pausing for breath.

The cyclists don’t appear to swerve to give us space. We retreat as far as we can on the pavement edge as they pass by. I shake my head at them.

‘What are you shaking your head for,’ one of them cries out.

‘You didn’t need to be on the pavement,’ I reply.

‘I’m not,’ he argues. He is correct. But his friend was and he was right by the pavement, much less than two metres from any pedestrians. The man continues shouting and I move on. I do not want to argue with him. It’s Sunday, it’s a bank holiday, and for the first time since lockdown I have not been anxious.

Back at home, I set out to prepare a feast while my partner tidies the living room and prepare the table. I have been cooking a lot recently. Over the last few years I have forgotten how much I enjoy cooking. Time has always felt squeezed out of the day, the precious few hours of personal time more important than the kitchen. It reminds me of my dad who never cooked during the week but always had feast ready for the week-end. He too enjoyed cooking given time. I wonder how he’s doing at the moment. Our relationship has never been easy but we have managed to find common ground since my stay with him after my journey in Portugal. But he has changed recently under the influence of a new partner and I have not yet made peace with the new status of our relationship. So I don’t text him to ask. It can wait until the following day.

Tipsy from wine and full from food, we move from the dining table to the coffee table to finish a game a Scrabble to the sound of the radio. The last tiles placed on the board I consider going to bed with my partner. The temperature is due to drop overnight. But it is still a bank holiday so I go to my tent.

The wind batters is all night, waking me up every few hours or so. I drift in and out of consciousness knowing I will be tired the following day but that is of little importance. Eventually there is light in the tent as I open my eyes for the umpteenth time. I can feel the cold on my uncovered face and quickly enter the house. My partner is still asleep.

I make a cup of tea, sit on the sofa, and turn on my Nintendo Switch. I play Zelda: Breath of the Wild for hours. As Link, I wander through fields, gather food to cook meals, and swim in rivers. I do not have a particular goal in mind for this session. I am happy traipsing about, defeating the occasional monster, and exploring the landscape. Calamity Ganon in the castle can wait. For now, it is mostly sunny and there are still many corners of the map I have not explored.

Eventually I turn the console off. I can feel stress itching at the back of my mind. I know this is the last day before the return to normality and like every last holiday day, I am unable to fully relax. I begin to clean the house, hoovering every corner normally left alone, cleaning the sofa cushions, and turning the washing machine on. It is lunch time when the house is dust free. We turn the TV on with my partner.

At 2pm, I plug my laptop into the TV and stream the Folk on Foot Front Lounge Festival. It is due to last until the evening and I do not think I will make it until the end. But we do. We listen and watch musicians throughout the country sing songs and tell us stories as we play marbles on the carpet, slides down snakes and go up ladders on the coffee table, stale mate too many games of dominoes, line up red and yellow pieces to create a line of four, and trot horses around a board with frayed edges.

Light fades outside and I cook a Chinese inspired soup to finish off the last of our pak choi. My phone is playing the festival as the soup simmers in the pan. It is nearly dark by the time the soups are eaten and we are both lounging on the sofa. Our bellies full, our bodies tired, we listen silently to Steve Knightley closing off the festival peacefully. The bank holiday week-end is over.

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