#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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