Well, these have been some months. An uncharted and unsettling world, experienced from the enduring familiarity of home. In June last year we finally left the flat. Walked down the street. Saw the hand-drawn declarations of support for the NHS with our own eyes. Learned to stick together and keep our distance. We have been fortune to see the sea; spring-cleaning for the soul. We have been able to spend time with our families without the glare of screens.
Still, a year on, most of life has remained within these walls. I thought I would turn to our bookshelves to travel, explore. I tried Robert MacFarlane’s ‘Mountains of the Mind’. Wonderful, sweeping, but too vast and distant for my current reality. I started novels of heartbreak, but found myself reluctant to pick them up after a day of work and news overload. I have learned that in this current life, I seek to stay safe, cocooned. I return to favourites (Tolkien, Atwood, Barbery). And I read about food.
My garden is falling apart. The bike basket – the one with a broken attachment which I removed before planting flowering heather in it – is now more absence than wicker. There are old speakers, which a house move consigned to obsolescence so I spent a happy half an hour removing the electronics and planting the box with nasturtiums, and then with sprawling water hyssop. Well, the side has fallen off, now propped back up as a pretence to civilised living. This has been our garden for a few years, and time is taking its toll.
Lockdown life might be shifting a bit in the UK, but many people will still be doing most or all of life at home. We have been reflecting on how to differentiate between work and home life when it all takes place in one place. This builds on the thinking we’ve been doing in recent years about what healthier life rhythms look like. It comes after long periods of being too busy, filling evenings and weekends and running ourselves into the ground until a holiday, which would take us up to neutral but never quite into the positive. We have come to believe strongly in the notion of a day off. Not just a day without undertaking paid employment. A proper day off from all forms of work, including emails, messages, tasks around the house and errands to run outside, It will come as no surprise that often those days involved: good food, coffee shops, gardening, and of course, escape from the city to the coast.
Some of these elements are not possible now in lockdown life; others take place differently. But with work and home all occupying the same four walls, it feels more important than ever to have a proper day off. And these principles – which will apply beyond lockdown life – are helping us to do so. Many of them we learned from other people. Some of them we do pretty well, others remain more of a challenge. We are, as always, a work in progress.
I last left my home six weeks ago. I have been outside. To the bins a couple of times, though now my husband has that joy to himself (following a text from the National Health Service saying I shouldn’t stray beyond our front doorstep. It is strange to live in days when the NHS sends me regular life advice). To the garden. Daily. Twice daily. As many times as the weather and work will allow. But this is all in the vicinity of home.
I am grateful that this season of life has coincided with a shift from dispiritingly soggy February to brightness, and warmth; sometimes the promise of summer and sometimes a proper preview. We’ve sowed a lot of seeds, preparing for the long haul at home. Chard that survived the winter and lettuce newly planted are already gracing out salads. Mint is beginning its proliferation (in terracotta pots, lest it rampage through the whole garden). We have had two barbecues already. And both involved eating in actual daylight; a feat only managed with the easing of time that lockdown has brought (we are optimistic people, so run late normally).
It’s the scent, I think, that draws me to real trees. It reaches you the moment you open the front door. The lights might not yet be on, but Christmas hangs in the air and leads you in from the cold.
We would always have leaned towards getting real Christmas trees. Perhaps because we both grew up with them. And fake trees have always struck me as just a little sad; somehow managing to be both a shadow of and a more brash version of the original. But that is just my perception, formed from the sense that our lifelong habit must be the right one.
And there is an annual debate about that is the ‘right one’, environmentally speaking. It seems the answers are similar to others in this debate: try to keep the one you have in use as long as possible; if buying new, buy quality and organic. So potted trees are the eventual way forward.
If you can keep them alive that is. Since we got our first garden, we have been trying. And this year, we’re celebrating the fact that we will finally welcoming one back into the house for its second Christmas season. A miracle, of sorts!
I say for summer, but maybe they’re for anytime. It’s just now, when the long light evenings prefer books to screens, and the veg harvest is beginning to peak, that I’ve pulled them from the kitchen shelf again. And keep them by my side of the bed. Dreaming of burrata salad. Waking to the idea of freshly baked Maslen bread.
Why these three books? I love them equally. And read them for slightly different reasons.
A year ago I said goodbye to shampoo. Since then I’ve managed to avoid frying an egg on my head during the heatwave. I have discovered a love of headscarves, not just for carrying me through dodgy transition days, but also for what I (perhaps deludedly) hope are french chic vibes. I’ve also, it turns out, saved a fair amount of money. But more on that in a moment.
This book was invaluable for equipping me with knowledge and recipes for the transition to no-shampoo. At the time I also wanted to know what kind of routine I’d end up with post-transition, which is why I’m sharing mine with you now.
And yet, I’m ok with it. Ok with the fact that one area of life required, enforced, benefited from almost full-time attention for a season. And we are learning to be kind to ourselves. Empty the diary and fill the fridge with tasty, easy food. It’s ok to stop baking bread, to get takeout one more time this month, to cancel or say ‘no’, to read all seven Harry Potter books once again (except the end of book five. He was my favourite character; it’s too much). Kindness comes in many forms.
Funny how looking at something on a different screen can make all the difference. When I think about my blog, I think about a number of things. Honesty. Storytelling. Opening up the conversation. I don’t think about cars. And yet, when I looked at one of my posts on a different computer, that is what I was confronted with. An advert. For a car.
And this seemed immediately discordant with a blog about intentional, ethical living.
So, after too long a time (not very intentional I know… I’m a work in progress), I’ve gone ad free on the blog*. And now you and I know that you won’t read a post about decluttering just to be marketed to at the bottom of the page. This sits much better with me. I hope it will with you.
As I write this, a storm of conkers just descended onto the roof of our neighbour’s car and it’s 23 degrees Celsius outside. This is our topsy turvy year of seasons encapsulated.
Summer 2018 was, in many ways, my dream season. Weeks of bright, bare-footed and loose-armed days. Dinner in the garden every night, finished off with a teapot of homegrown mint tea. Claustrophobic socks left in the drawer. And yet, it was also a mixed bag. A little too hot to function at times; resilience a little fractured once 30 degree days had turned into weeks. And a creeping concern that this is the shape of things to come, the climate change canary in the mine (something I wrote more about here).
And then, at the end of August, summer seemed to suddenly and subtly give way to autumn. Things turned. Fallen leaves. Warm evening air found a chill in its edge. Arms searching their way back into jumpers. And, despite a ridiculous long summer season, I wasn’t quite ready for the change.