Pavement Etiquette

smart

As we know by now, routine is important in our new, scaled-down days. Here at the schloss we rise as always, never early and one of us stumbles down to make tea. Tea is accompanied by the news and the latest round of grim statistics, peppered with small sprinklings of hope and the usual puerile online offerings of entertainment.

I dress for exercise, following my self-imposed regime of Pilates on weekdays, varied by Yoga at weekends. We have coffee. I write, bake, correspond.

After lunch there is gardening or the permitted walk. Walks have taken on a new significance since the arrival of the virus, as the area we may explore has shrunk to our own locality. Though we are near to beaches and harbours and The New Forest National Park, we stick to the streets around our small town, where domestic gardens, concealed pathways, copses and lanes provide the interest.

In one direction lies a cemetery. Given the current situation it may seem a morbid choice for walking, but it is ancient, beautiful and peaceful as well as a treasure trove of historical discovery. I like to read the names on the stones, the ages of the inhabitants of the graves, the touching eulogies. Of course it is a melancholy place, with an area allocated to infants, their tiny plots adorned with toys and memorabilia revealing a universe of pain.

Inside the cemetery it is easy to avoid others. We can veer off around the paths in any direction we choose.

Outside on the streets, avoidance is a different matter. While a quiet street wit pavements both sides offers plenty of scope for diversion, the narrow pavements on the bridge crossing the river is a virtual minefield, with walkers both sides jostling with joggers and cyclists on the narrow path. At times you get stuck, walking on one side with no escape-then I resort to turning my back, since this is no time to worry about manners.

But we are fortunate, here. We have access to large areas of marsh, or woods, or country lanes and can escape into spacious landscapes with no more than a distant sighting of others.

And when we do cross over, or pass at a distance there is a small smile, a nod or a greeting, which all mean ‘we are in this together’.

One week later and the cemetery is closed to all except the users, so any of us may get to visit at some point…

The weather is perfect, sunny and spring-like, softening the pain of lock-down for those of us who are not sufferers of the virus or key-workers. We take to the saddle for our first cycle of the year and ride around the quiet lanes where avoidance is relatively easy, although even here there is congestion in places, some understanding the new ‘rules’ and some not.

But as time goes on the neighbourhood becomes quieter, there is increased understanding. What will life be like in the great ‘After? Will we have become institutionalised? Will we continue to creep about and cross the road to avoid others? Or will we gallop, whooping into the streets and fling ourselves at all and sundry? Only time will tell…

2016? Sleep on it…

Christmas-yes it’s lovely, yes it’s festive. There is a warm, fuzzy glow everywhere-in the shops, in the pubs, in the cafes, along the streets and in the homes. We decorate, we shop, we cook. We send cards and receive them, exclaim over seldom contacted friends’ messages, speak to long-distance relatives. We deck the halls. We peel, chop and baste. We make table decorations, lay out crackers, pass things around, pour drinks, make toasts, watch the Queen/don’t watch the Queen,  play games, hand out gifts, open gifts, watch TV’s lack-lustre, festive offerings, crash out, wake, get up and begin again.

We eat too much, drink too much, feel bloated. In the mornings there is a swathe of last night’s glasses bearing dregs, demanding to be washed; and chocolate wrappers festooning the surfaces along with crumbs and pieces of nut shell. The dishwasher groans as you heave open its door, its bulging contents demanding to be dispersed.

I look forward to Christmas as much as the next person, preparing and anticipating but then when it comes all I really want is for it to be over. It belongs to children, this winter celebration with its pretence of magic and if you’ve access to a small child there is pleasure to be got from their enjoyment-otherwise there is a tendency towards anti-climax.

Nobody should wish their life away, especially when what remains is dwindling but 2016 needs to be behind us. It has been the year the world turned grim, forgetting any lessons history should have taught and returning instead to crude, emotions-led political decisions, territorial feuds and downright bestiality.

I’ve said before that I don’t do resolutions but planet earth needs to do some. There is an alarming deficiency of concern over climate change as we are about to be plunged back into over-reliance on fossil fuels. Genocide and brutality abound within and outside of conflict zones and how on earth is any of this to be tackled if we exacerbate hostility to foreigners and visitors by cutting ourselves off?

Though not a fan of cold weather I’m feeling introspective at this, the dormant part of the year. Yesterday the frost painted a stunning picture of a tree on our bedroom window, reminding me that there is still a lot to love about the world around us if we choose to preserve it. In winter nature reins in, hibernates, repairs and prepares. We should do the same, appreciate and cherish what matters the most. So I’m not going to feel guilty for spending time doing very little; for watching the garden birds or staring at a view or sitting quietly and thinking-because it’s just me doing what the season dictates and having a dormant spell until spring rushes in and stirs everything up!

p1020574

Happy New Year, Anecdotage readers-here’s to better things in 2017!

 

It’s all about the Story

                We have made good our escape from windy, waterlogged England and are making for [hopefully] warmer, drier lands to the South.

                In preparation for this first jaunt of 2014 I loaded up my e-reader with some novels I’ve missed, some I was seduced by, having read reviews [though not Amazon’s-having been fooled more than once before] and some I feel it my duty to read.

                The first book is one that surprised me by its 99pence price tag, since it is the book from which the current blockbusting, award winning, sweep-the-board movie was made from-‘Twelve Years a Slave’.

                Now I have yet to see this film, and I’ve no doubt I will, but in my view films rarely match up to their book form. Although I am less than 25% through the story, ‘Twelve Years a Slave’ has gripped me and held me in its absorbing clutches. Solomon Northup’s account of his capture and subsequent subjection as a slave is both dignified and moving. He recounts the horrors that he and his fellow slaves endure in a measured, matter of fact narrative. Some of his descriptions are particularly moving, such as his account of the people of the Indian village celebrating with their visitors, enjoying a meal and dancing around a camp fire accompanied by music played on a fiddle [Solomon is himself a fiddle player]. He is captivated by the scene, whilst not once pointing out the irony of their freedom against his captivity.

                There is much to be said for personal accounts of horrific events in history. They tug our emotions more than facts. We all know of the dreadful horrors wrought on so many during the war, but Anne Franck’s diary story, documenting her life and including domestic trivia, teenage angst and family squabbles brings to life the awful reality of the events. It is the story of an ordinary family, one that we can relate to. How much more poignant than factual accounts!

                At school we were taught the dry, fusty dates and facts of history; the reigns of Kings and Queens or the politics behind the wars. If we’d have been given the personal stories behind the events I think we’d have been more interested-interested enough, perhaps to have ceased the passing round of a particularly smutty and sexually explicit paperback that some miscreant had purloined and divided into lesson-sized portions.

What would Solomon make of all the Oscar hullabaloo, I wonder. After all, the success of the film relies entirely on his story, whatever the performances and direction were like.

                We have reached the South of France, where the early March weather is already warm enough during the day to bring a blush of heat to the skin, though plummeting sharply at night. We cycled 25 miles up and down the Canal du Midi in glorious, unbridled sunshine without a cloud, the vineyards laid in neat rows ready to come into leaf. Along the side of the canal those who’ve made their houseboat homes in Dutch barges are busy spring cleaning and sprucing up. Spring must surely be the nicest season, with a promise of long, warm days to come.