I’m sipping trigpoint tea and tucking into the last of the Christmas cake with a gorgeous group in Staffordshire. Hopeful spring sunshine is claiming victory over a stubborn March wind and daffodils peek out of hedgerows. When I’m not on duty as the owner of a dog who can’t climb stiles and two teens who choose not to, there’s nothing I’d rather be doing – and yet, despite the warmth, our Peak District pootle clouds with a heaviness we can’t shake.
We know it’s the last group hike we’ll enjoy for a while; we just haven’t yet understood how quickly things are to change. Forty eight hours later, the country’s in the grip of coronavirus and our expedition to Thor’s Cave, giggling as we slip through deep woodland mud and slide on limestone that might as well be polished glass, seems many adventures ago.
The teens and I adjust abruptly, without time to perform a toilet roll stock take (a roll call, if you will). Chief Teen’s GCSEs are cancelled, just like that, and it’s hard to convey the shock of a group of 16 year olds grown thin under the weight of two years’ sheer hard work, only to meet a brutal dead end. On Mothers’ Day I’m a mum but not a daughter, unable to see the Leeses senior, 40 miles west. We make do with a long phone call, the hot topics being loo roll and GCSEs. It’s hard to remember a world in which other things mattered more.
Ordinarily, my life is organised in an old-school, paper diary, in which I write in pencil. I rub everything out and stare at pages and pages of blank white. March was due to be busy, and awesomely so, with a glitzy awards night for ‘work’ work (the work that pays the mortgage) and a thrilling new venture for fluffy trails writing work (the work which doesn’t pay for much, but proves endlessly priceless). I rub out ‘Merthyr Half Marathon’, having just upped my mileage to 12 along a Taff Trail that’s still half-closed following Storm Dennis, and I wonder which biblical catastrophe is coming next.
I feel nearly-ill for a week, the kind of nearly-ill that lingers when you’re over the worst of flu but still nauseous to your bones and your limbs don’t want to work – especially when running along half-blocked trails. My chest constricts and daily I think I must have the virus, before remembering it’s simply panic and last month possibly wasn’t a good time to stop taking the Mirtazipine.
But among the half-empty supermarket shelves and the hollow in my stomach, I find… bliss. Those blank white pages burst with the possibility of at last getting through the teetering pile of books next to my bed. Without the excuse of ‘too busy’, I pick up Duo Lingo and ymarfer Cymraeg, bob dydd. I breathe out on our local hillfort, the one that remains unconquered by all who live in its shadow because they’re too busy rushing up the A470 and cramming themselves onto Pen y Fan.
I stop setting my alarm – the radio one, at least; the Lionel one still doesn’t allow for a lie in, but it’s lovely to wake more naturally, under gentle daylight and to the polite call of a greyhound wanting his Weetabix. My clients keep me busier than ever – for which I’m utterly grateful – and without the commute and the meetings, I have time to really write. A friend phones ‘just because’ at nine in the morning and our half-hour giggle warms me up for the day.
And shortly before the trigpoint tea and the last of the Christmas cake, I meet someone. Not through a soul-crushing app, in the end, but in the most analog of ways, through the best kind of friends. We manage two joyful dates out in the world before the world shuts up shop and we hunker down at home, some serious Spotify-ing and Netflix-ing to get through. It’s ironic that the hunkering down coincides with the warming weather I’ve been yearning for since November but, somehow, I don’t seem to mind.
And then, lockdown.
I read and re-read Boris’ four specific reasons for leaving the house. With all the seasoned journalistic flexibility I can muster, I search for the creative interpretation but, darn those Tories, it’s more watertight than my best winter jacket. Nowhere in the four reasons comes ‘cosy dates to a nostalgic ‘90s indie playlist’, and it’s almost worse than losing Brexit.
I adapt, again, to the new routine of getting out early each morning to exercise myself and the canine alarm clock before ‘other people’ are around and of not going to the pub (oh, hang on, that’s my life normally). I plod, at my new go-slow running pace, through hushed local lanes and watch a chilly spring sunrise blossom over the Garth – the scene of date two, when the world was still doing business and so was the pub at the end of the trail.
In the wide open scheme of health and happiness, three weeks really isn’t so long. There are so many blessings to count, today and just over the horizon.