The strangest of years comes to a close with a mild pffft. Not for 2020 the traditional fireworks – of which I never take notice anyway, other than to ensure an anxious greyhound is tucked in the middle of a soothing pack of sighthounds in the quiet home of dear friends. I simply run out of steam, like an off-pace run where I give up clocking the splits and limply walk the last stretch home.
How to sum up 2020 in one neat blog post? It’s surely akin to the most arduous mountain climb, during which you know you’ll get somewhere eventually and pretty views are glimpsed along the way, but it’s largely a mud-sliding slog along a disappearing sheep track and you’re wearing your plimsolls. From the rewards of an NHS role in which I feel I’m actually being useful, to the deepest low of a child exhausted and thin with this hideous disease, my little family’s lockdown is marked by clocks that don’t quite stop but slow to a resoundingly hushed tock. Golden summer months of untouched sunshine make winter, when it comes, cruelly cold.
I aim for gratitude, but there’s too much to be guilt-ridden with first. I have work that’s well paid and away from the front line, but on too many days I’m washed to exhaustion by the Covid current. I have a lovely home, my peaceful place with only my name on the mortgage, yet it’s suddenly horribly small as two teens and I all try to work from home. The huge greyhound tries to do nothing at all other than stretch out his long legs in precisely the place we’ll trip over them, and I start to see only the cracks. The ongoing health tests find some things that no one’s even been looking for and on December 11 – International Mountain Day – I simply come to a halt, caught up at last by the enormity of a year not climbing mountains.
I switch off social media and hole up with my favourite people, our little bubble now firmly including someone lovely and warming this strangest of years in a way I can’t measure. There is always kindness, invariably humour and, often, running (me at my fastest pace ever to keep up; him, the slowest, to allow me to). We play lots of board games and, smug in the knowledge it’s Colonel Mustard in the dining room, I stop noticing the cracks.
It is, as always, a book that captures my year and reflects back the best of it. In 2018 it was The Book of Joy, a beautifully-timed gift from the kindest of friends; in 2019 it was The Light in the Dark, a beautifully-timed gift to myself. This year, it’s Thinking on My Feet, Kate Humble’s love letter to the simple joy of putting one foot in front of the other. By accident – or, I should say, due to my habit of having on the go several books at any given time – I find myself reading it in sync with the seasons it spans, delving into each chapter in the corresponding month.
Humble and I share an obsession with natural light; seeking out the first signs of morning on dawn runs and wandering along lanes wrapped in the soothing security of darkness. What we don’t share are the means, financial or Covid-dictated, to travel. Kate hops on and off planes to Rwanda, Kenya, New York. She motors down to Cornwall and up to Scotland. I clock up the grand total of five nights’ camping in Wales – one in my own garden – and a luxurious sleep in a loft above a cowshed (5.30am milking included).
On Boxing Day morning, after letting out Lionel to water the plants, I make myself a bucket of tea and do a rare thing; I head back to bed (I let Lionel back in first; I mention it because I’ve had another birthday and he increasingly spends a good 20 minutes with his nose pressed patiently against the back door before I remember he’s not inside). I’m keen to finish the book before December runs out and manage to do so before Boxing Day morning runs out, although the tea is finished long before I reach the last page.
And what a last page. Underlying the absolute necessity of connection, it was written in another time – a time of travel and group walks and long-distance adventure – yet it so adeptly sums up this strangest of years. I have run out of steam for now, but I will pick up the pace when I’m ready, being a little kinder to myself and maybe spending more mornings taking my tea back to bed. I will continue to connect with nature and champion the mental health-saving benefits of getting outside, from your doorstep for as now and for as long as it takes. I will reconnect with much-missed friends when it’s safe to do so and meet the new friends that are waiting, just beyond my doorstep, for those go-further days to return. I have hope that 2021 will bring easier times, but there is plenty of 2020 that I will carry over the new year threshold with me.