It’s returned, the humming. The background rumble of traffic on the South Circular, distant sirens, the odd, irate horn. It’s not a new thing, really; opened the balcony door to it about 10 days ago and felt it reverberate through what had been so still. In recent days the skies have been joining in, puckered with planes. They sound so loud now, it’s difficult to believe we used to think little of them.
Things have started to turn again. Engines, wheels. While I miss their absence, I appreciate that it is the sign of normality waking up, that it means I might be able to see people again soon, hug my mum again at some point, maybe. That the civilisation that stopped a couple of months ago is awakening with the angry roar of an accelerating motorbike.
I think about all the things I have put out, and how little I have really written. This will be only the second newsletter I’ve posted since the one I wrote on the last double-decker bus I sat on, two months ago, when we were all sent home. Sometimes I think about the stories from this time and how they might get lost. That we’ll have nothing to say to those who come later but, “well, we stayed inside. And it was quite boring, but also quite nice, in a way.”
I wonder what I’ll remember of lockdown. Ours has been a fortunate one: we have our health, and that of our loved ones. We have food and money to buy it with. We have been able to watch the trees green, and catch the dappled sunshine on our skin from the balcony. We have one another. This lockdown has been made of washing up and jelly babies, irritating earworms, a new book every 48 hours and fresh sheets on Sunday night. Small things that there wasn’t really room for when we were rushing about, between places to eat and work and otherwise be.
Among them, the woods. They are on the doorstep but I barely went in before. Now, I spend the day looking at them through the windows. Before sundown, I walk in them. I used to get lost in them but no longer. I know where the pond full of yellow flag irises is, which outcrop of cow parsley bloomed first and which will stick around. I know where to watch the jays, and where the air smells good and sweet and fresh. I stand there and inhale so fiercely it feels cool against my gullet, so fiercely it drowns out the birdsong. Beyond the woods lies my neighbourhood, which I now examine in meticulous detail to tell the difference between each day’s outing. Between watching the elderflower leaves broaden, the buds appear and then blossom. These changes make the same pocket of landscape new.
And for all of this still no words. Some linger in drafts that I’ll never unearth. They often feel too trite or flimsy, too indulgent and meaningless. All this time, and no means of translating it on the page. A few weeks ago somebody remarked that we weren’t working from home but at home, during a global pandemic, trying to work. A statement that came laden with permission. But it seems we are in this state for the foreseeable now and eventually I’ll have to start writing things again. At some point I’ll have to grasp clumsily at a language that feels ill-suited to this time.
Until then, the woods. I spent an hour in them this morning, ambling away from my usual route. In the midst of a clearing, studded with tree stumps, the sound of a woodpecker’s drill buffered through the surrounding trees. Louder than the traffic, louder than the planes, louder than my own fierce breath. What a marvel it is, to find somewhere new after not leaving the neighbourhood for weeks.