Life in lockdown

On the whole, we’ve been having a thoroughly nice time in lockdown. I read yesterday that psychologists are worried that people have made such cosy cocoons for themselves that even when we’re finally allowed out, we’ll all be a bunch of agoraphobes who refuse to leave the sanctuary of home. I think there is truth in that and I also think that perhaps it is no bad thing, that there is time yet for stillness and an appetite for life focused on things other than endless consumption and growth.

We do go out every day, but usually only the hundred metres or so to the park. Last week children had left chalk graffiti on the path, an act of pure creativity without self-consciousness.

Kids’ graffiti in Lightwoods Park

I’ve been following my own creative urges – nothing amazing, just thirty minutes of free writing here, a bit of colouring there. I envy all those people I know who actually have skills to draw or paint (or write) well. There’s always cooking of course, and now that we have flour again I’m drawn back to the alchemy that is yeast cookery. Last week I had a go at crumpets; this week I can feel Danish pastries coming on.

Homemade crumpets

In our domestic bubble, aside from the cookery and colouring, there is always the cultivated world to turn for solace and creative endeavour. I am so pleased with my garden this May, the first time I’ve got it looking good. Some of it is considered, some of it is a happy accident. Tulips give tones of green, cream, pink and peach against the hot pink azalea, and in the last week the alliums have opened their lavender pom pom heads. The hottest pink roses are opening too, offset by the vigorous green growth of delphinium, aquilegia and foxglove. It will stay looking glorious for a few more weeks before the inevitable early July slump. To offset that I have a cold-frame full of seedlings – cosmos, nicotiana, more delphiniums, dahlia – readying themselves for their summer in the sun.

The tulips are still going strong, giving white, pink and peach tones to the greening-up garden

All this fecundity is in sharp contrast to the allotment, where nothing much is happening yet. Nothing cultivated I mean, for the grass and nettles are once again rampant. I popped down on Saturday for an hour alone-time, only to be met by a downpour. The shed provided cover and I perched on a spindle of hop twine for half an hour, accompanied by bird song, lilac, cow parsley and the sound of rain on the roof.

In a downpour, I take refuge in the allotment shed, with a view of lilac, cow parsley and nettles

The climbing beans, dwarf beans and sweet peas have now been in for a week or so, netted to protect against the inevitable bird attack. The rest of the soil remains fallow for now. I have learnt that things planted directly in our soil do not do well and it does no good to rush; the first five months of the year are a dormant period down there. No, much better to sow the seeds at home, develop strong plants and put them out only when they’re good and ready, which for the brassicas, salads, squash, corn and cut flowers may not be for another month yet.

Beans have been planted out and netted against the birds

I still visit the allotment though, partly to keep the grass down, but mostly to get my fix of May cut flowers. Alongside the alliums, which I planted several years ago, there is self-sown cow parsley, lilac and persicaria for the picking, making for a gloriously frothy vase.

Alliums, lilac, cow parsley and persicaria, all foraged from the allotment

Having worked from home for years, I find that lockdown life is just a slowed down, slightly more domestic version of normal life. I look after Harry, tend to my seeds, do my bits of work, cook, take care of the never-ending chores, read, sit, chat, play in the garden. There are Zoom meetings, Zoom parties, Zoom yoga, and we even managed a socially-distanced drink with our neighbours through the back gate. Once a week I go to the shops and collect bread from the baker in Stirchley. I completely avoid Facebook, the newspapers and much of the news as I find all the shouting to be wildly unhelpful. I yearn to write but don’t know where to begin (always that sense that we should be doing something useful or productive). There is always the worry of financial armageddon, of course, so as not to become overwhelmed I find I take life one week at a time.

It feels like the right conditions for good things, good ideas, to brew.

Also this week:

Cooking and eating: Roast chicken with fennel, chilli and oregano; peach and blackberry cobbler; homemade pesto to dress roasted aubergine and asparagus; tagliatelle with peas and bacon; raspberry lemon muffins; lemon ricotta hotcakes; cannellini beans braised with tomato; crumpets.

Allotment and garden: Planted more dwarf beans, climbing beans and squash. Planted out runner, French and borlotti beans, sweet peas, cornflowers. Hardening off many younger plants. Uncovered all the old strawberry patch ready to take the squash plants in a few weeks. Garden tulips holding on and the first roses are breaking bloom. Covered up the gooseberry and redcurrant against bird attack.

Harvesting: Cow parsley, lilac, alliums, persicaria, lettuce merveille de quat saison (veg trug), tarragon, marjoram.

Reading: The land where lemons grow by Helena Attlee. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.

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