Day 38 and I began the day feeling flat. The confinement is getting to me, the never-ending nature of lockdown, one day following another, all of them blurring and tending to look much the same. I try to create variety in my structure and different activities for each day but don’t have much to work with. Reading through my collection of books is out because they are locked away in storage. Knitting is out, same issue. Colouring in, my one book of mindfulness colouring same issue again. Baking can’t happen. I don’t have an oven. Playing the piano, I long to do that. I would start at the beginning of the Bach preludes and fugues and work my way through, playing very slowly, sight reading and learning as I go and have a sense of gratitude.
The term bubble is beginning to grate. Bubble implies fun. It suggests floating inside a wobbling, diaphanous shape, the sun tinting it purple and pink and having a sense of lazily hovering above things gazing at the wonder. Bubble suggests luxurious baths. It suggests champagne and corks popping and gatherings of people and loud laughter. But this is not how it is in lockdown for many of us. Today, for me, felt more like living in a cell of one, it wasn’t solitary confinement obviously but on a dark, damp, gusty day in late autumn, looking through windows onto greyness, it felt close.
Briefly my spirits rose during a mentoring session on Skype. This was the meeting I missed earlier in the week because I had no idea what day it was. It was a pleasure to spend an hour fully absorbed in another writer’s project. This one has a solid structure and structure is everything in writing. Without it you are flailing about and getting stuck. The project is built around a collection of softly coloured Kodachrome slides. The writer’s father began photographing on arrival in New Zealand in the late 1950s, using his camera to document rural life in the Franklin district where he, his wife and young family had settled. The story is told by the son in ‘vignettes’ each one written in response to a selected photo. The writer is a secondary school history teacher and brings his interest in history to the interpretation of the photos. The experience of the migrant, of being an outsider in New Zealand society informs both the father’s and now son’s interest in the indigenous and multicultural history of the area around Pukekohe, the Maori communities, the Indian and Chinese market gardeners, the predominantly pakeha and conservative farming community. The trick is to provide the historical background, supply the appropriate detail but not too much, or the text will sag and the reader’s interest will be lost.
Later in the afternoon, my day got better. Inspired by an article in this morning’s Guardian, I went through the hole in the hedge looking for cracks and crevices in the paths around the park. I was searching for botanical plants. The article had described a phenomenon sweeping through Paris and London and further afield where people with a knowledge of botany are busy identifying the wildflowers and herbs that spring out of breaks and ruptures in the city pavements. Referred to as ‘rebel botanists’ they write the plant names in chalk next to each specimen. Unbelievably it is a criminal offence to write in chalk on the footpath. Children are forbidden to draw a hopscotch, even. It was good to read however that in Hackney the council has lifted their draconian regulation and are welcoming the intervention of botanist Sophie Leguil ,the instigator of the More than Weeds campaign and are allowing her to create chalk trails to highlight ‘the forgotten flora at our feet’.
These projects remind me of the botanical gap filler project that emerged along the High Street in central Christchurch after the earthquakes. Entitled the Botanical Preservation Project it was the inspiration of Liv Wokshop and her response to the startling and welcome appearance of wildflowers and herbs scrambling over derelict sites where city buildings had once stood. Making use of the mesh fences that surrounded those ‘vacant’ sites, she attached black and white illustrations of the flowering plants: Trifolium repens (white clover), Echium vulgare (Viper’s Bugloss), Rumix crispus (curly dock), Lapsana communis (Nipplewort), Ulex europacus (gorse.) I remember how my heart lifted encountering this display and how the inclusion of their Latin names seemed to endow plants once considered common weeds with greater significance.
Out in the park this afternoon I found a pink flowering ‘polygonum orientale’ commonly known as ‘Kiss me over the garden gate.’ It was growing in the top of a rock wall in my nook. The leaf growth was healthy and, remarkably for this time of year, there was one precious flower. I photographed it for this entry and also tried to write its name on the rock wall, with a piece of chalk, but the roughness of surface and the slippery stone insets obstructed my effort. But I tried. Tomorrow on my walk I will be on the lookout for more precious specimens on the Devonport streets. In preparation I have downloaded a plant identifier app to assist the identification.
The activity raised my spirits as did a comment from an 'anonymous London chalker' in the Guardian article. She had been describing her tree labelling walks, saying that naming trees gives people a quick blast of nature connection by encouraging them to look up into the sky through the leaves of plane, sycamore, oak, chestnut, beech and notice them. And then she remarked, “this is good for mental health when none of us can manage that much — living through a global pandemic is quite enough to be getting on with. But it’s brought me a great amount of joy.”