I’ve got the words ‘release date’ ringing in my head. Maybe I’ve been binge watching Orange is the New Black a little too much (okay, who I am kidding? I watched the entire seven seasons on Netflix in like a week in February BEFORE COVID fully hit), but ‘release date’ keeps arriving in my mind’s ear (I reckon if there is a mind’s eye there’s gotta be a mind’s ear). ‘Release date’ – the day to be released back into the world and I can’t help wondering when that will be and what it will be like. For the women of Litchfield Prison that meant getting sprung from jail, at our house right now, at least for today, it means the day our kittens will go out for the first time into the garden since they arrived in our house back when I was waiting with a poised finger over the TV remote to click the “Skip Intro” of OITNB so I could get back to my show.
Coco and Luna both were chosen to join us at Heverswood because we thought (like most of the world) we would be seeing in 2020 as we had planned and the kittens would be the perfect anecdote for keeping Skyler de-stressed over the course of his final revision and actual GCSEs examinations. Instead we’ve found we’ve instead shared not the examination process with these little cuties but the quarantine of 2020. We’ve bonded with them these last eight weeks watching them race to our doors trying to slip out past our legs – willing their way to freedom.
It’s wild when you first get kittens at eight weeks they are so timid and have to work themselves up to sneaking out from under the dresser when you walk in to the room – crouching kitten style, keeping low to the floor…maybe more commando style than crouching tiger. Now they literally fling themselves at speed towards any entrance that smells of the outdoors. We are not trying to be cruel but keep them as safe as we can whilst they recover from their spaying operation post ‘reaching maturity’ doing our job to keep them from bringing more kittens into the already overladen kitten world. At any rate, it’s been fun to watch them gain in confidence as they’ve watched, heads in synch with the ball, as we’ve ping ponged on the table outside the room we’ve set up their box and food in, they’ve paced along the width of the back of our house chasing any leaf caught up in a breeze toppling along like tumbleweed, pawing at the glass to try and touch the unobtainable toy.
The kittens have even shadowed me from indoors as I’ve watered the plants I’m trying to coax from the pots on the back patio. I do not have the green fingers/thumbs like the rest of my family so I’m literally trying, in the first instance, not to kill the eggplants, basil and geraniums I had delivered. We were unable to find tomato plants when Boris Johnson announced the lockdown of the UK on the 23rd of March. Much like everyone else in the nation worrying whether they’d have fresh food for the summer, I panic bought compost and any seedlings I could get my mail-order hands on and slowly over May they’ve been arriving to test their fate under my tutelage. As I said, I was too slow off the mark and missed out on the tomato plants, so I YouTubed “tomato plants hack” having remembered being mesmerised last summer by people demonstrating the methods in which you can grow fruit and veggies from the wizened near-rotten-rubber-about-ready-for-the-mulch pile carrots, potatoes and dented tomatoes rolling around the produce drawer of our fridges and fruit bowls. Much to my delight some lady in New Delhi was completely in the know and she had a handy dandy tutorial on how to slice a tomato in half, bury it in an inch of compost and keeping its soil damp at all times coaxing little tomato seedlings out twenty days later. I reckoned I had nothing to lose and guess what? She was right. We’ve now got plants emerging from the pots I put in the sunniest spot I could find. It’s keeping me entertained to no end and now I’ve got the bug no unfurling blossom around my house is unappreciated. No alliums have ever been more anxiously anticipated nor peonies tightly origami-ed into perfect balls awaiting their exactly right time to unwrap. And of course, the foxglove flourish fascinates every stroll to the front bed, stalks high, trumpet heads bowed, spectacular polka dotted pinks popping from within. I kid you not. When the first rhododendron blossom started to show its fuchsia petals from the pack of green glossy leaves, we celebrated it from the kitchen table making sure to point it out to each other and even grin as we passed a binocular lens over it perched on a high part of the branch just beyond our reach.
In all of this, I am left desperate struggling to think of the exact name of the green that fresh buds grow in. “Lime” seems to citrus-y and acidic to describe it. There seems to need to be another layer of lightness, freshness to capture the green of spring. Be it grass blades, tulip leaves, hydrangea flowerheads, the greens deepen and match their shape, size and duty of their adult plant, but to begin with, like the eyes of our kittens when they first arrived, the greens come in the lightest and purest of colours.
Some of the fun in the anticipation of blooms is wondering did something make it from last year? Has it had enough water? The right spot to settle? I love the saying a ‘riot of colour’ as though colours are causing a stir, taking a stand with their bold statements in violet, bubblegum, salmon, morning glory yellow, lilac, even the periwinkle of forget-me-nots. I love the audacity of the plants to poke out their greenness to begin with, out of the dark earth or on the tip of a branch, before moving on to a more varied display of colour.
Each green bud feels like a blessing. An actual sign of hope.
And now I wake up and watch my tomato seedlings boldly grow new leaves each day, the basil plants bending towards the warmth of the sun, the geraniums bulk out and glow fluorescent pink. A little like the Med we are so missing in our confinement. Even as I miss the sea. The salt. The food. The real accents we are now all practicing on Duolingo. I wonder could I take a class this autumn? Have a home tutor? It’d be even better than the cartoon owl who encourages me every time I get ten in a row correct on this language app. I love the sound of the words. Even just stringing the vocabulary I am learning to form sentences of a kind…Non sono forchette (They are not forks) gives me a taste of the world outside of my own.
And yet even with all these happy distractions, I can’t help but feel low at times. Downtrodden by the state of affairs. Stir crazy with wanting the spontaneity of my life to return. Wanting to know when we will all be allowed out again. Listening to Radio 4’s Thought for the Day spot had me mesmerised as Rhidian Brook read his poem, Soap, Lemons, Paracetamol. I experienced a poetic epiphany having the poem speak so deeply to me I felt it expressed my own internal thoughts with perfect articulation.
Soap, Lemons, Paracetamol.
Wake up, breathe, thank your God for breath.
Clean your teeth (is that a cough?).
Gargle with salt.
Take your tea extra hot.
Keep fear at bay, and write a list.
Take back control
With soap, lemons, paracetamol.
Check the news but keep it short,
Radio for facts
The birds for true report.
What next? Oh yes. Exercise.
Stand up straight,
Fill your sacs.
Your stocks are low
Get on your knees
And pray, facing Sainsbury’s.
Butter. Apples. Chocolate. Cheese.
Nearly noon and so little done,
Feel inessential, feeling numb.
How stuck indoors
Our deeds of love.
Hopes on hold.
Do your taxes, paint the shed.
Don’t think about what all this means,
Keep death at bay with games and memes.
Ignore the pressure to achieve,
Stare out the window,
See that leaf
Watch it blow across the yard.
Syrup. Wine. Sugar. Lard.
Great events are best left
Unexplained when in the fire.
It needs distance to see
The Truth, cooling with time.
Two metres? Make it two years.
Leave snap judgements
To the tweets of sages
And Job’s friends.
Be still. Know we’re not God.
From dust we’re made,
From dust we’re raised.
Bread. Flour. Marmalade.
The toll comes in
Want to hear the score again?
Worse than China, worse than Spain.
Please. Stop playing
This awful game.
Some say it’s war,
But that’s unfair to us and them,
When what we fight
Has no face, no shame,
It’s just data doing its thing.
Dad, what did you do during the plague?
I stayed indoors, got little done
And watched the wind
Blow through leaves and lives.
Milk. Pepper. Salad. Limes.
Fail to focus.
Want to cry.
Feel low, feel late.
Please stop saying this is great
When weeks ago the talk was mean.
Now in the night the sirens scream
And the virus sneaks
Into our dreams.
Is that the fever?
Open the latch,
Lift the lever.
Offer thanks and praise
To the ones
Who’ve no time to reminisce.
Or say good bye.
A crash course
In metaphysics for them.
Dusted in days.
They’re done too soon,
Their last question sighs: why?
Wheat. Barley. Corn. Rye.
So order your affairs and
Complete that list.
Wash your hands
And call your mum,
That neighbour, friend, your son.
Tell them what you always knew:
This life’s a gift,
That Love is real,
Its touch is true,
It is thing that gets us through
This moment; it will pass.
So take deep breaths
And fill your soul.
The Spirit’s willing
You make that call.
Soap. Lemons. Paracetamol.
With every syllable, I felt Rhidian Brook knew exactly what I was experiencing and I felt compelled to share this with Nick and Megan and Christy as soon as they each made their way to the kitchen. I felt tearful with desperation wanting them to understand I was sharing the poem but also my own internal musings. I wanted them to sense the balancing act I was struggling to maintain (as we all are) between worrying and accepting and trying to make sense of it all. I don’t want to begrudge this time however it feels like the red kite family we’ve been watching in the sky above our garden and fields next door. Huge birds of prey whom we’ve marvelled at, halted our conversations to stop and point at as they circle and float on the uplift of the thermals. Mimicking their names, looking not like the diamond shape of a kite but rather the objects tethered to the earth tugging on the air to push them higher. The red kites, Megan and I saw teach their young how to literally flap in the empty air outside their nests and then suddenly soar on the invisible updrafts to fly ever higher. All of this gets tempered with worrying about the release date of the kittens and whether or not they’ll be wise enough in their freedom to escape a hunger family of five. So you see it really is a see-saw with ‘release date’ and increasingly ‘fret’ wringing their hands around my heart such that my lowness of spirit started to tighten a grip around my day, when my eighty-five year old dad called with sheer happiness in his voice. Giddy as a kid. He’d had a huge thunderstorm the night before with full on crashes of thunder and lighting rolling through Beaufort, SC. He’d woken up early to walk his dog at six and felt so thrilled by the clearing out of the storm and humidity he felt the world seemed cleaned and fresh. He told me he felt utter happiness at being alive. He struggled for a way to express it, so wanting to share his story with me, so wanting to get it right, to express it exactly as he felt it, “The world”, he said “had dawned…”
I sighed, suggesting, still stuck in my funk, “Anew?”and he said, “Exactly”.
He then proceeded to tell me how he’d remembered a comment I’d made a week or so ago on our family WhatsApp chat when Patty (like the rest of us) had been watching the birds nest near her lake home and mentioned she thought they might be bluebirds. I had sent everyone the link to the old Song of the South’s ‘Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah’ and suggested my sister should look for “bluebird on [her] shoulder”. So full of the vim and vigour of the morning, my dad said he couldn’t help but recall the song on his walk and then actually break out singing it. He said he literally threw caution to the wind, in the dawn of his Brickyard Lane neighbourhood, fearless as to whom might hear him, and began belting out ‘Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah‘ at the top of his lungs. “It just felt so right,” he noted and then he told me just as he got to the lyric “there’s a bluebird on my shoulder”, wouldn’t you know at that very moment a bluebird descended from behind him, crossed his shoulder and landed a few feet away from him and Lady and preceded to stand there looking at him. Not moving, daring to be fully seen. My dad said, “Kel, I’d been thinking about you and your synchronicities and there it was. Just staring at me. The bluebird.”
By which time I was smiling, then cracking up, and delighting in my dad’s utter joy; his young at heart-ness was as contagious as the damn Corona virus. I told him how I’d been a bit low especially marking the second month of our lockdown and contemplating our release date. Wanting to know when it will all be over, knowing no one could tell me. But then his phone call came and his literal joie de vivre was irresistible, I mean it was like something out of the original Disney film speaking as much to me as Rhidian Brook’s poem.
It all made me feel so grateful to receive that phone call and for the fact I come from such stock. So grateful to have a father who at eighty-five years old gets jazzed up enough about seeing a bluebird he seemed to conjure from his own rendition of ‘Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah‘ he needed to call me as soon as he got home. He’s not worrying about the release date. He’s not saying it’s not hard. But he is remaining ever hopeful and engaged in his life. I hung up with my dad and finally thought of the exact shade of green the spring growth reminds me of. A colour I will remember in due course neither too rose-coloured or jaded but surely this spring 2020 green, on balance, at least at our house, can be called none other than ‘sublime’.