Dear Readers, what do you find yourself dreaming about during the lockdown? I have found my mind going to some most peculiar places. For example, when I was a child I loved messing about in rockpools – I have never been one for laying about on a beach, but give me a fishing net and a jam jar and I’m there (all creatures are returned to the pool after inspection of course). How I remember that seaweedy smell, the salt in my hair, the slight tingle of incipient sunburn (there was no Factor 50 in those days). I find myself daydreaming about the way that the sea anemones turned from boiled sweets into medusas as the tide came in, and the prickle of the feet of the little crabs that I used to pick up. How I loved the dart of the little shrimps, and the many tiny suckers on the undersides of the star fish! Every rockpool seemed to be a treasure trove of delights, inexhaustible. It has been a long, long time since I went rockpooling, but when this is over, I shall head out again, barefooted on the slippery rocks, trying to avoid the barnacles.
And then there are the things that I’ve never seen that I find myself aching to see.
Mum always wanted to see the northern lights, and before she got very sick we were trying to sort out a Norwegian cruise so that she and Dad could see them. I realise now that I was kidding myself, and that Mum and Dad were humouring me: I got a bit frustrated that no cruise ever suited, but I think they knew in their heart of hearts that they weren’t well enough to go. But now I have such an urge to jump on a boat in the middle of winter and head north: maybe I think that, wherever Mum is, she’ll be able to see them through my eyes. Whatever the reason, I find myself thinking about those great curtains of light dancing across the sky, and my heart yearns.
Rather closer to home, I want to go back to St Pancras and Islington Cemetery, currently closed to the public. Rumour has it that it was closed following a barbeque and some sunbathing at one of the graves, that involved the police being called. Whatever the reason, it is now out of bounds unless you are attending a funeral or cremation, so I am missing the emergence of the young foxes, who will just be starting to explore the world – before it closed, a friend of mine told me that she’d seen no less than four young foxes cavorting around the graves. It’s so frustrating! But I shall have to make do with the photo above of a particularly confiding young vixen back in 2016. Isn’t she gorgeous?
And how I miss my city. I miss the museums and the art galleries and the theatre. I miss going to the cinema. But most of all, I miss just mooching around, walking along back streets that I’ve never experienced before, looking out over the Thames, finding little patches of green that I didn’t know existed. For all her messiness and noise, she is in my blood. My husband says that London is a disease that you have to leave to get over, and I know what he means. I have loved spending time in the peace of Dorset, but something always draws me back here.
And speaking of the delights of London:
I love these two bookshops with a passion. Daunt Books, on Marylebone High Street, specialises in travel books, and I love the way that they arrange all the books for a particular country or region in the same space. So, for Austria for example, you will have guidebooks to Vienna, walking guides for the Tyrol, Austrian recipes books full of kaiserschmarren and sacher torte, and novels by Elfride Jelinek and Robert Seethaler. Incidentally, can I recommend Seethaler’s 2016 novel ‘A Whole Life’? Maybe I’m biased because I’ve spent so many weeks in the Austrian Alps, but I found it a useful insight into the history of the mountains, as seen through the life of one man in a Tyrolean village.
The London Review of Books bookshop on Museum Street, close to the British Museum is, as you might expect, full of books on politics and economics, along with unusual works of fiction and an interesting selection of science and natural history books. Plus, it has a cafe with homemade cakes, and that’s hard to beat. The staff are every bit as quirky and interesting as the books, and really know their stuff. Pop in if you’re in the area and you’ll see what I mean.
And of course, I miss all the little things: having coffee with a friend, going out for breakfast with my husband, going to my pilates class, popping to the garden centre. But how easy it has been to take all these things for granted, and how wonderful it will be to be able to do them again! For some people I know that just being able to get back to work will be a huge relief. I never thought that I’d miss commuting, but how great it will be to jump on a train and go into the office to see my colleagues in the flesh when all this is over. There will be some re-evaluation of what makes life worthwhile for all of us, I think. It will be fascinating to see how long the effects of the lockdown last, and what decisions we make about our futures. We are certainly living through history, and it will be interesting to see what has changed when we step, blinking, into the big wide world again.