I've spent more time than I like to think about, over the last three years, driving back and forth around the m25 between Essex and Hertfordshire. I've driven, often fighting tears, losing, stuck in endless traffic jams, sad, bewildered and grieving. There have been joyful occasions too, like celebrating a big birthday with my big sister and a big birthday cake and my parents' 60th wedding anniversary, but mainly it's been a sad road.
So today, driving along an eerily quiet A12 and an M25 where the traffic consisted mainly of haulage and not too much of that, was something of a departure. It was like driving on Christmas morning, without the car full of presents and the aching bank account, except for many I suppose the analogy is closer. That is their bank accounts are aching because their houses and the three new freezers they bought are crammed with food, and their garages are bursting with toilet paper, and they still don't think they have enough. But yes, it was quiet and there were electronic signs suggesting we should stay at home.
Looking at those I wondered how essential my journey was. It could have been more essential if my dear old dad were happy to self-isolate or shield himself I suppose, but I did have two bags of things for him in the boot and he is elderly and he does have asthma. And the company was very welcome to us both. God! I've only been self isolating for three days now! I've spent much longer on my own before and not noticed it. But this is different.
When I arrived I nearly wound up turning around and driving home again. My dad got really annoyed while dealing with the bags and was obviously not feeling well. He was snapping at me like a bowl of Rice Crispies and I made myself walk away for a moment and count to ten. (Not 25 like Tattycoram in Little Dorrit but that might have helped too!) When I went back in he made a comment which is as close to an apology as he'll ever get.
"I don't know about irritable bowel syndrome" (which he has recently been diagnosed with), "I think I have irritable man syndrome".
When I smiled and said 'You don't say! I hadn't noticed', he got all grumpy again but it was not as sharp.
We went out into the garden and sat with a cup of tea and enjoyed the sunshine and the birdsong. My dad has a lovely little corkscrew hazel, next to which is a bird feeder and there were blue tits flying constantly in and out. They queue up on the branches and then take their turn, swooping in and darting away, never quite coinciding. Social distancing seems to come quite naturally to them. When we first sat down, Dad shone a little laser at me, a measuring thing. 'What's that I asked?'
'Just checking you're far enough away', he replied.
What can you say!
But it was lovely, just to sit and feel the sun's warmth and we talked about all sorts, not being able to quite stay away from the virus. It's not been a good day, virus wise. America has leapt up the table of stats, from about sixth place on Saturday with just under 20,000 cases to first place today with 82,000 and nearly 14,000 new cases in one day. We had a big jump again today - 2,129 new cases and now over 11,000 in total with deaths up 115 to 578. And I look at the graphs and think, normally when you're looking at a jaunty graph like that it's showing you something good, but this insistent race upward is death and infection. How can it be real?
At eight this evening people stood at their doors and applauded the health service. Someone had music playing in their car with the doors open, and it was possible to hear a wave of applause travelling around the village. It was a moving moment. While it lasted I felt part of something bigger than myself and I realised that's what we're all lacking. We're all little fragments of a whole at the moment and something cohesive like that is so powerful. And the NHS deserve their applause.
Pictures today are just the lovely garden. Oh and Delilah with her head in a box. I bought a candle making kit on line. That'll be fun I thought. If I get round to it.
But here she is
And here's the garden. And everything in it was lovely.