“How is life treating you in isolation? Are you staying sane?” Lisa messaged me on Thursday. I was out for my daily exercise so I couldn’t respond immediately but it did give me an hour or so to consider my answer which ended up rather bigger than a chat message and more blog like…..
Appleby has bathed in either warm sunshine or winter breezes this week since the lockdown announced by Boris on Monday. After a mild and extremely wet winter, the Covid-19 issue has felt like another flood of catastrophic proportions and, as we are trained to do in the town, after the PM’s siren warning, we have set up the metaphorical sandbags, reinforced our castle homes with loo rolls, soap and hand cleanser and prepared ourselves for a siege. Suspicion and care walk hand in hand; conversations held with complete strangers over the requisite 2 metres distance
“You coping ok?”
“You need any shopping doing?”
The sun and blue skies have eased us into this; a blessing in disguise. Each day I wake to the Sunday quiet of birdsong and the estate coming to life a little before lunchtime. Mowers hum. Children giggle and argue on lawns. Power tools buzz. Washing flaps. Folk chat in gardens and over fences. Cars are washed. Dogs are walked by lads in shorts. T shirted mums perambulate with buggies. It’s all very relaxed. Peaceful. On Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. After months spent surviving and toiling through a mean winter, a whole week of Sundays is just what the doctor ordered for Eden as we find our feet and view the new landscape of humanity on our doorstep.
I’ve walked into it most days, the sun drawing me into warm rays, balming my soul and reminding me of the bigger things as I wander and wonder along local paths. The enormous healing power of love in action through a smile and a natter with a dog walker, video chats with my Dad 300 miles away, emails from CEOs telling me how they are looking after the elderly, the vulnerable, their staff and me, their customer. Down in the town we do the six foot pas de deux in the butchers, bakers and candlestick makers, well, hardware shop to you and me. Everyone adapting to keep wheels turning.
And alongside all of this, spring is doing its thing. Skylarks, curlew and oyster catchers sing and call over the golf club; a glorious flute symphony for an audience of me, the greenskeeper and 3 council workers on their break from repairing potholes. Primroses and swathes of daffodils spread lemon, saffron and tangerine under tree blossom, tiny pink and white petals held aloft before wind spread as confetti on the roadside verges later. It’s the world that I am designed for, where I settle and recentre and am restored.
It’s the same world that Chris Evans and Eddie Temple Morris referred to a week ago in a brief radio interview. Both were of the slightly tongue in cheek opinion that Mother Nature was fed up with us ignoring the climate change warnings and was now taking matters into her own hands. Much is being made of the reduction in CO2 emissions as a result of the global pandemic and lockdowns.
I walked alongside Murton beck yesterday where lambs skittered around ewes’ flanks unsure whether to follow their own curiosity or their mother’s calls as I turned up. It is a common sight in Eden, being one of the most productive methods of using land unsuited to avocado, chickpea or pineapple production. In fact, if you roll back the centuries to before global travel, Britain lived on the meat, fish, eggs, grains and the fruit and vegetables that coped with our climate. No wonder the French call us “les rosbifs”; our diet was essentially little more than meat and two veg. Beer and bread were staples as were honey and mead but the potato, tomato, chocolate, tea and coffee are nothing but recent incomers to our great British diet. May/June was traditionally the season of scarcity as winter stocks of grains and preserved meat would be substantially depleted before the first seasonal crops were ready.
The Romans, Viking invasion and forays, Columbus landing in America in 1492, the unveiling of the tea and spice trades as nations built empires; these and more have all opened our eyes to the remarkable fruitfulness of the world we inhabit. And we have begged, borrowed and stolen to have it for ourselves. Our supermarkets are full of products that have seen us develop into stronger and taller versions of Homo sapiens with longer life spans, but blood and betrayal too whisper their legacy. I love rice pudding sprinkled with a grate of nutmeg. Battles have been fought and lives lost over this spice. A particular tea party started the American Revolution. A whole generation was lost from Ireland when the potato harvest failed. Pastries, sugar, salt, grains, rice and flour have fostered wars across the globe as has a single pig.
Food has been both our making and our undoing. And we’re still at it today, the warring brickbats hurled at the vegan/vegetarian/meat eating ‘other side’ forgotten in the race to fill our trolleys in preparation for the siege ahead. Which seems a tad ironic seeing as 40% of the global population are overweight, and that includes developing countries. Our globe is groaning under the strain. For the season of Lent, traditionally one of fasting and preparation, we are ignoring the benefits of that discipline and are, instead, shutting down and filling up.
The fifth Sunday of Lent is Passion Sunday, and is commemorated with the story of Lazarus. The brother of Mary and Martha, his death would not just have been an emotional catastrophe for the two women. It was also an economic disaster for the household as he would have been the bread winner. By the time Jesus arrives he has been in the grave for four days. His response is recorded in the shortest verse in the Bible, John 11 v 35.
The rest we know. Jesus restores him to life, just days before his own crucifixion.
I managed an evening stroll in the last of the sunshine to reflect on this. Personal experience tells me that God has always been the solution to my problems, not the author of them. Jesus stepped in, when asked, to solve the impossible. He brought his humanity and his divinity into the drastically reduced world of two women and brought life out of death. I would be foolish to believe that my life will be storm and trouble free, but I am wise enough to know that Jesus never leaves my side during those times. Life will come from this, eventually, and whilst in the tumult, there is a peace that passes all understanding.
As we roll into the second week of Sundays with another raft of the unknown lying ahead, I wonder if we will finally develop a healthier non combative approach to the food that we are so abundantly blessed with. Will diets be flexible so that we and the planet will be in better shape? Will the meat eater finally sit down with the vegan to share a meal in peace and quiet?
Not in a month of Sundays, you may say.
Stranger things have happened.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3 He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord