“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst” (William Penn).From the Davidstow cheese advert. on classicfm.com………
I wasn’t going to talk more about my daily exercise, but one advantage of the children having gone back to their Dad’s (or rather, their Dad’s girlfriend’s house) is that I can now get out for exercise at my own speed! The weather has been so gorgeous that it’s been a relief and a delight to be outside, even only for an hour or so each day: and I’m regularly and frequently reminded how lucky I am to live in the countryside. In fact I said to some friends in a Zoom meeting (virtual drinks) yesterday that if I had ever had any doubts about moving to Cumbria (which I haven’t, despite some salacious press about me several years ago), they would have been wiped away by recent weeks.
Running or daily exercise is one of the things which for me means making good use of my time. I’ve now heard that I’m to be furloughed (put on 80% of my pay and not expected to do any work whatsoever) for 6 weeks from 14th April until the end of May (subject to revision). I then came across the above quotation – in, of all things, an advertisement and competition for Davidstow cheese! It struck me that it was totally appropriate for the current situation.
So, how will I use my extra time? The time I’ve released by not commuting has been used for yoga, running and singing practice; I also quite often use some of the time when I wake up in the morning to have a coffee and read, rather than having to leap out of bed and rush ahead with the day. I’m currently reading God is not Great by Christopher Hitchens, as well as some short features in Italian, and having just finished The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather. There is a big pile of books next to my bed and a friend has just promised me some more when she comes over to deliver food to her father – so my reading and the expansion of my mind (I hope!!! though that sounds somewhat pretentious) will continue.
This still, however, leaves about 7 hours a day when I would – at least 3 days p.w. – normally be working. What am I going to do with my time? I’ve already mentioned my garden project: that has progressed a little but at least I have the time to do it properly, and also to tidy up my garden a bit. But I was also thinking that it would be quite good to be in a regular morning routine of doing computer-based stuff after yoga. I’m attempting to write two books; I can email or better still video call friends and family; I have a photo book to compile; and I could do some daily Italian practice. In fact my italian conversation group is going to be setting up a twice-weekly zoom chat, so that will give me some impetus on that front.
I also have a ‘challenge’ with some friends where we each plan a route, not using air travel, of two months touring places on our ‘to see’ wishlists – as much as anything I thought it will be interesting to compare notes about where people want to go. I’ve just ordered a map of Europe from Stanfords to aid me with this, as I could do with something larger and more detailed than my world atlas. I’ve also been setting competitions for people at work and now need to dream up some fresh ones – competition 3 is ready to go once competition 2 answers are in!
I’m still waiting to see what the kids think they’re going to do, as if they’re here I’ll be home-schooling. Whatever else furlough brings, I’m resolved to try not to waste the precious extra time.
Monday 13th April – end of week 3
The children were here from Friday until yesterday, and Bella has stayed on for today and tomorrow – Edward has informed me that he’d rather be home-schooled at David’s, and at least Jo (David’s girlfriend) is a teacher, so they’ll be in good hands (though I’m not sure whether languages will feature, so I’ve suggested they are with me on a Friday for languages and other humanity-based subjects).
My focus changes when they’re here: trying to ensure that they get out safely and get some fresh air, sunlight (or daylight at least) and exercise; trying to create meals that they’ll actually eat and which are also healthy. I did a bit more to the garden and have decided to extend the lawn and create a border in the sunny corner, and a pond in one of the areas which is quite shady and where the grass doesn’t grow well. The blackbirds have been really excited by all the digging and the number of worms that are being revealed. And there’s a lot of recycling going on: turf being moved from one area to another and paving slabs in the other direction (I don’t like these concrete paving slabs – the sandstone flags of the patio are far nicer – but I’m not going to throw them away and buy new ones).
Bella wanted to walk down to her school last night, which is of course closed (and in fact the large entrance hall is being used for people to pick up prescriptions). We bumped into one of her teachers there, which was nice for her – she was saying how weird it was and how quiet the town was (and, coming back up the motorway from dropping the boys off, I was initially the only car driving north, which was weird). The teacher’s father in law had died of coronavirus but on a more life-affirming note there was a sheep about to give birth and chicks about to hatch. It reminded me of W H Auden and his poem Musee des Beaux Arts (see below).
It was then the final zoom meeting of my ‘main’ work team: out of 7 of us, 5 of us are being furloughed. I know we’ll stay in touch but it made me feel sad; and I hope the two left holding the fort won’t be too overwhelmed with work. However it also highlights how very expendable we all are, ultimately: in the irony of this situation some of my friends are incredibly busy but it’s amazing how much human industry can be stopped or cancelled and we still carry on living, eating and socialising via social media (it also says something about where I live that almost every time I go out for a walk or run I bump into – from a 2m+ distance – at least one person I know).
Meanwhile I hope I am not breaching any copyright laws by quoting Auden’s poem, which I first read as a teenager and which has stayed with me since (there was another painting used to illustrate it in our poetry books, which I can’t now find – but I also have always loved the painting Hunters in the Snow, which I think was used to illustrate some sort of wintery poem):
|Musee des Beaux Arts|
About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.