DAY 90: Thurs 11 June

Egg on the rocks and a tiny child claps for the first time

I could not bring myself to go to bed early last night, so I ended my evening watching The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a delightful pastiche of the western storybook genre, by turns funny and macabre, with a great sound track as ever. All put together by the Coen Brothers. Have they ever made bad film?

This morning I arose late (after 8am for me) my body full of aches from yesterday’s exertions. and deliberated long in my night-things (that came out as night-thongs which even made me wince) about what to do with the day. I am promised a visit from grandchildren 3 and 4 which is something to look forward to. The weather looks ominous and messages from my sisters suggest it could be inclement for a while. So sauna, housework, paperwork, cooking, washing, clearing out the old chicken run, or planting the next batch of seeds? Which is it to be? How can  lockdown be boring with so many choices to hand?

First up I check on the chickens. One has laid it’s first egg in The Gulch, on the ground as per yesterday, two of the newer hens who declined to lay yesterday have gone rather primly into the hutch to use the proper laying area, and one has either laid hers haphazardly on the rocks or dropped it from her perch onto the rocks below. The smashed shell lies crookedly on a slope, its contents already consumed by her sister hens.

I put on a wash and do a teeny bit of clearing up, then, foolishly, allow myself to open Twitter etc. Suddenly I am doing some online research on various topics and haven’t even opened the latest emails. Then, just as I think it might be time for a coffee, my son is at the door with my grand-daughter. It is the welcome diversion I had been looking forward to.

She is beginning to crawl but luckily the pebbly deck of my front garden inhibits her progress so with blankets spread over them she can sit and chew on a crust, and grin while Grumps makes a fool of himself with funny clucking noises. Later, she discovers the art of clapping all by herself. It is a first and dad and grandfather are both chuffed to have witnessed it.

When I go in to make us coffee, the washing cycle comes to an end, and soon afterwards there is a cry of “Hello, Grumps!” from the roadside. It is grandsons 1 and 2 and their dad, in the area for some shopping  but put off by the lengthy queues at the supermarket. Remarkably this is a grand reunion as the two families have not seen each other in person for ages. And I am absolutely delighted. It almost like birthdays and Christmas coming together sitting physically distanced from two branches of the family. A happy man. 

The local birds were not so happy as we had invaded their outdoor cafe, so we were treated to shrill outbursts of alarm calls from sparrows and great  tits, a blackbird and our resident pigeon, all of whom had come to feast at the hanging bird table. It has been replenished now that the rats have been dealt with, for the time being. And so as my visitors went, the birds all flocked to peck up their favourite snacks.

My son spoke about the difficulties of surviving for such a long time with two very young children; waking very early, often up till very late with no respite from the demands of lively kids. In theory to be at home as a couple with their offspring seems like a glorious treat but, especially when the weather is bad, it is quite a trial. Neither adult gets much chance for quality time with their partner, nor with each child individually. It is a different level of trial to those of us on our own. We may dream of swapping scenarios, but I am not sure how long I would survive their dilemma. I find baby-sitting fun but exhausting these days. Having your antenna on full alert at all times can take it out of you.

When my daughter was 6 months old, my wife went back to work and I became a house-husband, doing a bit of freelance work on the side until my first son came along. We decided that whoever could get the best paid job would go back to work. Perhaps inevitably it was me.  At the time we lived in a pre-war two bed walk-up council flat but on an estate run as a tenants’ co-operative. My wife joined forces with other young mums on the estate to set up a playgroup and nursery which still functions in Wapping, though sadly Stephen and Matilda Tenants’ Co-operative is no more.

The visitors left with a box of fresh eggs each. And when I came in with a  song in my heart, ready to hang out the washing, it starts to rain, of course, You can’t win them all. But, that is the morning done and all the decisions have been made for me.

There are some phone calls to make, and a lot of emails to deal with this afternoon. Ironically, at least one of which will require a dive into my archives to unearth details of the formation of Stephen and Matilda Co-op from 45 years ago. Another, from an old friend who has lived in America now for nigh on 50 years, recalled her visit to England earlier this year where she came across an extraordinary piece of ‘cultural appropriation’ by African America artist Kara Walker in the turbine room at Tate Modern. It’s worth a read.

A friend suggested ‘Fons Americanus’ should be installed in Bristol and pointed out that a similar suggestion had been made by novelist Amanda Craig on BBC Radio’s Saturday Review way back in January.

This evening the chickens had a ‘midnight feast’. There was some leftover salmon carbonara that they should have been offered earlier, but when I delivered it The Gulch was in darkness. They could hear that fresh provisions had arrived, and I used a solar light to let them se it. They stirred on their perch and warbled what sounded like a mixture of appreciation and consternation. How were they supposed to get to it? Chickens can’t see in the dark so I helped them down off the high perch. Each sounded a bit like Edith Evans or Lady Constance de Coverlet as if they had been goosed by an underling, but their startled cries turned to coos as soon as they tasted their special treat. I retreated in doors for a supper of lime and chilli sea bass with new potatoes, peas and courgettes. 

Not the most productive of days, but strangely satisfying. I did manage to get some admin done, and was shocked to discover that some of it had been waiting almost three months! I was convinced I had caught up on paperwork a mere week or two ago. I suppose now I must find time to submit my accounts, but that can wait for another day, as can the filing. Time for bed. 

Mike J

Journalist, trainer, editor; storyteller; amateur historian.

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