I have never been more grateful to have a garden. Right now, I’m sitting in the conservatory of our house in Inverness with the doors flung wide open. It’s raining and the sound has taken me back to childhood camping holidays on the West Coast. The only thing missing is the repeated warning from Dad; ‘Don’t touch the sides or the rain will get in’. Such were the joys of old canvas tents.
I can hear the birds – they’ve been at it since 4.10am. There was word last year of a national shortage of sparrows, but I’m sure that’s because no-one counted the resident population in our garden hedges. Fragments of tiny blue, speckled shell are evidence that the new generation is hatching, and the chicks will need to be fed. Obligingly, I planted out my peas this afternoon. Word is getting round, so by morning the sparrows (and the mice who live under the shed) will have scoffed the lot. Not to worry – if the whole crop fails there’s a bag of petits pois in the freezer. I have learned not to rely on my dubious gardening skills for food.
With an extreme downturn in work, my garden and kitchen have been competing for first place as my lockdown sanctuary. Thankfully, there is work in both to keep me occupied. Mr Marr and Daughter #2 are both hard at work so as well as gardening I have cheerfully adopted the role of head chef.
Head gardener, head chef
Every day there has been freshly-baked bread, plus cake, scones and/or cookies. Every day there has been a break for morning coffee, lunch at the kitchen table, then dinner around 7. We may come out of lockdown slightly more (ahem) ‘robust’ than when we went in.
With time to scour through my recipe books I have revived some old favourites – many from Nigel Slater’s back catalogue, others clipped from vintage copies of BBC’s Good Food magazine. And there has been time to experiment, with soda bread, treacle scones and brand new recipes; Bad Girl Bakery’s Chocolate Brownie Cookies have gone straight into regular rotation. They are – without doubt – the best you will taste.
I have foraged in the depths of the chest freezer to find venison and raked at the back of the larder to find yeast. And thanks to local suppliers, I have good stocks of flour, sugar, butter and eggs. And the sun has been shining. Life in lockdown is good. Or is should be…
Because in spite of the freedom the garden brings, my productive exploits in the kitchen and my daily walks with Mr Marr (Inverness golf course is a revelation; I’d never set foot on it before, other than with a sledge and small girls in the snow) lockdown is not actually wall-to-wall fun. I know I have things easier than most (my family and friends are safe and well, I have food on the table, wine in the rack, Netflix and an outside space) but in spite of my good fortune I still have days when I struggle.
But there are down days…
On down days I feel lethargic and depressed. I worry about the future of my business, about the spiralling value of my tiny pension, and about what the world will be like when we come out of lockdown. On down days I skip my work-out and spend too much time wallowing in news and on social media. I compare myself to the versions of themselves that others share. And I feel that compared to key workers in the NHS, in care homes, supermarkets and more, that simply by staying at home and looking after my family, I’m not doing enough.
I should be doing more to help during this crisis. And if there’s nothing I can actively do to help I should at least be making the most of my free time. I should be working out every day, learning Gaelic or German, or practicing my ukulele. I should have finished power-washing, re-pointing and sealing the paths around the house, and during all those evenings in front of the telly, should have finished knitting those ridiculous socks I started on whim. And the house? It should be immaculate. Disinfected to within an inch of its life. But it’s not. None of that is happening, and I can’t work out why not.
I know I have no reason to moan, or to feel down, but I also know I’m not alone in occasionally feeling out of sorts. Few of us have experienced anything remotely like this before; we’re all going to react differently, and we’re not all going to cope well every day. Even knowing that I’m not alone in sometimes feeling low is a massive help.
One day we’ll be able to look back at this time, and what will we see? Some of us will have gaps at our tables. Others will have lost our livelihoods. All of us will have changed. But amongst all that, I hope there will be memories of the happiest times too – the silly games and challenges, the quiet movie nights, the Zoom chats, the time spent watching the flowers grow or leaving cakes on doorsteps, ringing the bell and running away.