The wind in the leaves of the big tree. Bird song. The muted roar of the docks.
It is a roar – and it’s got my attention – but it isn’t very loud.
A sudden flight of geese!
But I can’t see them behind the trees.
An argument, just on the edge of hearing. A man shouting, a woman shouting back.
Seagulls. A wood pigeon. More seagulls.
The sun is high enough off the horizon to be properly warm on my face now. There’s a collective noun of small birds in the catkin bush down the slope from me. Hazel? I’m not very good at naming things on the fly.
If I wasn’t sitting out here with my first-thing mug of tea, those birds would be at my Wild Bird Feeding Station, scattering seeds as they get breakfast. I have the makings of a harvest below my bird feeder, my WBFS, heads of corn fully formed but not yet yellow.
I won’t bother grinding the corn between, say, two pebbles from the beach. But I could. A very small loaf of bread. Dough left to rise in a thimble? Fairy story in there somewhere.
It’s Tuesday morning and I’m sitting out here with a mug of tea and yesterday I did the same and everything was so absolutely just right that here I am again.
“Never get used to this,” we said to each other a lifetime ago, sitting in the car in a deserted North Coast car park at night, watching a Winter sea. I think we’d driven there – detoured there – to be there.
For a while after that there was a ferry I needed to catch every morning. It touched the other side of the water at the same time as my long-ago commuter train probably still draws to a halt at Liverpool Street Station in London.
Cari Nazeer wrote a piece on Medium entitled Reclaim your morning commute. “Set aside a commute’s worth of time to do whatever used to keep you busy on your morning journey.” I like that idea. Sit out with a mug of tea listening to birdsong.
I want to say that the muted roar of the docks is over the horizon, but it isn’t. It’s just not foregrounded. “Send to Back,” as Photoshop puts it. I always notice when it isn’t there, so I guess it’s just blended in with the birdsong and the rest of the morning. Behind their layers.
Dover Beach, Matthew Arnold. “But now I only hear Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar…”
Which isn’t exactly the feeling I get when I hear the muted roar of the docks on a Falmouth morning, but still. I like the poem.
I think I read somewhere that Arnold’s roar can be taken to symbolise the withdrawal of all the Victorian certainties in the face of the twentieth century.
Maybe. Convenient if so.
Suddenly, an aeroplane. First I’ve heard (consciously heard) in a long time.
The docks make a comfortable sound, and I wouldn’t like to be without the occasional experience of opening the shutter in the morning to see some vast ship arriving outside my window.
Often, they’re built for some mysterious deep-sea purpose and festooned with accessories such as helicopter pads and/or (I looked this one up; ships have web pages) heave-compensated gangway solutions.
The sheer ingenuity of the human mind when presented with a practical problem.
Sorry, challenge. Practical challenge. We don’t have problems any more.
I wonder what the noise for our time would be. The melancholy, long, withdrawing roar of that aeroplane?
So that’s okay, then. There is brain activity behind the decision to tell us all to go back to work despite nothing else having changed. Same old workplace, same old virus.
And long sunny afternoons. And a mellowed-out virus that's kinder to us in the sunshine.
Wait – a virus that encourages sunbathing? I feel another twinge in my sense of the unreal.
Sunlight, said my radio the other day, has both anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. Well, of course it has.
Just about every component of the modern world forcibly ground to a halt – and now the thing wants us to get some sun.
I can take a hint, but isn’t this weird?
Maybe it’s my cognitive bias going a bit wonky, but if They offered us a choice between (a) a media scientist explaining the R number again and (b) a media atheist giving us a Rational Explanation for the weird fit between Covid and everything we’ve been doing wrong since about 1959 – I’d go for the less patient one.
The atheist, I mean. “How can you believe such nonsense?” is always such a great start to a relationship.
Scientists only get out of bed because they know they don’t know everything, but atheists.
Atheists are inside the box with the rest of us, but they absolutely are not going to let anybody find a lid and try to open it.
Sit down! This is all there is! Tiny little wriggly microbes are causing it!
That’s not a lid! Don’t open it!
Scared? Me? Nonsense!
But don’t open it!
Was it G K Chesterton who said, “When a man stops believing in God, he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes anything”? [Spoiler: yes, it was.]
There’s so much on Google and Wikipedia about belief, and faith, and spirituality, and Gaia, and Mother Earth, and The Goddess, and affirmations, and chanting, and shamanism, and healing, and astrology, that it’s actually quite difficult to find that quote about God.
But yes, it was G K Chesterton. [Told you.] He meant, I think, that we either hold to our faith in the one Divine Entity that hardly gets a mention these days, or we become credulous fools.
A variant on Hilaire Belloc’s “And always keep a-hold of Nurse For fear of finding something worse,” I suppose.
Let go of Jehovah, and you get Cthulhu.
Nonsense! Don't often say it, but - nonsense!
There’s something better, not worse, about today’s more forgiving Divine Entities.
[No, I don’t know why I keep using capital D and capital E. A primitive part of my brain has taken over, clearly. Nurse! Help!]
Never mind whether they exist or not. Never mind whether you’re a hard-line atheist or ready to accept the geneticist J B S Haldane’s “suspicion” (his word) that, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”
Doesn’t matter. We’re facing a deadly global pandemic that’s not only killing people; it’s killing the way we live now.
Whatever form they take, and even if they're just words for a way of treating the world, we need the DEs now.
I caught myself planning a vegetable garden yesterday.
I wonder if the “gift” of this terrible virus has been a greater awareness. [Greater, transformed, different, awakened, woke, perhaps even pagan - feel free to alter that sentence.]
We’ve all confronted our own mortality. We’ve all heard the government say that it’s safe to send our children back to school – and the parents among us have made their own decisions.
We’re all looking for the comforts of Normal, but we’re doing so with our eyes open.
We might believe in Gaia and the angels but we have absolutely no faith in Them.
That's healthy, right? They might think they can instruct us, or nudge us, or even deceive us back to Normal. But that was the Old Normal.
The New Normal isn’t the old normal with added face-masks and social distancing.
The New Normal is us, working together, making our own decisions, growing our own vegetables, watching sunrises, casting aside differences.
Making our own economies.
Not making the same old sacrifices and paying the same old taxes to the old one.