Almanac: VE Day, bunting and a street party

It is the 75th Anniversary of Victory in Europe Day.

We wake up to blue skies and sunshine and set to work tidying the front garden, whilst our resident house martins dart around us, swooping down from the eaves.

Repurposed paper fans and rugby flags decorate the iron railings. Our son’s homemade Union flag takes pride of place on our front gate. It is made from a collage of scrap paper. Our neighbour tells him that because he has made it himself, this makes it the most special flag on the street.

Our neighbours are also adorning their own houses. We carry all of our garden chairs out onto the front pavement just in time for the 11 o clock minute’s silence in remembrance of the fallen.

Afterwards, the street celebrates together. A tray of freshly baked fruitcake is balanced on a hedge so that our children can approach and take a slice, without breaking social distancing rules. A radio is brought out, playing Vera Lynn, I dance my little daughter in my arms.

We talk about the flour and yeast shortages, how we are having to improvise in our baking and which local shops are best for finding eggs. We chuckle at this faint echo of WW2 food rationing. A kind neighbour offers to post sachets of yeast through our door as she has some to spare.

After a lunch of cucumber sandwiches and scones, I take my second son for a walk around the village. Lots of people have set up parties in their front gardens; we receive many cheery smiles and waves.

There are chalk-drawn flags and messages across house fronts and pavements. We are deeply impressed by one family’s efforts, where bright, billowing ribbons cascade from their top windows down to the trees at the edge of their garden.

The BBC is due to broadcast Winston Churchill’s victory speech at exactly 3pm, just as on VE Day itself. Picnickers have set up radios outside in readiment, all playing the same channel. It creates a strange distorting effect as we walk between houses, so odd in this era of indoor tv and headphones.

My son and I walk through the centre of the village, known as The Nook, and then wind our way back home through the churchyard, down alleyways and small residential streets.

Embracing the bygone era, a group of young children are playing hopscotch. One household have set up a cricket pitch on a strip of grass beside their home, another is playing rounders.

We see socially distanced extended families, where the grandparents have organised a party in their front garden and their loved ones have joined them from the pavement, or are sat in cars with the doors flung open and music playing. Little children are dressed in party outfits. I spot one mother holding up a newborn baby for the grandparents to see.

For this VE Day anniversary, it feels that we have learnt a little more of what it is like to be separated from family and friends. We have certainly come to more intensely appreciate the freedoms that were secured for us by the World War generations now that we are living in a temporary lock-down.

I note that everyone, of all ages, is looking happy and healthy. Being surrounded by others again, albeit at a distance, is bringing a glow to faces just as much as the sunlight. We have become accustomed to the quiet and shadow of the last six weeks. The now familiar gestures meaning “shall I or shall you move aside?” have become the main communication between us all when we see others approaching. A friend of ours calls it “the corona dance.” It is good to be reminded that this is not our normal way of life.

To see and hear so much activity and noise all around us today leaves us with a wonderful life-affirming feeling.

Keep safe and well everyone. With heartfelt thanks to all those who are working to keep us safe, especially those on the frontline in the NHS and hospitals around the world.

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Almanac: Sunshine, doorstep parcels and fresh air

In the national lock down, we are all permitted to leave the house for exercise and fresh air once a day, as long as we keep our distance from those that are not from our household. Today is the perfect spring day; warm like summer, with a gentle breeze.

I’m walking with my ten year old autistic son. I am usually protective of him because of traffic, though today I hold his reign tightly in my hand in case he gets the sudden urge to reach out to someone he knows.

“Park?” He asks. I say no, no park today, the park is shut, we are going to the fields. “Park.” He repeats with finality, as if the matter is now settled.

At the hedgerow he pauses and breathes in deeply. It is quiet, except for the buzzing of bees and the starlings in the trees.

From the fields we can see over to the neighbouring village to the west and the city to the south. As we get to the extent of our walk today my son pulls towards the distant woodland and I gently steer him away.

I return my son safely home to the rest of our family and collect my little daughter. It is too complicated, with the risk and social restrictions, for us all to go into the village at once, so we are taking our children out in shifts.

Usually, my daughter picks up every fallen flower and runs her fingers along fences or railings, so today she is safely on my back in her carrier.

We see an elderly gentleman we know from our volunteer work tending his front garden. As we approach along the footpath he quickly rises and stands ten foot back, smiling and waving to my daughter. We exchange a few cheery words. The nearby main road is empty and we cross without our usual wait.

We are on our way to photograph our library’s Community Garden. It is particularly enjoyed by those who do not have gardens of their own and we want to make sure they can still enjoy watching it bloom online.

My 19 month old daughter is enjoying herself immensely, waving at everyone and pointing out dogs. “A dog. An-other dog. Also dog. More dog.”

It reminds me that when my 10 year old son was younger, he used to call dogs random names because he was copying, although slightly misunderstanding, how humans greeted each other. “Hello Phillip!” he would say to a passing german shepherd. It really confused the owners.

We find the Community Garden full of life. We encourage anyone from the village to add plants to the little plot and it is a wonderful riot of colour.

We head back through the church yard and as we pass under the trees dozens of startled birds take flight. They have already gotten used to having the place to themselves.

It is very odd to see straight across to the local pub. I cannot usually get a clear view for the constant traffic.

There is a large queue of elderly shoppers outside the butcher’s, so we take the longer route back through quiet residential streets, to avoid stepping out onto the road to keep a safe distance.

I notice that quite a few houses belonging to older villagers have sacks of potatoes, milk bottles or loaves of bread outside on the doorstep. Neighbours have been leaving food parcels for those in need. Such kindness is heartening.

Keep safe and well everyone. With heartfelt thanks to all those who are working to keep us safe, especially those on the frontline in the NHS and hospitals around the world.

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