Lockdown Retreat Day 135: Escape from Brighton

Last weekend was my first overnight trip out of Brighton since lockdown (the last being my hike to Firle and back). I’d originally planned to see my family the weekend of Mother’s Day, but the growing crisis meant that we cancelled.

There’s a game I sometimes play when I’m walking about Brighton, which is to look for signs of the pandemic, seeing how long it is before I can spot something out of the ordinary (or something belonging to the new ordinary, whichever way you want to put it). It’s like the set-dressing for a dystopian future – masks, obviously, rainbows in the windows, adverts on buses for films released at the start of the year. Driving up the M1, approaching the junction to Leicester, the gantries announced that Leicester was ‘ESSENTIAL TRAVEL ONLY’.

When I arrived at my sister’s, things were not entirely normal. I didn’t enter any of the houses, staying in an Airbnb that she runs, and I didn’t touch anyone. I don’t know if we were being pious about the bio-security protocols, since the law would have allowed me to enter my parent’s house or my sister’s, but it seemed safer not to.

It was liberating to be in the countryside, and I fell asleep on a shady bench that first afternoon. It was also good to be around animals: the nervous moorhens, the chickens, a half-feral cat and the dogs. I slept so well at night that I wasn’t awake in time to see the hare or the deer. I felt revitalised by sunlight, flowing fresh water, trees and breezes.

Having said that, sunlight was in short supply. Saturday afternoon it began raining. In the evening, we ate curry under a marquee with water dripping down the sides. It felt and just like being at a festival.

Still the rain wasn’t bad for everyone. I’d driven my sunflower up, as I didn’t want it dying while I was away (this is normal behaviour, right?) I got to give Vicky the Sunflower a new home, repotting her in something larger. She also got to enjoy being outside, which meant experiencing rain for the first time.

One of the best bits of Lord of the Rings is Rivendell. After a various dangers and excitements, the story pauses when Frodo stops off on the Last Homely Home. It’s a strange part of the book, where everything seems to pause.

Frodo was now safe in the Last Homely House east of the Sea. That house was, as Bilbo had long ago reported, ‘a perfect house, whether you like food or sleep, or story-telling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all.’ Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear and sadness.

Of course, the downside of a pandemic is that there is no real quest to it for most of us. As the meme joked, we could be heroes by staying indoors and doing nothing. Now I am back in Brighton, I need to think of more exciting things to do than sitting in my flat.

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