Anyone wanting evidence of the effect of Covid-19 on domestic arrangements in people’s houses need look no further than our front room. We are unlikely to be entertaining guests in it for many months, so have allowed its use to become diversified. Apart from continuing to house my harp, it has now been transformed to serve not only as a small-scale postal and sundries sorting office but also as a greenhouse.
Its sorting office role sees it serving as an amateur decontamination facility. As we have it on the proverbial ‘good authority’ that the virus can remain alive and active on hard surfaces for up to 72 hours, almost everything that arrives via the postal services, Amazon, the chemist’s deliveryman (to date always a man), the kind people who are shopping for us, Uncle Tom Cobley and all, gets deposited there in the interim as the room closest to the front door. The exceptions are the seven-seeded sourdough bread, the bi-weekly milk delivery whose milk bottles are carefully sanitized before being put in the fridge, and, in particular, all chilled and frozen food items, where the balance of probability in lockdown favours food-poisoning over Covid-19 when it comes to dying of something unpleasant.
The greenhouse is another story. Our front room faces East, and its very large mid-nineteenth century sash windows allow it to be sun-filled all morning when the sun is shining, and in 2020 the mythical April showers continue to be fake news. So it serves perfectly as a seedling nursery. As it happens, it also serves perfectly as a maternity suite, as demonstrated when our youngest grandchild was born at a time when her entire family was still living with us after being flooded out of their house in the 2016 Boxing Day floods and falling victim to a rogue builder. But that really is another story. So good is the front room for germinating plants that discreetly positioned seedlings have on occasion in the past been allowed to carry on quietly growing there even when we have been indulging in some Spring entertaining.
This year the North Yorkshire weather has conspired with the Covid-19-induced need to find something to do during lockdown to create a bit of a problem. The seedlings were planted a bit early, given this year’s weather pattern, and have been growing apace, while the showerless skies result in late frosts that would make it foolhardy to plant anything out on the allotment at this juncture. So artichokes, gem squash, sweet-peas and the 30 (!) pots of tomato plants are getting a bit above themselves, while the runner beans are energetically threatening to take over. The latter are no longer seedlings but determinedly adolescent, and busy involving themselves in all kinds of entanglements that are going to be very difficult to sort out. They have had to be moved out of the direct sunlight and are currently lounging languidly across the hearth in front of the fireplace, imitating Jacob Rees-Mogg’s lordly horizontal recline on the front bench of the House of (misnamed in his case) Commons. Prince Charles is on record as being convinced that talking to his plants helps them to grow. The only remedy I can think of for the premature gigantism of the beans is to try the obverse and spend more time, at least until the danger of frost is over, practising on the harp in the hope that the frequency of the decidedly non-angelic discords might help to stunt the beans’ growth.