June 10. Too many of the accounts of our present circumstance draw a hard line between what we are doing and not doing. We are inside our houses not out in public spaces. We are permitted to share the company of certain people and kept apart from all others. But it is the essence of our human condition that we are not confined to such binary choices.
We have imaginations, the capacity to create and inhabit worlds apart from the actual present. We all know this. In better times, it is how we deal with that reality, offering us escape, solace, explanation. In the lockdown, the media are full of devices for getting us to places that we are currently forbidden to enter. Books are recommended that will take us to the holiday locations we might have visited this year (headline in yesterday’s Guardian: ‘10 of the best Latin American novels – that will take you there.’) Television programmes, magazines and digital outlets let us wander through the gardens and art galleries that are now closed. Food and sport journalists recycle stories that can at least remind us of pleasures denied. And the imagination for its own sake, more important than ever, is succoured by print and electronic media.
My wife and I, inveterate readers and consumers of film and theatre, are at home in these parallel universes. Nonetheless we grieve the physical absence of our grandchildren, going through changes which we can only witness in weekly Zoom meetings. Unless Johnson and company sort out the mess their incompetence has compounded, we will miss the first sight of a new grand-daughter in a couple of months. Yet even this basic dichotomy of presence and absence can be bridged.
On Sunday we tuned into our weekly family get-together to find that my London-based elder daughter, her partner and her five and eight-year old children, had something to show us. For some weeks past they had been secretly building a scale model of the house and garden of the parents and grandparents they could no longer visit.
Everything that mattered had been re-constructed. The black and white house with cotton-wool smoke coming out of its chimney. The car (a sportier model than our ageing Volvo) in the drive behind the gate. In the garden were flowers (miniature versions of the actual flowers now blooming), fruit trees, a vegetable plot, a greenhouse, a paddling pool, a swing, a sandpit with real sand, two wigwams. There was even a miniature wheelie-bin which the children help me fill when they are staying. Around the perimeter was the River Severn, now alarmingly close to the property, but a reminder of its existence in our country life. Rus in Urbis if ever there was.
They still want to come and see us. We for our part felt still more strongly the pain of their absence. But nevertheless, it was such a joyful achievement, such a demonstration of how the creative spirit can bridge the gap between what is and what is not in our locked down world.