Sometimes I feel as if I’m living in a panopticon.  Before the pandemic, and working from home before it was enforced, I used to love the days when everyone else was at school, at work, just somewhere else.  I could breathe deeply and enjoy the silence, punctuated by the caress of the cat against my leg as she reminded me that I was not completely alone.  I could talk to myself and no one would join the conversation, ask for explanations, give corrections, expand an utterance into a dialogue.  I could sing and be silly alone or sit in sweet silence.

This morning the simple presence of others overwhelms me and I put on my headphones to shut out the world. I feel like a dreadful person for my irritation at the sheer existence of the people I love most.  It doesn’t work.  My panopticon may be muffled by the soft pads over my ears, but I am still weaving around my husband in a kitchen-style eightsome reel;  Do-si-do, mugs in hand as I finish making my breakfast and clearing up while he is already onto coffee time. I am unforgivably, unreasonably grumpy and hate myself for it.  I want to scream to release the tension, but my throat is still inexplicably sore after my chest infection last summer and anyway, it would bring the whole house down on me.  I would walk far enough to enjoy a good rage in solitude but, likewise, my breathlessness says no.  I would drive to a quiet spot and howl, but — the Government says no.

Sitting down to write my morning journal under the clear, blue, post-storm skylight the answer comes to me.  ‘Take your own advice woman and get outside into the garden.’ We have had days of lowering skies, rain splattering against the windows, walks around the village clad in waterproofs to hold back the mud.  Getting outside has become a task instead of a delight, our one daily, Government-sanctioned release to keep us healthy and Covid-free.  Now, suddenly the world doesn’t seem quite so bad as I trot down the stairs, pull on an extra sweater, waterproof leggings, beanie, two scarves … wait a minute garden, I’m coming.

It takes a few minutes to get comfy on my soggy bench in the Secret Garden.  Despite my layers  the cold quickly grasps my rear and I jump up in search of a pad.  Finally, leaning back, I find that the bank of honeysuckle stems that clothe the wall behind me provides a springy cushion for my beanied head. Well supported I lift my face to the light and my breath escapes at last in a long, slow sigh; my body melts down into the cushion; warm roots reach down from my booted feet into the cold, cold ground.  

Sounds recede as I lose myself in the blue: men working on the nearby farm, the pulse of traffic and the throb of a plane, moving  sideways against the scudding shreds of cloud above. None of these are as real as the trill of a robin high in an unseen bush or the rustle of the wind in the shrivelled jasmine leaves.  I watch entranced as the shining young bark of my plum tree shifts from silver to pewter, to bronze and back to silver again as the sun dances through the clouds. My breath slows … and it is as if I have blown a great … rainbow … shining … bubble … around … myself … peace at last … 


Do you have a space to escape to when it all becomes too much, or can you find companionship alone outdoors in the sound of birdsong?