Reasons to be Cheerful & Mushroom Soup
I’ve just made myself mushroom soup with an onion that had seen better days, some rather sad looking mushrooms, a dodgy bit of stock powder, some water, a squeeze of juice from a mouldy old lemon I found at the back of the fridge and some sour cream – it isn’t meant to be sour but hey beggars can’t be choosers. The funny thing is, it was absolutely delicious!
COVID-19 has thrown us all into a bit of a tizz but as I rummage around in my store cupboards and debate with friends via WhatsApp whether ciabatta flour from 2013 is OK to use, I reflect that there are many good things to come of this pandemic; reasons to be cheerful if you like, and I’m not only talking about mushroom soup.
Reasons to Be Cheerful Part 1 My babies are home. That’s got to be a plus. I mean, I know that they will eat me out of house and home, drive me up the wall leaving clothes all over the place, not to mention coats, trainers, glasses, plates, etc etc. Their washing will pile up in the laundry basket and they will all miraculously vanish every time I ask for help with washing up/drying up/washing/hanging out washing/ tidying/cooking/cleaning/ironing etc etc. But they are here. They are here. We are playing games, reading, going for family walks, laughing round the dinner table, baking – and with a Queen’s Speech scheduled for Sunday, the only thing missing really is the Christmas Tree, and Rich.
Reasons to be Cheerful Part 2 But Rich is here too. As I hang out the washing in the glorious sun, about the only thing around here not self-isolating, I come across his T-shirts and sweatshirts. Much loved and well-worn items of clothing, now distributed equally between the 6 of us, and of course every item of clothing brings back a memory or reminds me of a story. We’ve been looking at photos too – while we can’t plan anything beyond today, we are drawn to our yesterdays and the photo albums Rich and I so diligently filled for the first 15 years of our marriage, before everything went digital. Birthday parties and holidays, things we can’t do now. I love this one I found of me showing my Mum my engagement ring. Richy looks so pleased with himself and yes, the Think Pink sweatshirt lives on with Toby having laid claim to it these days, I hung it on the line earlier…..I’m grateful that the Coronavirus has given me time at home to wallow self-indulgently in these photos and these memories.
Reasons to be Cheerful Part 4 A friend left a jam jar of freshly picked garden flowers on my doorstep, a tiny gesture of friendship that meant so much to me. There was such colour and joy in this tiny little handpicked arrangement, such life – it took my breath away.
Reasons to be Cheerful Part 5. I’ve been cooking, baking and leaving care packages for friends – sausage rolls, cheesecake, bread, and the famous family carrot cake which have been welcomed by the recipients, and this gives me such pleasure. It also helps me clean out my cupboards and I have learnt valuable lessons – for example, the ciabatta bread mix with a use by date of 2013 mentioned earlier, should be thrown into the bin. If you come across similar, do not attempt to make ciabatta with it, it categorically will not rise to the occasion. However, the good news is that red lentils of dubious heritage will make a delicious supper for all the family if you just zhuzh (or is it juj) them up with some onion and garlic, a squirt of tomato puree, a tin of tomatoes, and the top secret ingredient, a teaspoon of marmite. You can vary this recipe by putting mashed potato on the top for a veggie shepherds pie or by adding bacon for the carnivores. Delicious, and thanks must go to Sarah Howie my friend and colleague at Zenith North all those years ago when we worked with two young boys, Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly, but a couple of cheeky orphans in short trousers at Newcastle’s Byker Grove.
Reasons to be Cheerful Part Six. I’ve started to run again and am fortunate that I am able to take the dog over the fields and far away. We run along the bank of the Great Ouse, and the Heron and the Robin appear – it may sound deranged but I think of them as the reincarnation of Rich and my brother John respectively, and it is always so comforting to know that they are here.
Rich also came to me in a dream – funny how he appears at key moments – I felt his presence so keenly that when I woke I reached out for him and for a split second expected him to by lying there beside me. But of course, he was not there.
Reasons to be Cheerful Part 7. I’ve been added to a Poem Exchange, not normally something I have the time to countenance but it has been illuminating and the poems I have been sent have been an extraordinary mix of the familiar and unknown, from WH Auden to Carol Anne Duffy and Robert Frost to Rilke. Here is one of my favourites from today, more a blessing than a poem:
“This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.
Try, as best you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.
If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.”
― John O’Donohue
What a privilege it is to have the time to read and absorb such sentiments. I’m sharing one a day with a friend of mine, it has brought us closer together even though we can’t actually meet in person, an anthology of poems to help us survive Covid-19.
Reasons to be Cheerful Part 8. There has been much talk of community and the bringing together of people as a result of this pandemic. I’ve signed up to be an NHS Responder and I’m the street rep for our area. I popped leaflets through doors, I’ve chatted to neighbours at 2 metre distances and I’ve marvelled at the support on offer for those isolating or vulnerable. The Teddy Bears in my bedroom window wave at the kids on their bear hunts and tomorrow I will paint a rainbow to stick that up there too. We clapped for the second Thursday in a row as our street joined the nation in applauding the NHS and all key workers. I hope and pray that the sense of community will continue long after the airborne coronavirus particles have blown away. The WhatsApp messages that punctuate the day with amusing videos will cease of course, the tiktok routines will lose their competitive allure, the virtual Zoom meetings, and online House Party gatherings will be replaced by the real thing.
But perhaps neighbourhood friendships and FaceTime Family chats will endure. Perhaps, wherever we may be in the world, we will remember to make the time to spend with eachother, virtually or in person, and will understand far better, the fragility of life; the message that will prevail – you are not alone. I was so moved today when my eldest showed me this video – a song from Dear Evan Hansen that moves me at the best of times, performed here by the cast remotely and socially distanced and yet united.
And so for now, I must gather my children in and protect them as much as I can, for as long as I need to. As the flags all across Italy fly at half mast and my sister-in-law buries her mother with only six people allowed at the humble graveside funeral, life seems so cruel and unfathomable but by the same token, I feel grateful for so much and I am not alone as I find my feet on fresh pastures of promise.
“And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning”