I’ve found this week a strange mix of the new and the familiar. New to be meeting friends outside as opposed to in their houses, yet familiar to fall back into easy conversations cut short by lockdown.
And, with restrictions easing, I’ve been popping up in gardens all over Sheffield. It’s been quite a revelation. Our British summer usually only allows us one BBQ apiece and a cursory glance at each other’s landscape design. But now, with the unseasonably hot weather, I’m becoming an expert on outdoor plants and garden ornaments.
‘We need gnomes,’ I tell the Nearly-Beloved.
He rolls his eyes and I know it’s a lost cause. After all, I’ve never quite believed his tale of the fox that ran off with my stone rabbits or the accident that melted the metal butterfly. Given half a chance, my order-obsessed other-half wouldn’t allow anyone into the garden to trample on his pristine lawn. In fact, when visitors do come over, he puts down a doormat by the gate so they won’t trample dirt onto his newly jet-hosed patio.
Despite being glad to see different faces, I’m not sure the Nearly-Beloved finds social-distance hosting to be relaxing. He gets up early with his tape measure, carefully positioning the anti-bac-ed garden chairs at the required distance and frowns if anyone unintentionally edges their seat forward a millimetre. Just as well then that his office in town has now re-opened, leaving me to oversee all outdoor events.
But it’s a new situation and strange not to have him at home any more. For a start, there’s no one to police my activities or oversee the household duties.
‘Mum. This hasn’t happened for two months! Can’t dad keep on doing the laundry?’ complains Grunting Teen, sporting a streaky pink T-shirt that doesn’t quite reach his waist.
‘That colour suits you,’ I reply, ‘shame you’ve grown!’
And to be fair to me, he has grown, as Darling Daughter remarks on our first in-person get together.
Family catch ups are a familiar, weekly event. But what’s new is that the conversation isn’t taking place around the kitchen table, as was the case pre-quarantine. Nor is it on Zoom, our favoured meeting spot during lockdown. No, today we are out walking in the Peaks. And again, it’s not our familiar Sunday walk, for that’s too popular. Crowds, that were once the norm, now seem strange and somewhat threatening. So, we’ve got up early and driven to a less well-known area, where we automatically gravitate towards members of a different household.
The Nearly-Beloved forges ahead, compass and map in hand, navigating the unfamiliar territory. Darling Daughter and I follow on, happily discussing celebrity lockdown low-downs. As for Grunting Teen, he chats more to Super Son-in-law on the two-hour walk than he has done to us, his uncool parents, in the last ten weeks.
To be honest, he’s been ignoring us since we dissed his favourite Marvel film and has refused to watch any more with us. So now, no new movies to fall out over, but a return to the old favourites. We can all agree that the Hunger Games never disappoint. No need to press pause for a catch-up on the plot as we all remember how it turns out, and familiarity is surprisingly comforting in these strangest of times.
And yet there is always something new to be found within the familiar. These corona days have seen me stick close to home, where my neighbourhood streets have become my stomping ground. I thought there was nothing to discover on our daily excursions but how wrong I was. Little-known paths suddenly reveal themselves, a hidden wood, a house with a turret, a stunning mural. Who would have known it, if time hadn’t stopped still, giving us the chance to slow down and open our eyes?
‘Do you think we’ll get to have our holiday in Brittany this year?’ asks Grunting Teen.
I shrug my shoulders and pout, ‘Bof, who knows? Will you be upset if we don’t?’
‘Nah,’ he replies, ‘we were only going so you could hothouse me for my GCSE.’
Little does he know that on my travels I’ve discovered a new patisserie run by native French speakers…