on re-emergence/

There’s no real reason to be up and awake at 8am on a Sunday. In winter. In the suburbs. In lockdown. Yet here I am. In other lives being lived, someone is already on their way to work. Or has long been at work. Someone is running. Someone is only just going to sleep after a long night. Sunday mornings (and 3am any day) are the quietest times around here. A light remains on in the 24/7 supermarket, but the trains are less frequent. And I’ve not yet begun to distract myself. I find it the best time to write.

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Lockdown 3 continues – I’ve lost count of the number of weeks spent solo. Five, six, seven? This week the cold weather has penned us in more than we already are. The predicted day time temperatures were a neatly uniform 1°C across the week, but in reality it was far colder. The wind chill (“real feel”) was brutal; to me anyway. Multiple times I walked out into our yard, only to ‘nope out’ and come back inside. Felt weirdly physically energised this week, so felt doubly trapped being stuck indoors. Fretted and paced around, unable to sit still and focus on work. When I did make it out for short walks around the block or to the supermarket, the wind did its best to cut right through me. Rude. Yesterday I came home with red fingers, struggling to turn the key in the lock. I thought back to when I first moved here, and after having been out for an icy mid-March walk, had to have a friend unbutton and unzip my jeans to use the bathroom, because my hands were too cold to do so. The winter days of my youth were cold and crisp. Sunny and blue-skied. Nothing will ever feel as big and wide open as the blue skies and plains of Africa to me. Nothing can feel as far as being penned in from those big blue skies. Although, ironically, when I visit there now, I find a landscape of high walls and barbed wire. A landscape of people penned in. But that’s a story for another day. One of yearning for something, only to find it’s changed. Maybe that slots into this post actually….

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I dipped back into a podcast this week that I haven’t listened to in a while; GABA, and happened upon a very short episode, with the host, Adam, simply reading these lines from The Two Towers by Tolkien:

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going, because they were holding on to something. That there is some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.”

I found it soothing, these words. It felt so apt for this time and for this week. When winter and lockdown frustration is at its most biting. To keep going. To get up early, and be presented with a new day. A thing yet untouched. Where anything may happen. And mostly nothing much has happened these last weeks and months. That is how it feels anyway. Still, the city moves. Many variations of life are still lived, including our own, however mundane and tiring they feel in the/at the moment. Eventually the cold will dissipate. Eventually spring will come. The vaccine roll out continues. We keep our distance, in order re-emerge into a world of interaction and closeness again. We hope. Why would we get up, if we didn’t hope or believe or want that? (They kept going, because they were holding on to something.)

I’m droning on, trying to “convince” myself, but this brings me finally to the image I share with this post. The original (which you can see in this post) was taken by me during Lockdown 2 last year; emerging from the Underground. The image was re-imagined by an artist friend. There is something unique about emerging at street-level from a place beneath the surface. In a foreign city, you don’t know what to expect. It takes a moment to get to grips with your surroundings. If I’m honest, this is still the case for me sometimes in a city I’ve lived more than 10 years. The oddest thing is to emerge into rain when it is dry down below. Or into snow. Or blinding sunlight. Into the midst of a fistfight. Into noise, or as I found in Lockdown 2, onto eerily deserted streets. Either way, in whatever city; you emerge from a regulated, gated, time-tabled world below, into a different scene. We’re all desperately looking forward to emerge back into “the world” again. To see people again. To return to those old familiar scenes. But I also think we will find a world slightly changed. Nothing really ever truly stands still in our absence. Vines and fringes and beards grow, pavements crack, new buildings cast new shadows on old streets. Once shiny coins become dull. Things that were once overlooked become newly interesting. Whatever has changed, some things remain. (I’m being massively sentimental here, but so what, man.) The same arms that hugged us before, will hug us again. Can’t wait for the warmth of that. And spring, yo.

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