Marking time in Coggeshall

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Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon... seeds of hope

The Covid-19 lockdown is, it would appear, easing before presumably coming to an end. It has unquestionably been a difficult time – tragically so for many – but there has been light amid the gloom. In this delightful essay, writer Anne Boileau reflects on what lockdown taught us and is thankful for the good people…

Marking time in Coggeshall

Coggeshall Open Gardens Day was scheduled for June 7. Of course, like everything else, it was cancelled, but we were invited to send in a couple of photographs of our garden, taken on that specific day, for a virtual tour on the Open Gardens website.
The day dawned with a glimmer of sunshine but was grey and wet after that. I had hoped to send a picture of the dandelion clock that grows by the back door, but it only displays its delicate orbs on a sunny day, then casts its seeds on the breeze and is gone. Which is why it’s called Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon. Its real name is Tragopogon pratensis or goat’s beard. You know the trick: blow on the seed head. The number of puffs it takes to dislodge them indicates the time of day.
Time seems to have taken on a different dimension in these lockdown weeks. The diary is full of events that will not happen; lectures and outings with the Coggeshall Society; the pilgrimage to Saint Peter’s, Bradwell; services and concerts at St Peter’s Church; poetry in Wivenhoe and Colchester; a week on the island of Iona; a lunch date in London; no, no, no. If you must do it, then do it virtually. So we peer with puzzled eyes at the computer screen and discover the magical connections of Zoom.
Meanwhile all around us the natural world unfolds; the weather has been gorgeous, the rain scarce; water snails progress on the underside of the pond’s surface; water nymphs climb up on to reeds, turn into flying jewels; mayflies dance up and down like yoyos. Swifts swoop overhead and bats come out at dusk. An owl flies down from my roof under a blazing full moon, and the night skies are clearer than I’ve ever seen before in Essex. And then the smell of it all: we are given a succession of intoxicating fragrancies: lilies of the valley, wisteria, philadelphus, roses, sweet peas, freesias, jasmine – they take their turn to attract the bees, and soothe our senses.
On six consecutive Thursday evenings we emerged on to our doorsteps and banged saucepans, clapped our hands, rang bells and waved to one another in solidarity with all NHS workers. And let’s not forget all those other key workers who keep the village running: the tireless, friendly staff at the post office, at the Co-op, at the chemist, the butcher’s; the bin-men, bus drivers, the parish council maintenance team. So we wave to each other, feeling a sense of neighbourhood, of support, reassurance. Keep well. Keep safe.
I have been truly blessed by the kindness of those who live near me. Being over 70 and alone, I was told to self-isolate, so my lovely neighbours did my shopping  for me, set me up with Milk & More, and were helpful and generous. And whenever I went out for my statutory walk around the village I met at least one person to stop and talk with, share our bafflement at what is happening to us, to our country, to the whole world. We talk about the good things, too: the peace of empty roads, quiet skies, clean air; the chance to be still, observe closely our own surroundings; above all we notice the volume and variety of birdsong – are the birds really singing more lustily than ever before, or is it that we can hear them more clearly and have more time to listen? I do know the cuckoo hasn’t stopped calling since May Day.
We miss the sound of church bells. But the bell on the clock tower reminds us of the passing hours; it is a sound we share, keeping us up to the mark; and by my back door the splendid goat’s beard displays a fresh, mathematically precise seed head, every day. Seeds of hope?
How much longer? What does the future hold? Uncertainty hangs over us all, but for some it’s worse than for others. It is particularly acute for children and all young people.  For pensioners, it has been a time to slow down, reflect. And be thankful to those who have helped them.
www? Wait. Watch. Wonder. If you need to, Weep.
All I know is, if I have to be in lockdown, let it be here in Coggeshall.


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