|Photo: Jo Sinclair|
I want to whoop it up. We've made it this far, we're on the right side of winter. Is a picture of snowdrops twee escapism knowing that loss, distress and hardship is still pandemic? Or does it offer a vital thread of positivity? A celebration of nature has entered the public consciousness. The importance of noticing the natural world and being grateful for it, empowered, more at peace, has gone mainstream. Daily reminders in the media seem to be saying 'this is your medicine'.
I hope you've been okay. For some, lockdown number 3 in England this winter felt more bearable than in summer, because a degree of hibernation comes naturally. Others have found it really hard.
Hibernation makes me think not just of snoring dormice, but the family that features in Roald Dahl's children's classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I remember Charlie's extended family spend their life piled together in poverty beneath a heap of blankets on one big double bed. It's what country peasants used to have to do to get through winter, like badgers. Staying underground in their setts during cold snaps conserves energy and is an essential survival strategy.
Despite daily signs of spring such as flowers and birdsong, The Beast from the East is back. Snow is falling and Siberian winds are blowing sub-zero across eastern Britain. Small songbirds have no choice but to be out foraging, seeking calories that will see them through cold nights. Many won't make it. Some find sanctuary in my garden where they find birdboxes and ivy for shelter, and water, nuts and seeds.
I have the luxury of snuggling under a velvet throw, choosing what to read next. Some of the wintriest novels I've read have been Thomas Hardy's. His winters are full of suicides, abject misery in frozen turnip fields, perished infants. If you think you've experienced the true meaning of solitude and winter in lockdown, try reading The Solitude of Thomas Cave. Georgina Harding's 2006 novel is about an Englishman deserting a whaling expedition in the Arctic in 1616. Thomas Cave makes a reckless wager to take on the encroaching ice and twenty four hour darkness. If he's still alive when the ship returns next season, he's won the bet. No man has been known to survive the winter so far north. The physical hardships he experiences are painful even for the reader, but you come to understand the emotional white out that has led him there.