I’m sitting on a deckchair in my back garden, watching the world go by and whiling away a bit of the morning. It’s a lovely, warm, sunny day. We’ve been lucky with the weather over the past few weeks; it’s been uncharacteristically summery. I figure that, if it continues like this and Covid-19 doesn’t ambush me, I might actually survive this lockdown intact until a vaccine is eventually developed.
I study the lawn. Looks like it’s grown during the night. Scores of new dandelions and daisies have poked their heads up. Nourishment for the birds and the bees, I suppose. I contemplate this growth spurt for 20 minutes or so. I have all the time in the world. I resolve that this afternoon, when I log onto my laptop, I’ll google how many millimetres a blade of grass is likely to grow in 12 hours. A Biblical quote springs to mind:
All flesh is like grass,
And all its glory like the flower of grass,
The grass withers,
And the flower falls away.
The impermanence of flowers and flesh is rarely out of mind these days. Death is in the ether.
A church bell rings in the distance, reminding me that it’s Sunday. Not that you’d notice. The days now roll into each other like slow-moving streams, echoing in an ironic way, perhaps, the zeitgeist of our ancestors in bygone millennia. Hunters, gatherers and scavengers living by the seasons and the rising and setting of the sun, day after nameless day after day.
Sundays aren’t like Sundays anymore. The churches, like the cinemas, pubs and theatres, are all closed; if they were open, agnostic as I am, I might go to Mass, just for the diversion, the pageantry and the company.
Time was, during the Great Famine for instance, when priests in Ireland were to the fore in tending to people’s spiritual and emotional needs. Now there’s barely a one to be seen. They’re a dying breed here and most of those that are left are older than 70 and so are cocooning. In the new dispensation, doctors and nurses and hospital porters are our priests, and science is our religion. The mighty have fallen.
A cat slinks by. A sleek, shiny, black-haired Tom with three white socks. He lives with one of our neighbours and frequently stops by our back door looking for handouts. We used to feed him treats like smoked salmon and tuna and I reckon some of the other neighbours were doing the same because he started to get fat, so we stopped. He hasn’t given up on us though and most days he comes by on the mooch.
My mind wanders and I’m struck by the number of poems that have been written about cats – Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat, Stevie Smith’s The Galloping Cat, AnnaSeward’s An Old Cat’s Dying Soliloquy, to name but a few. And, of course, there’s the granddaddy of all cat poems, Macavity: The Mystery Cat from T.S. Elliott’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, on which Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Cats is based.
Dogs, it seems, get the movies – Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Benji, 101 Dalmatians – but cats have cornered the poetry market.
My musings meander on their wistful way. I recall the old adage about cats having nine lives and I’m suddenly resentful of the white-socked creature in my garden. If the virus lands on yours truly it could be curtains for me but that bloody cat has eight more lives to look forward to. It’s not fair. I scowl at him.
He doesn’t even blink. Carries on regardless. I realize what I’m thinking and I tell myself to get a grip. Envy of a cat for his mythical nine lives could constitute a step along the road to madness.
I look skywards. An aeroplane passes overhead. The highlight of the day so far. It’s the first flight since I came out this morning. We’re only a few miles from the airport and until recently it wasn’t unusual to look up and see four, five or six planes coming and going up there. I’ve watched them so often I recognize some of their colours. The blue and gold of Ryanair. The green and lime of Aer Lingus. The red, white and blue of British Airways. The white and black and maple leaf of Air Canada. And so on and so forth. The sky used to be full of traffic.
That was before.
The planet is being detoxed. The good inside the ill wind that carries the virus.
Over the hedge, in the garden next door, my neighbour is playing football with his three-year-old boy. The kid hasn’t been sleeping well at night; he can’t understand why he’s not allowed to hug his grandparents or play with his cousins. He scores a goal and celebrates with a whoop of delight. It’s good to hear him laugh. His mother is expecting her second child in June. She’s high-risk. Jesus. What worry must be there.
A robin redbreast lands on a limb of our half-dead peach tree and cocks his head at me, sparking a memory of bygone days. My father was a keen gardener. He bristled through the winters, eager for spring to arrive so that he could begin to prepare the ground for his vegetables and flowers. Every year, like clockwork, in the early days of the planting season, a robin redbreast would land on our back-garden fence. Dad would be ready and waiting with the birdseed and water bowls. He swore that it was the one-and-the-same robin who annually graced us with his presence, that there was a kind of bond between our family and the bird. It pleased us to believe this. The robin would drop in for his feed every day for two or three weeks and then be gone for another year.
I check out our visitor in the peach tree and I wonder if he’s a descendant of Dad’s feathered friend. Found his way back to us maybe. This is pleasing to believe.
The cat returns and the robin takes flight. The cat stops in front of me and stretches the length of his body in an elegant act of sensual feline languor. He regards me for a few beats.
Is that pity I see in his eyes?