Suffolk has very few cases of Covid 19 compared to elsewhere, so we have felt (guiltily) insulated from the anxiety and distress elsewhere - although perhaps it is in store for us when lockdown is eased.
Shops, businesses and schools are closed here but the birds still sing (and are louder without the background noise of traffic). Our weekly local market in Framlingham is still a treasured feature of Saturday mornings, and the deli and supermarket in Framlingham are open. Those are the only places we really need to go to – and the trip in to town for the weekly shop is a treat which my wife Kate has seized as a good opportunity to bump into friends and neighbours (bumping at 2m distance). It always used to be my job!
With five young children ours is not the quietest house, but we are incredibly lucky to have a large garden and orchard, and the spring weather has been blissful. Here is the real guilt – we have been locked-down but able to savour spring unfolding, and the children have been outside a lot. I am rarely at home enough to see (and notice) the daily changes of spring as I have this year.
Home-schooling has taken some effort and parental input (mostly Kate’s). The eldest two children have been fairly self-motivated and have had work set on-line which they are good at getting on with. I brought a spare computer back from the office so that they could both work at the same time, but we are all sharing the same slow internet connection, and that has been a frustration for everyone. Nonetheless, we keep going and they have managed to keep up music lessons by using Skype and Zoom. And although they are missing friends they are all in good spirits and there is lots of good creative play. They choreographed a fantastic wheelbarrow pageant for our three year old’s birthday at the weekend (3 year old ‘royal wave’ perfected which I posted on Instagram @markrussellhoare - for anyone idling!).
I have enjoyed the new slower pace and increase in time we are spending together as a family – but I am well aware how different our experience would be if we were all seven of us in a flat with no garden. The children have for the first time started showing an interest in gardening, and our 11 year old has taken charge of our shabby greenhouses. This has been genuinely thrilling. We have also made an effort to write letters more – to reconnect with those we haven’t seen for a while, and we have an idyllic walk to the post box through meadow and cow parsley which is reason enough to write a letter. If I’m up early enough I can sit outside before 7am and scribble away to the sound of birdsong, and before the chorus of ‘Mummy, Mummy, Daddy, Daddy’. (It is of course usually Mummy who is asked for first!).
We were inspired by Grayson Perry’s art club (Monday, Channel 4) to start drawing more, and so we have set up a self-portrait corner using the mirror from the downstairs loo. There have been some quite respectable efforts so far.
I am trying to work a relatively normal day as there is plenty of work I can get on with. But I take a long lunch to play cricket and look after the youngsters so that Kate can have a decent walk or a break from the childcare, which she shoulders most of. Fortunately we are at a moment in our lives where Kate isn’t also trying to juggle a day job beyond family life.
Our garden studio which we built 10 years ago has become my everyday workspace; we call it the shed but it is better than a shed, and I’m lucky to have it. In normal life it is a place I sometimes work for the odd day or two when I need to have my head down for uninterrupted work (which can be a challenge in our office at Snape due to the interruptions of an open plan office). Two days in the shed can be a treat but I am missing the rest of our team and the creative energy we all give each other; there is no doubt that we all mutually-motivate each other a lot. In the early lockdown days we had some awkward video conference meetings over a cup of coffee and we are getting better and more relaxed at those – but also just picking up the phone to have a chat seems more important than ever. When Prue Cooper rang me to suggest contributing to this blog, it was lovely just to catch up and to hear that Prue and Nicholas were ok, and to be reminded of the Guild, which I do wish I was rather more present in, even in normal times.
The dawn chorus has just begun. ‘Daddy can we go and feed the chicks?’ Rather sweet - I must savour these moments!
With much love to you all