I confess to being uncertain to whether I should continue with the C-19 Diaries. Here in Edinburgh, we are no longer under lockdown, strictly-speaking. But Glasgow has just been shut down again. And life is still not back to normal. So I will persist.
Some of the more cynical among you might be muttering into your facemasks to the effect that I haven’t continued with the C-19 Diaries a whole lot lately, since June in fact, and you’d of course be right. If it’s any comfort, I feel chastened.
But here we are.
It’s September. Facemasks are everywhere. Everyone looks like either a bank robber or a theatre nurse. When I smile, I try to make a conscious effort to let the smile reach my eyes. And I have learned to recognise the slight crinkling around the eyes as meaning that I’m being smiled at.
This is important to know. Some days all I need is a smile.
It’s September. The fair weather of spring and early summer has been chased away, tail between its legs, by the bullying storms Ellen and Francis. But I’m not ready to close the door completely on summer just yet. After an evening sortie to North Berwick on one of the nice days, I remarked to a friend that I was determined to squeeze every last drop out of the summer this year. I’m not sure I have managed that.
Cricket has restarted, in a shortened and slightly neurotically over-sanitised way. Most Saturday nights, post-cricket, I have driven out to Longniddry, and eaten fish and chips in the car with a John Lawton book and a sunset – sometimes spectacular, sometimes not – for company.
Eating a fish supper in one’s car on a Saturday evening means that the in-car fragrance is still there on Sunday, and usually Monday, and occasionally Tuesday too. I console myself at these times that at least I know I haven’t contracted COVID.
I complete another longish Edinburgh walk today. The Royal Mile is getting a little busier. Tourists are a thing again. I pass a Japanese girl getting her photo taken in front of the Fringe office. Felt like she might have been settling for the consolation prize of a photo instead of a bunch of now-cancelled Fringe shows.
One of my favourite Lockdown discoveries has been the bay window in my living room. The sun slants in from the east until it’s time for elevenses.
I’ve taken to having breakfast there every morning. Bay windows being as they are, I can see anyone similarly-positioned in the adjacent flats. Our bay window neighbours in an easterly direction have a small dog. On a chance encounter in the street I discovered that she is called Emma. (Her owner pointed this out, Emma herself was unforthcoming on the matter.)
Emma, like me, loves to sit in the bay window and watch the activity on the street. I wave and say hello every morning to her, which she largely ignores. Tonight we had an epic thunderstorm, which Emma and I watched, fascinated, from our respective bay windows.
Today I take breakfast, once again, in the bay window. There is no sign of Emma.
The angle of the sun slanting in betrays the season. Summer is on the wane.
In the last few months I have rediscovered Sarah McLachlan and Natalie Merchant. Am so envious of their voices. Sarah McLachlan, in a 1998 interview referred to her voice as “always there… it was a constant friend to me… I knew I had control over it.”
Envious of their mastery of the vocal art, of the seemingly effortless way they take a deep breath, open their mouths, and throw a melody line into the air knowing that their voice will land pretty much perfectly on the notes they’re aiming for.
It feels like a kind of elastic control, where the path to the note is organic and analogue, not precise and accurate and anodyne, but pregnant with risk, and yet always – just – under control.
A similar control to those shown by masters of other arts – the driver who throws their car into corners sensing, without perhaps knowing, the limits of its road-holding.
Or the skier carving down a mountain, sometimes on the very edge of control, banking right and left, creating exhilarating sweeping arcs down the slope.
For all – the singer, the driver, the skier – the freedom, and the creation of something beautiful and unique while knowing that pushing the limits just a fraction too far would spoil the beauty. And in some cases be life-threatening.
The risk. The reward of taking that risk. No reward if the risk isn’t taken. Colouring within – always within – the lines, but too far inside the lines and there’s no appeal.
Colouring within the lines. Just.
Tomorrow I am heading north, doing what I’ve long wanted to do – waiting until the last minute, checking the forecast, and heading for where the sun is going to be shining. Going to squeeze out the very last drop of summer.