It’s not obligatory to write an end of year post, but it would feel strange to me not to pass comment on this strangest of years. My 2020 began with a week in the English Lake District, near Brotherswater, staying at Thomas Grove House and Cottage in Hartsop. I was with Jane Commane, publisher and poet, and five other writers published or soon to be published by Nine Arches Press. I’ve been working on a new poetry manuscript ever since my first collection was published by Nine Arches in 2018, so the week was a chance for Jane to read and comment on my work in progress. There was also plenty of time to walk in the achingly beautiful hills and paths around our temporary home, share discussions, ideas, meals and jokes with a lovely bunch of people, and to generally enjoy reading, writing, thinking and living somewhere dramatically different from my current home of west Wiltshire.
How little did we all know what lay ahead for us as we lounged together on sofas, huddled round the table, hugged our hellos, goodbyes, and so-glad-you-get-me exchanges.
Reading through my diary, my first mention of Covid-19 doesn’t appear until 10 March, and then me and my husband had lunch with our daughter in Oxford on the 14th and she was crying because she’d just been told she’d have to vacate her college rooms. “I might never come back!” No need to be dramatic, I probably thought. Waiting staff all around us were constantly sanitising their hands when they weren’t carrying dishes to and from tables. The table next to us seemed closer than usual, although it wasn’t. We all had a feeling we shouldn’t be there.
I still had no idea of how all our lives were about to change. With both of our children at university – our son became a student in September 2019 – I had been writing every day, using a room that used to function as the children’s playroom for my writing space. I was continuing to work on my poetry and I’d started attending a weekly writing fiction class in Bristol, as a means of pushing myself to complete at least one short story this year. I started off writing fiction and plays when I was a mature student in the early 1990s but for the past ten years I’ve been writing poetry, finding it easier to fit in around a busy family life. With both children now grown up, the time now seemed right for me to to return to writing longer form. But by March 16th, a national lockdown was announced and both children were obliged to return home. You know what happens next.
Here in small-town, semi-rural, little-bit-scruffy Trowbridge, there isn’t a lot going on or reason to be here – which is probably why, so far, we’ve been spared a steep rise in cases of coronavirus (However, as of 31 December, we’re moving into Tier 3 – don’t ask me exactly what that entails but it generally means more restrictions apply). Spring was the most beautiful I can remember in many years and, although not on par with the Lake District, we live very near (a short car journey away) to handsome, unspoilt countryside, so daily walks kept Andrew, my husband, and I going through months of staying in, not going anywhere, not seeing anyone other than our immediate family. It hasn’t been the same for our two young adult children. I won’t recount all their trials and tribulations since theirs are not my stories to tell. Many of their dreams, plans and hopes for the year were snatched away and I don’t feel there’s anything I can do or say to help, other than to feel sorry.
Our daughter graduated, but didn’t have a graduation; turned 21, but didn’t have a party; got a job offer, lost a job offer, got another job offer; moved out, moved home again, moved out again. “It’s like living in a complicated song by the Smiths,” she joked, still able to make jokes which is something I admire in her a lot. Both children moved away again after the summer – my daughter to a shared rented house in south west London, my son to a shared flat in the East End. For a while, I returned to a sort of writing routine until they both came home for Christmas.
At the year’s end, I find I’ve somehow accumulated more writing than I thought I had but not as much as I would’ve liked. Everything needs more work although I feel my poetry collection is nearly there. In November, I opened up submissions to And Other Poems, my poetry site, after a break of twenty months. I wrote about that here. I also wrote about some of my new poems I’ve had accepted for publication, here. More than once, I’ve had the sobering thought that I might be a better poetry editor (or curator) than poet. Maybe I should take that thought more seriously in 2021.
At the start of this year, my mother’s last remaining sibling, my Uncle, died aged 90. In October, my beautiful Aunty Cecily died of Covid. She was 100. For her birthday, in February, my brilliant cousins arranged a party for her in Liverpool and I am so grateful to them for doing that, so that we were able to see her then. She is very much remembered and missed.
There’s more I could say but it can wait for another day. Several friends have experienced sadness and hardships this year and I’m thinking of them. Thank you for reading this blog. Happy New Year, when it arrives.