My lockdown is idyllic, I am one of the most fortunate people in England at the moment. We have a smallholding in the East Riding of Yorkshire, close to the river Derwent which is the border between the North & East Riding. The villageThe village is on the east bank with the flood plain rolling away to the west, so we have the benefit of a river without the threat of flooding, a Domesday Book village, interestingly our ancestors knew where to build, a lost art now it would seem.
The village boasts a castle & small church yet only a population of 140 souls, one of the smallest villages in Yorkshire, protected by the boon of no mains drainage. It has not therefore morphed into a dormitory for Leeds or York, the nearest big cities some miles away. We pretty much all know each other as you might expect, so this viral epidemic has triggered a community response plan as yet not required, the virus hit Howdenshire in December & seems hopefully dormant since with a few exceptions.
As always a rural perspective is totally different from the city dweller. One might argue our village has been self isolating for one thousand years! The War of the Roses & seventeenth century civil war being an exception. The most humble dwelling has a garden most townsman would envy. Not a chocolate box village but a working one, few tourists here even in high summer thank the lord.
Our smallholding, like most others provides an endless round of jobs. Chickens, lambs, horses & dogs provide the typical menagerie (no pigs this year), a kitchen garden, stables & holiday cottage. therefore endless fencing & hedging, I think it must total nearly a mile in all. The lockdown has seen painting & trimming on a scale not seen for many years. We are not alone in our endeavours, the whole village is manicured.
Mrs. B has a very full day making & mending plus treating horses professionally & promoting her recent book. My speaking engagements have ground to a halt so the dogs are on permanent walkies. Outside our own modest patch we are blessed with two excellent seven mile strolls. Through the village, past the church yard, (our final resting place), along the river bank, south to the next village of Barmby where the river Ouse meets the Derwent, along the Ouse to Asselby & back across country to the village. The other, out of the village by a track going west to the next village north, Breighton, site of one of the many local bomber command airfields, from one of which my godfather flew Halifaxes. These walks are all off road on designated footpaths, no need for dog leads, no cars or manic cyclists devoid of bell careering up your rear end sweating & swearing. Magical, birds, hares & very occasionally another walker or horse rider, usually a neighbour.
Recently the sun has shone & an English spring has manifested itself in all its glory, the swallows are back as are the swans & geese on the river, the rape is already bright yellow juxtaposed with the pale green of crops & hedgerows which will soon enough turn darker. A spring of yesteryear here, the spring of Rupert Brooke, Edward Thomas, Wordsworth, dare I even suggest John Moore’s pre war Brensham or Grey’s churchyard?
Our local butchers & green grocer deliver quality produce, our eggs are fresh & free range, the lambs have gone to market & our freezer is full. Even the cottage is occupied with essential workers on river bank repair. The woodshed is full for the winter even now, so how could life be sweeter?
Sadly, of course, all is not well. We are locked down. We feel like birds in a gilded cage. The village pubs are closed, an enormous part of rural life. Dinner parties have stopped, parties & balls are cancelled York Minster is closed (I am a professional guide), charitable events have ceased. In short village life is a frozen tableau, a sort of one dimensional caricature of village life worthy of the BBC portrayal in Country File or the Archers. Three pubs along the river bank are under new ownership, will they survive, our local market town has many shops closed, the florist, a clothes shop, the hardware store, the tea shop, hairdresser, beauty parlour. Will they reopen? Will the unfinished house building continue post crisis? How many one man or woman bands will quietly die?
If the rural community is feeling the pinch how will those tortured souls in the cities survive with an infinitely worse lifestyle, made worse by the Jack in office mentality keeping people out of parks & off the beaches, where will there fresh air & vitamin D for them come from?
It is impossible for the more fortunate countryman not to worry for his townsman cousin.
Especially as weeks go by we are all asking if it has been worth it, how long will we be paying for it?
Was Sweden right after all?
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file