Diary of the Plague Year: Day 14 29 March 2020: Summertime begins

The clocks went forward at midnight. Summertime begins.

I woke up to the wind howling round the house. Luckily Conor delivered my usual order of firewood last night, three bags of logs cut up small for the wood-burners. I decide to clear out the fireplaces before stacking the baskets. The lovely ash can go on the compost heap.

On the CD – randomly chosen – Bob Marley – Uprising. Shouting along at the top of my lungs. The great thing about country living is that the neighbours are far enough away.

The only problem with this lock-down is that you start to look around, speculatively.  I don’t think this house has ever been so clean and I have already thrown out half my shoes. I am sure my wardrobe is next. I wear about 5% of my clothes, the shabbier the better as far as I am concerned. I have always felt like this, ever since I was a child. I hated getting dressed up.  When I am a millionaire I will wear specially-commissioned designer rags. Comme des Garçons spring to mind.

What is really nice about the lock-down is that more people are out walking and pottering in their gardens. A bit like the olden days when you would meet your neighbours perambulating in the fine weather. I feel a Jane Austen moment coming on.

The fireplaces are now clean and ready for action. It is one of the most primal things about living here, having a stack of wood for the fire.

I am sure there will now be an unseasonal Spring heat wave ………. please God.

The armchair in the photo is one I found in a skip in Camberwell when we were living in the squat and has been with me ever since, remember Fia?


Diary of the Plague Year: Day 12 28 March 2020: A shelf of poetry


I don’t know about you but I have a terrible habit of stumbling across poems, buying the book and then ignoring it forever.  Well, now that we’re in lock-down I have decided to take down a volume of poetry every day and spend an hour reading. I will then post a poem on this website.

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 12 28 March 2020: The scent of narcissus

Narcissi and urn

Over the winter the rain had pounded the earth into a hard crust and I was rooting about to break it up and allow the earth to breathe.

The scent of the narcissus wafted across bringing with it a sudden shock of memory. Foggy at first until I remembered the flower-shop in Hong Kong. I was seven and we were to be flower-girls for my adored Auntie Marie.  She was half French and half Chinese and to me the most wonderful creature in my tiny universe.  Marie was a model and was going to marry my Uncle Joe – the most glamorous couple to ever tread the earth – and being a flower-girl was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me.

We had walked from home to the flower shop to choose flowers for the wedding. It was hot and stuffy and crowded on the pavement outside. As we stepped out of the heat and dust it felt like plunging with a sharp smack into a cool tank of water, the scent, fresh and green and heady and I drowned happily, my whole body engulfed. We wore pale yellow dresses for the wedding and carried baskets of pale yellow flowers – perhaps they were a type of narcissi. She was the most beautiful bride in her simple pale lace dress.

Marie and Joe went to live in California, divorced and remarried, both happily. She grew rather fat, drank a bit and took to gambling. We lost touch and she died young. I didn’t cry when she died, at the time it had felt almost like the death of a stranger. So why am I crying now as I did not then; driving through the Irish countryside in this cold spring, years and years later, far, far away from that childhood in Hong Kong, with the ghostly scent of narcissus reminding me of the long-lost girl in her pale dress.



Diary of the Plague Year: Day 12 28 March 2020: Gardening

The garden in 2018.Garden in the summer 2018

What is the appeal of gardening? The sheer satisfaction of creating something out of wild grass, furze and docks as I did last year. Being out in the open air, communing with robins, feeling the sun and wind on your face. The sheer physical effort of heaving brambles out of what you hope will be a flower garden. The anticipation.

A return to the child’s perspective, the world retracts to the microcosm, grubbing about in the soil and pulling up weeds; mossy smells, slightly acrid birds’ nests, rotting leaves and the heady, undefinable scent of rich, damp earth, almost like cake-mix. Bees, butterflies. Getting muddy, wearing dirty clothes; and never underestimate the fun you can have with a garden hose. The simple magic of watching things grow and just generally poking about.  The unexpectedness. Making places.

When I moved here all around the house was an undefined mass of grass and wild flowers. It had also suffered a kind of annihilation by the builders, the fuschia had obviously been chain-sawed at one time, I think weed-killer may have been used and nothing much was left except what had struggled back, wild and lovely but rough. A few vestiges remained – ravaged box, a climbing rose, a laurel. Beautiful in its way but not a garden. Part of me wanted to leave it as it was but I knew the part of me that likes to create order would emerge sooner or later. And so it did.

Gradually, defined places began to emerge almost by accident. There is a circular side garden surrounded by old stone walls and fuschia which must have once been a vegetable plot. It became an orchard almost by accident as it is simply the least windy part of the garden.  Apparently, the pollinating bees hate wind and so to encourage the bees fruit trees should be planted sheltered from wind. In this garden it is more-or-less impossible but this is the least windy bit. As I write this a cold spring wind is howling around the house.

I thought I was against lawns and had dug up the lawn in my London garden. For this garden I had a vision of a grassy glade surrounded by small trees and bushes – somewhere to sit and read and have picnics – called ironically at first the Dingly Dell but the name has stuck. I planted grass seed and left it long. However, it soon became clear that if you want to sit out, long, damp grass is not ideal so I bought a mower. Well, mowing turns out to be just the greatest fun and a really easy way to create a small area of pristine order in what is essentially a large, wild garden. The sharp contrast between the rough grass and wildflowers and mowed lawn is really pleasing. You can also mow paths through the wildflowers and I have also mowed paths around my fruit trees in the orchard.

Gradually then, distinct places formed around the house.  There is an area by the gate with strawberry trees, a myrtle and an eleagnus. They are given a bit of shelter from the wind by the stone wall. I have also built a semi-circular neolithic structure for my compost heap from the large stones I literally heaved out of the earth by hand.

There was one clearly-defined part, in front, which had once obviously been a little flower garden. When I was clearing and digging I kept finding old slates – which I kept to one side – and large roundish stones. I couldn’t work out what they were doing there until I tried to re-create the raised beds around the edge and I suddenly saw that the stones were used by the first gardener here to prop up the slates as borders to the beds. It was such an extraordinary moment – like communing with the dead.

The flower garden 2019.



Diary of the Plague Year: Day 12 28 March 2020: Lockdown in Ireland

Taoisech Leo Varadkar has announced lockdown:

With effect from midnight last night, for two weeks, everyone must stay at home in all circumstances except for the following:

  • Travel to and from work, for the purposes of work only where work is an essential service.
  • Shop for food or household goods, or to collect a meal.
  • To attend medical appointments
  • For vital family reasons
  • To take brief individual physical exercise, within 2km of your own home.
  • Farming purposes, food production and care of animals.
  • All public and private gatherings, with any number of people are prohibited outside of your family unit.
  • All public transport, and passenger travel will be restricted to those providing essential services.
  • No travel outside of 2km radius of your home, for any reason except those listed above.

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 11 27 March 2020: Composting and recycling

A little early-morning composting watched by the ever-curious neighbours.  The food waste goes first followed by cardboard and then the old pile is turned over on top. I don’t think it’s the most scientific method but it works for me. A nice tidy pile of compost is a very satisfying sight and bloody good exercise first thing.

Off to the recycling centre!

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 10 26 March 2020: the Warren

It is a stunning spring morning and I decided to go down to the Warren before starting work. Not a soul on the beach but I am sure that will change later. Spent the day drawing in the shed and weeding the garden. It was a perfect spring day.

I was on a one-day fast yesterday, it was torture, I was ravenous and had a splitting headache. Curious, because I used to do these all the time in London. I think it may be because I have been eating toast all day long and stuffing biscuits – basic withdrawal symptoms. Skipped breakfast. And I can safely say I have never enjoyed my lunch more – avocado on toast.

Watched Moneyball a really charming film all about baseball. Had no idea what on earth was going on but basically it is about somebody pulling themselves up by the bootstraps


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