It wasn’t really teaching, more child-minding, a handful of students whose parents’ work or circumstances meant their offspring would spend the days attempting school work in a desultory manner, expressing delight when the decision was taken to spend the afternoon outside in the unseasonably warm March sunshine.
In the late afternoon, the roads were almost empty. Trucks on long distance journeys, vans of tradesmen whose efforts sustained normal life. Streets were eerily quiet, not a child in sight, the only activity being among those who sought short supplied goods among empty supermarket shelves.
Walking beside the river as evening fell, a solitary willow stood against the background of a Victorian railway viaduct, its beauty a declaration that, even amidst the fear and confusion of human existence, springtime followed winter, life was inextinguishable.
Picking up Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, a passage seemed to speak to the current times. It was not the descriptions of chaos and death, but a moment of reverie among the natural beauty that endured a few miles from the hell that was the Western Front,
Strolling under the aspens that shivered and twinkled by the river, I allowed myself a little day-dream, based on the leisurely ticking of the old Ludlow clock . . . . Was it only three weeks ago that I had been standing there at the foot of the staircase, between the barometer and the clock, on just such a fine summer morning as this? Upstairs in the bathroom Aunt Evelyn was putting sweet peas and roses in water, humming to herself while she arranged them to her liking. Visualizing the bathroom with its copper bath and basin (which “took such a lot of cleaning”), its lead floor, and the blue and white Dutch tiles along the walls, and the elder tree outside the window, I found these familiar objects almost as dear to me as Aunt Evelyn herself, since they were one with her in my mind (though for years she’d been talking about doing away with the copper bath and basin).
Even now, perhaps she was once again carrying a bowl of roses down to the drawing-room while the clock ticked slow, and the parrot whistled, and the cook chopped something on the kitchen table. There might also be the short-winded snorting of a traction-engine laboring up the hill outside the house . . . . Meeting a traction-engine had been quite an event in my childhood, when I was out for rides on my first pony. And the thought of the cook suggested the gardener clumping in with a trugful of vegetables, and the gardener suggested birds in the strawberry nets, and altogether there was no definite end to that sort of day-dream of an England where there was no war on and the village cricket ground was still being mown.
Today is a time infinitely better than the times of Sassoon. The response to the crisis should not be a preoccupation with rolling news, but a positivity, a sanguiness, founded on the knowledge that better times are coming, a hope built on a dream of England.