A friend calls. She calls the lockdown the lockup, which for some reason makes me laugh. ‘All this lockup,’ she says.
She tells me about her great-aunt, who kept bantams during the war. ‘They lived in trees,’ she said, ‘so she didn’t need a coop or anything.’
She tells me about her grandmother, who used to take her badger-watching when she was a little girl. I love the sound of these stoical, no-nonsense countrywomen. I find the thought of them oddly cheering.
As we talk, I do chores about the horses’ field that I’ve been putting off. I need to change their arrangements and tape off certain sections. I loathe this kind of job, but my friend is so interesting and funny that I rattle through the dreaded jobs without thinking. The wind is up, buffeting me about a bit. The telephone is on speaker, so I imagine terrible windy noises howling down the line to Herefordshire.
‘Do you mind the wind?’ I yell.
‘Not at all,’ she says. ‘It’s like background music.’
So we shout at each other about grandmothers and badgers and bantams as the mares look on with interest.
‘You can’t get an egg in the village for love nor money,’ I holler.
‘I did have chickens,’ she said sadly. ‘But Mr Fox got them all.’
We contemplate this melancholy state of affairs.
She brightens. ‘I’ll get chickens again,’ she says. ‘And then I can leave eggs on people’s doorsteps.’
That’s the kind of person she is. If she were lucky enough to have fresh eggs, she would be pleased because she could give them away.
The red mare shouts loudly, because her own friend has gone too far away into the edge of the woods. ‘Can you hear that?’ I ask my friend. But the sound is swallowed up by the Scottish wind.
We discuss housework. Neither of us is a domestic goddess. ‘I’ve discovered a brilliant trick,’ she says, with energy. ‘I iron when I’m drunk. I have a good glass of something and put some music on very loud and the thing is done in a flash.’
‘Drunk Ironing!’ I bellow. ‘That’s the best invention ever. You should have your own show.’
This was the end of the day. The beginning of the day was full steam ahead on the work front. I did my HorseBack UK work and I ran around the mazy corridors of my own mind as I tried to figure out how to put some of my new private projects into meaningful and vaguely ordered execution. I was just finishing the HorseBack blog, which had stretched my brain to its limits, when the dogs started barking. This was most peculiar. Nobody comes to the house now. Even Dave and Pearl the Posties are on stealth operations. I used always to stop and chat to them each morning, but now I never see them, as if they are delivering under deep cover.
And there, smiling on the doorstep, was one of my young horsing friends. I have a posse of young girls who have, over the last three years, come to play with my mares because they don’t have ponies of their own. It’s one of the sweetest things that ever happened to me, and I am missing them keenly during this lockdown. But there, like an Easter miracle, was our dear Grace, beaming all over her face, brandishing the biggest chocolate egg I’d ever seen in my life.
We did a lot of mad miming at each other, to indicate the strict twelve feet of social distancing, and I dared to open the door. The glass in my door is quite thick, and I could not bear to thank her through its muffling and distorting barrier. So we stood far apart, grinning at each other, and words of delight and gratitude jumbled out of me. She was on her way home from her family’s one officially mandated trip to the food shop, and she had bought the special egg and delivered it as she passed my house. I was so touched that I could hardly remember how to speak English. I just smiled and smiled and thanked and thanked. It was one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me.
As I write these words, I suddenly think – oh, no, I hope this does not count as breaking the rules. I’ve been rather idiotically proud of myself for sticking to the rules. But perhaps, in these strange times, an unexpected Easter egg really does count as an essential delivery. Just as the conversation with my funny friend about bantams and great-aunts was an essential conversation. Because there is not just physical health, in all this – there is the health of the mind and the spirit and the heart. And anything that you can do to help a person hold on to those healths is as essential as anything I know.