Life

Nuala McCann: Now our travelling is all in our heads or in circles round the park

When all this is over, I catch myself saying, we shall go to Sicily, Rome, Croatia, San Francisco. We shall climb Uluru, visit Kyoto, rake a Japanese stone garden into perfect neat circles...

Night on the Antrim coast – 'I think of Dylan Thomas and how he spun the magic of a child’s wonder... the night above the dingle starry'

I WALK to air my troubles, said Dylan Thomas. The poet had a big heart and a few troubles.

We walk to air our troubles too. Fresh air is free and less dangerous than the current indoor sort.

In the long ago of small children, a paediatrician from these parts wrote a book about taming your toddler. It was light hearted as well as sensible. If you're feeling frazzled, take the child outside, he advised; you're less likely to murder them in public.

Twenty years later when the toddler phase is a distant country, we take each other by the hand and escape the tyranny of dirty dishes in the sink, dust under the sofa, the hated hand sanitizer and face masks looped on the door handle.

Who can be truly sad when the sky is blue and the old black gate clunks open with a creak that says for God's sake oil me before you die and the trees on the avenue whisper in the soft breeze?

Take this gift of a late summer walk – an evening walk when the sun setting in the sky is brandy on our tongues even if life weighs heavy with a sense of too many endings.

There are ghosts on every corner. I see myself in my 30s, leading our small blond boy in blue Wellingtons by the hand to the shop at the corner. This was never a quick nip out... it was always a big adventure.

We pause at the privet hedge to pluck and shatter the waxy green leaves. We say hello to the neighbour's black cat who eyes the boy warily, then slinks off to a safe distance to stare at us from under her car.

Here are a set of rusty railings, perfect for a boy to run a stick over. Here is the corner where we run into his father by chance, fresh from a hard day teaching school. His hair is neatly combed back, he is wearing a smart raincoat and swinging his briefcase.

At the first glimpse of us, he breaks into a smile, scoops up his son in his arms and leads us home.

And if there is a definition of happy it is a Friday afternoon at about 4pm, when work is done for the week and he carries in said briefcase a Crunchie gifted by a kind colleague – because thank Crunchie it's Friday. And even though it is only 4pm on a Friday, my gift to myself is abandoning father and son to kick ball out the back or list the reasons why Arsenal is the greatest.

And on those Fridays, I whisper: “He is all yours, take him right now, back in an hour.” Upstairs, run the bath, pour in expensive bath oil, light candles – who cares that is it mid afternoon – getting into this kind of hot water is bliss.

But how time has spun so quickly to where we are now and our laps are empty and our hearts are heavy with this Covid life. We walk to air our troubles and that is what I tell the man I married so long ago that neither of us quite remembers the date.

We have had anniversaries in Paris in a small square at a fountain drinking wine at the Café des Arts, we have celebrated in Vienna on the roof of the Stephansdom – “For God's sake, don't look down!” – and we have walked the streets of London humming Ralph McTell.

Now our travelling is all in our heads or in endless circles round the local park.

“When all this is over,” I catch myself saying, “We shall go to Sicily, Rome, Croatia, San Francisco. We shall climb Uluru, visit Kyoto, rake a Japanese stone garden into perfect neat circles.”

Travel websites are my secret porn – crisp white linen sheets in fancy hotels, a luxury chocolate on the pillow, a hot tub under the stars. But I do simple too.

“We could do a walking holiday in Spain with a donkey,” I say.

"Does the donkey have to carry you?” asks my son, feeling the donkey's pain.

It's just a dream, a way to look forward when the weight of now is heavy. And I think of Dylan Thomas and how he spun the magic of a child's wonder – young and easy under the apple bough; the night above the dingle starry.

How he wrote that time holds the child in all of us, “green and dying”, but we sing in our chains, like the sea.

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