Suburban Spring Procession

On a warm bright day in March

In the precession of the anthropocene equinox

Before the clocks were turned back to thirteen

On the pavement opposite

Beneath the quiet mock Tudor flats

And the frothy white blossoms

And the dusting of green hints of Summer

On bare late winter branches

Three figures like a tiny carnival.

A Spring Procession too early for an Easter rebirth.

A lardy man in the lead

Carrying a white frame for windows

In meaty carpenter’s hands

With rectangular spaces for icons of various sizes

Frames within frames.

A Mum in a headscarf hauling a rope

Pulling a happy boy on a big green bulldozer

His legs lazily turning with the pedals

Venus and Cupid?

Madonna and Child (in a material world)?

A second, back up Mum behind

Keeping pace with a determined jaw

Pushing a three wheeled heavy duty push chair

A Chelsea tractor of the pavements.

Together becoming more than the sum of their parts

All heading East in single file, equally spaced, equally paced

Finding significance in coincidence.

With thanks and apologies to Rudyard Kipling (How the Rhino got his skin) and George Orwell (1984 opening lines).

April in February

“Isn’t it lovely?” And so it is. Soft winds. A hint of blossom. Sticky buds starting to uncurl. Everything that little bit lighter and fresher. And you can respond on that level. Yes. Its lovely. There are crocuses of hope. Spring has more than one meaning. This early though…Our light. bright days are the accompaniment to the wild gyrations of the jet stream, the blazing forests of Australia, the melting ice packs of Greenland and Antarctica, the freezing of Texas* and the floods here in Storm Cristophe just last month, which Sir James Bevan, the Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, reports came within one centimeter of the tops of flood defences – constructed to Reasonable Worst Case Scenario Standards – that protect 49,000 homes from inundation. (1) Crocuses of hope could well give way to daffodils of despair if we don’t get our act together. Of course, in a conversation with a neighbour, being the Cassandra who is always pointing out the dark cloud that is the condition for the silver lining makes you a prophet of doom that no one wants to listen to, lest it ruin their good mood.

At the supermarket, a young woman pushes her baby buggy steadily down the aisle with one hand, looking sideways at her mobile phone completely absorbed, legs on cruise, navigating by muscle memory; her toddler is a small mirror image, looking to the left at his phone with the same frown of concentration.

Around the end of the Park, the first school crocodile of spring. Teacher striding out briskly at the head without a backward look. Neat little rows in the papal scarlet of the local Catholic primary going in two by two, with barely a need to be shepherded by the TAs at the back. Eighteen of them. And they look liked one class. Quite a lot even before the reckless reopening next week. The “normality” of it coming as a shock.

*“I’ll believe in climate change when Texas freezes over” Senator Ted Cruz.


Signs of Spring?

I can’t help thinking that if Keir Starmer were a groundhog, he’d be the sort that always saw a shadow. There appear to be no limits to caution. We are living through the beginnings of the breakdown of human civilisation – the pandemic is not an aberration, the environment is unravelling and the old normal is gone, not in temporary abeyance, gone – and- faced with a government that is as venal as it is incompetent – all he can dredge up as a vision of a way forward in his big reset speech on Thursday is Business, Bonds and Britain. The reporting on this is back to the old parliamentary gamesmanship of it being a bad idea for an opposition to come up with a good idea in case the government adopts it. Which is an odd way to think. If you have a good idea, wouldn’t you want the government of the day to adopt it, rather than squirrel it away on the off chance that it will be you that gets to implement it four years too late? Of course, this presupposes that any idea that will be presented is within a range narrow enough to be promoted by either potential governing Party; which is where we are now. And why the venom directed at the previous Labour leadership was so over the top and unrelenting; because its ideas went beyond that narrow range and made it possible to imagine that the way things have been don’t have to be the way things will always be – world without end, forever and ever, Amen. As they say on middle management courses, “Always do what you always did, and you’ll always get what you always got”.

Outside the Chemists – one of the places I go to to socialise these days – there is a sudden, powerful smell of blossom. It is unseasonably warm in the way that is becoming expected. Looking round to see where it is coming from I spot a single daffodil and I become disproportionately happy.

The Eastern European saxophone bloke outside Morrisons is playing his usual variety of disconnected riffs; mixing up echoes of Glen Miller’s American Patrol with a snatch of Klezmer, a bit of bebop from Charlie Parker with the odd standalone note like a mournful car horn. Its like Elena Ferrante’s notion of Frantumaglia – that life and our minds are a whirl of fragments that don’t make sense but echo things that do – and seems the perfect accompaniment to the street scene on the Edgware Road – busy, but fragmented, everyone doing variations on the same things, but now more self consciously socially fragmented and keeping a wary distance from each other; which – now that that alienation is conscious – makes even the most reticent of us talk to each other more at times, at the check out, at the disinfection station.