I’m still dipping into Andrew Motion’s superb biography of Philip Larkin (524 pages long and I’ve reached page 351).  Mind you, I cheated and read the end first to find out how he died and that, the very next day, 30 years worth of his diaries were shredded.  I think Larkin, shy and terrified of ‘settling down’ (i.e. making a commitment to any of his girlfriends and getting married), would have relished the lockdown.  Here is an apt quote. ‘Little happens: life seems to have pushed a steamroller up against the door and nailed the windows and stuffed something down the chimney.  It is dancing up and down outside the glass shouting ‘Live dangerously!’  I turn round and show it my bum.’ 

Risk-averse Larkin would presumably be horrified to know that I have finally broken free and for the past three days ventured out on my bicycle. I realise this doesn’t exactly qualify as ‘living dangerously’ but pedalling my way round Windsor after being cooped for so long seems, well, adventurous.  Unlike walking, there is no problem social distancing (I think people scarper when they see me coming!).  But the best thing is that, quite by chance, I have discovered a perfect place to visit: not too far away, spacious, peaceful, full of mature trees and birdsong and, best of all, with the exception of some eminent Victorians, no people. It is the churchyard in Clewer.  The Norman church stands on the site of an earlier Saxon one and is reputedly the oldest building in Windsor, even preceding the castle.

I’ve always been drawn to churchyards.  I like the higgledy-piggledy patterns created by tilting tombstones and I particularly like seeing how old people were when they died and, if I’m honest, feeling a touch smug that I’ve already outlived most of them.  The Clewer churchyard is particularly fascinating because it has lots of gravestones bearing the same surname: Magdalen. These are the graves of ‘fallen women’, some of them rescued by Gladstone, who were rehabilitated in the nearby ‘House of Mercy’ run by the formidable Mrs Mariquita Tennant. Apparently the women only qualified as a Magdalen if they were successfully rehabilitated. I wonder where the rebels are buried?

Other notable graves are that of Sir Daniel Gooch who worked with Isambard Kingdom Brunel  and laid the first transatlantic telegraph cable, Cripps, nurse to all of Queen Victoria’s children, and the seventeen year old Windsor boy, Owen Allum, who was drowned when the Titanic sank.

Anyway, I’d better not  go on about this haven of tranquillity lest you all flock there.

What other excitements?  We can’t compete with he virtual Chelsea Flower Show but we have a good display of flowers outside on our terrace.  The broom is over but we have roses, pinks, clematis, jasmine, and germander.  And, amazingly (inside, not out) a poinsettia we bought for Christmas continues to flourish. A friend I phone each week to check he is still alive (he is!) told me that if I sliced up a tomato and planted it in pots, tomato plants would appear.  So, instead of eating our last two plum tomatoes (it was a big decision to forgo them!) I have cut them up and planted them.  Five days have passed and as yet no sign of life. I’ll keep you posted.

Our terrace is a real boon, sunny all day on one or other of the three sides.  I often sit out there doing paintings of spring flowers.  Apparently David Hockney is doing the same in his Normandy garden.  We are the same age but there the similarities end. Never mind, he is deafer than I am (something my wife finds hard to believe!) and he chain smokes.

What else?  Our ants have been vanquished, a triumph since we were so seriously outnumbered.  Pigeons?  Still plenty about but thankfully no more corpses over the last few days.  For some reason, I’ve received a whole spate of emails from students in the Philippines asking questions about the learning styles questionnaire.  Answering them is quite like old times (very old times, the questionnaire was first published in 1982).  Ah well, keeps me on my toes.

Add your voice

Enjoyed this article? Want to hear more? Book me as a speaker at your next event.

Blog Archives

By date By category

All development is self-development