It’s been nearly three weeks since I posted any writing to the blog. I have been working on a piece but, as if dragging a sack of gravel, I’m struggling to get it over the finish line. Ironic, as the subject is quite light!
Like the writing, today each of my extremities feels at once heavy and light. My son is off school with a second dose of covid in three months. Since the first bout, in November, he has been easy prey for every passing pathogen. Understandably, he is feeling fed up, as he coughs, splutters, and sneezes, launching spike proteins at me and the dog, who is spending her days concertinaed on the sofa beside him. She must now be a four-legged, pot-bellied petri dish.
Although my latest lateral flow test assures me otherwise, I am pretty certain I have caught covid too, as I have symptoms that mirror my son’s, and transferring the laundry from washing machine to tumble dryer just now has left me feeling like one of those wobble-necked felted dogs that used to nod sagely from the parcel shelf of many a passing vehicle. (I had to do a google search at that point, to see if they are still A Thing. They are. I might have to waste some money on one, provided I can locate a Staffordshire Bull Terrier version, as any other breed would cause offence to Bella.)
I am tempted to start feeling a little sorry for myself (I get a little anxious these days when I’m ill, compounded by my indiscriminate aversion to being told what to do, including by viruses.) Yet, in a way, I welcome the enforced seclusion and (as long as I don’t start feeling too unwell) embrace my body’s insistence that, today at least, it just wants to be kept still and warm. I have a hot water bottle propped against my back while I work and a bag of Cadbury’s Giant Chocolate Buttons on the go. So much more satisfying than their penny-sized siblings. Sean can subsist on Doritos, if that is really all he wants. I will give myself permission to have thickly buttered crumpets for lunch, a medicinal whisky at four-ish, and something beige with oven chips for tea.
Just for today, that’s OK.
I am also, and most especially cheered by the miniscule sempervivum peeking over the rim of a little silver-toned jug on my kitchen windowsill. She arrived last week, a thank you gift sent by an Etsy seller along with my purchase of a vintage, Swedish brass cigarette case with a sailing ship motif. In my unfocused haste to unwrap and inspect said case, I didn’t register the centimetre-tall, plump green stalk poking out among the stones in the silver jug. It was swathed in cling film for the journey and, having turned the jug rapidly in my hand, I stashed it in a dark corner by my vestigial cookery books. A succulent in a milk jug is an unexpected sight; I didn’t see it, because I wasn’t looking for it. Over the next few days, each time I opened the cupboard above, I gave the jug a cursory glance and thought, I must unwrap that, but what’s that stuff inside it? It looks like cloves or something. Odd. Nice of the seller to include it, but I guess it’s just a jug she couldn’t sell and I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it.
This morning, as I was emptying the recycling into the green bin, I spied the slip of paper that the seller had included in the parcel, and the word ‘sempervivum’ caught my eye. I retrieved the note and read it properly: ‘I thought it was about time you had a freebie. It’s an unnamed sempervivum of some sort (I lost the label), very slow growing.’
I trotted inside in quite a panic, fearful I may have suffocated the poor little being by leaving it in its chrysalis of cling film for several days. Happily, she appears to be in fine, if diminutive fettle, as a little oxygen hole had been left in the wrapping. I gave her a few drops of water and placed her alongside the vase of daffodils, by the big kitchen window, where she can bask in the pewter-tinged light of a dull March day.
I am filled with glad and protective affection for my slow-growing sempervivum-of-some-sort. Isn’t it wonderful how a plant can gift us those feelings? The most willing desire to nurture and tend, a delightfully simple connection with a voiceless living thing, a tremendous sense of calm. Along with an optimism that, for some reason, moves me almost to tears. That fragile, tiny plant, with her four little leaves no bigger than a mouse’s paws, contains all of life within her. The innate and inevitable desire to live and grow, no matter how slowly, and add to the beauty of this jewel of a planet. For me, she is a reminder that, in its essence, the meaning of life needs no philosophical underpinning. It is, quite simply, to be fully alive.
It feels like serendipity that I was at first ignorant of her presence in her gravel-filled jug. Had I been engaged enough to spot her when she arrived, she would have made me smile broadly, but the surprise would have been less joyous, somehow. Finding that note in the recycling bin, that moment of illumination followed by an urgent desire to make amends to her by placing her in the light and feeding her, has made me more grateful, more appreciative. As well as lifting me out of myself on an otherwise (unhealthily) introspective day.
Sempervivum. Ever-living. Little joys spring eternal; if we’re lucky, we don’t even have to go out and search for them.