Round here, the first real sign of spring is the explosion into bloom of the cherry blossom trees, from Haringey to Hackney, including one outside our house. We look forward to it every year, as it brightens our lives for a few days before departing, leaving behind the hope of warmer days to come. It bloomed the first day we moved in, three years ago next week, which also marks our 10-year anniversary of moving to London.
Spring has a speed. According to the Woodland Trust it’s about two miles an hour. When hawthorn flowers and orange-tip butterflies erupt into life, they do so from south-west to the north-east, inching from Cornwall to the Shetlands over three glorious weeks.
This fact amazed me once, but now it seems an easier way of understanding the passage of time than dates on a calendar, which a year of lockdown has stripped of all meaning.
My last proper night out was a year ago, but it feels like it happened when I was a boy. I recently told my sister Maeve I couldn’t wait to see her new kitchen, which she reminded me was installed seven months ago. This week, a man stopped me in Stamford Hill as I was dropping my son off to nursery. ‘Is it Friday?’ he asked, slightly abashed, holding a sheaf of papers on which he was scribbling with a pencil. ‘Thursday!’ I said cheerfully, glad that my face mask covered an involuntary smirk. Then, I realised that it was actually Wednesday, and was forced to double back and correct myself in case he thought I’d done it on purpose.
I’m not the first person to comment on the vagaries of the calendar in Covid times, but it’s on my mind since this week marked a year since everything fully stopped: the first cancellations of events I was booked at, the closing of our former nursery, my wife moving in as an office mate when her job sent her to work from home for ‘a few weeks’, which has now lasted 52. Not that I’d dare complain, since so many have had it worse and, in any case, she does occasionally read this column.
For months, I’d be reminded of abandoned engagements as uncancelled Google alerts reminded me I was 15 minutes away from going on stage for some job more exciting and lucrative than cleaning Ready Brek off the kitchen table as my toddler awaited his sole, daily walk to the park. I find it hard to recall that early period, when all such things looked new and painful but temporary, before becoming so permanent you rarely think about them.
On that walk from nursery, I noticed that the cherry blossoms there had sprung to life. I arrived home to find ours had, too. It seems late and early all at once, but I’m not complaining. We look out from a hazily remembered past on to an uncertain future. For a few days at least, we can do so in the splendour of spring.
Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats