Andy Garland: Escape to the woods

PUBLISHED: 11:57 04 May 2020 | UPDATED: 11:57 04 May 2020

Andy Garland May 2020 column

Andy Garland May 2020 column


Andy Garland Senior Broadcast Journalist - Programmes at BBC Radio Kent, including presenting Sunday Gardening

I’m recalling The Matrix.

Twenty one years ago, at the end of the film, Neo dials the machines and leaves a message: “I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin.”

How prescient. As I write it’s day two of the coronavirus lockdown. Just 24 days ago, on Sunday 1 March, the front pages were dominated by news of Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds’ pregnancy announcement.

Only one of them, The Sunday Express, had any mention of coronavirus and the local paper, whose review I’m reading, was so unconcerned that it put the words coronavirus crisis in inverted commas.

What will have happen over the next 24 days, and before this magazine hits the shelves? My utopian vision is that the unprecedented lockdown we’re all experiencing will have worked, slowing the transmission of the virus and so the NHS, while critically stretched, hasn’t been completely overwhelmed.

The realist in me, however, thinks that things are going to be pretty bad for a while, very bad I suspect, for those who fail to heed public health advice about social isolation.

It’ll be trying at the very least for those able to self-isolate and simply tuck themselves away for the duration. At least we have a decent-sized garden to escape to; our friends who have been at home for longer because of underlying health issues are not so lucky, living in a modern house with its accompanying postage stamp outside space.

We’ve dusted down Skype to catch up with those we cannot see and my girls gather at the dining room table for school. How long can we keep this up? How long will we have to keep this up? Fortunately (as I write) we’re in lockdown and not under curfew. The highlight of the day is escaping to our local wood and noticing its intricate detail more closely than ever.

The drifts of white wood anemones, the 35 growth rings on the freshly cut coppice, the twisted remaining oaks silhouetted against the setting sun and darkening sky.

It’s spiritually uplifting, knowing that some of these stands are ancient, hundreds of years old. In typical dad fashion I impart this knowledge to my children; they in turn roll their eyes and declare me cute.

I’ll take cute right now; I’ll take safe and well right now, also. It’s incredible how the country has transformed in under a month, things that we took for granted a few short weeks ago are now treated with suspicion, fear even.

The simple act of shopping, once done without a care in the world is now an almost military endeavour.

I started by recalling a film, I’m ending by paraphrasing another. The Shawshank Redemption, based on a novella by my favourite author Stephen King, is another touchstone in my life to take succour from in these troubled times; reading Red’s final words and being thrilled for our future when all this is over.

I find I’m so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.

I hope we can all make it together in the coming weeks and months. I hope to see my friends and family, to hug them hard. I hope the Atlantic is as blue this summer as it is in my dreams. I hope.


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