Autumn arrived this morning. Overnight the wind had picked up, carrying the first plane tree leaves down into the garden, and when I set out for my regular walk there is a fine mist of rain in the air. I put on warmer trousers, and a waterproof jacket, and wander up to the high street at the pace my wounded knee will now permit. I’m slower than I used to be, and still trying to come to terms with that. There is a sense of loss involved in not being able to do something you used to take for granted.
I sit inside the café, rather than on the bench outside as I have in recent weeks. I buy a book from the bookshop next door, planning to curl up with it this afternoon on the sofa. I buy a chicken to roast; I think about buying a bunch of dahlias. Every action seems to have the word “September” stamped on it; my every thought feels seasonally appropriate.
Except that in the background I am sorting out summer clothes, looking for my swimsuit, buying travel-size toiletries, and making a “to pack” pile, because next week Ben and I are hoping to go on our first holiday abroad since 2019. We have a few days booked in France and I feel nervous even talking about it because our recent attempts to go on holiday have all been jinxed by Covid or other illnesses. We have postponed and cancelled and then stopped even trying, until earlier this summer we had a word with ourselves and decided to persevere. So for the next few days we are more or less in hiding, avoiding people and germs, saying little prayers to the gods of travel that we get to fly to the sun and the beach.
One evening last week, while it was still summer here, we had been sitting out in the garden with the back door wide open. I wandered back into the kitchen to start cooking, but immediately froze as I could hear the sound of someone moving around inside the house. A sort of rustling. Then a thud. I tensed, imagining an intruder, and crept towards the lounge where I came face to face with the beautiful young fox we often see in our garden. He was carrying a shoe he’d picked up in the hall, and looked at me with a face that said, “I know I’ve been caught red-handed.”
It was a startling sight. However common in London, a fox is still such a wild thing, and standing there between the sofa and the bookcase he looked completely wrong and out of place. He knew it too and shrank back from me, trying to hide behind the piano. I retreated so as not to scare him, and he made his escape through the open window. Out on the lawn we found two more trainers that he’d carried there. A nature-expert friend told me to be grateful that he hadn’t done a wee inside the house, as the smell is horrendous.
I tell you this story because, when I tweeted about it, someone told me that having a fox in the house is a sign of good luck. Well I hope that’s true. I feel like we’re due some. I spent much of the summer scowling at people’s photos on Instagram, feigning delight at my friends’ descriptions of their holidays, consoling myself that travel was awful nowadays anyway, what with the weird climate and the Brexit airport queues. In my heart, I knew I was just jealous.
I carry on with the packing. Here’s that crossword book I always take, puzzles half-completed in the handwriting of whoever was with us. Here’s my fan, in case it’s hot, and something to read, in case it’s not, and a travel backgammon, in case we run out of things to talk about. And here is the bathroom bag, which I will fill to bursting with remedies for all the ailments that currently afflict us or which may appear as soon as we are far from home and the GP.
We’re not taking any chances. This afternoon we are going for our Covid boosters. Booking only opened yesterday and Ben, being immunocompromised, was first in the queue. He got the 2pm slot at our local pharmacy, then I nabbed the 2.05. Blake, our youngest, is living back home with us at the moment, so he booked the 2.10, and we are going as a family – what fun!
We will then return home, close all doors and windows against the intrusion of disease or foxes, and hope that we will make it to France for a last few days of summer. Wish us luck, please.
This article appears in the 27 Sep 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Right Power List