Carla Carlisle does her very, very best to stay positive — and just about pulls if off.
My last entry on this page had a sombre title. Seems some folks were troubled by this. A faithful reader sent an email urging me to ‘lighten up’. A friend stopped me in the farmers’ market: ‘Whoa! I think you need a new playlist!’ Her words came back to me this morning as I sat at my desk.
Jessye Norman was singing Richard Strauss’s heart-breaking September, the haunting words drifting through the room like autumn leaves. Replacing the great soprano with Louis Armstrong is not an easy transition to make, but here goes:
Grab your coat and grab your hat,
Leave your worries on the doorstep.
Just direct your feet
On the sunny side of the street.
Guess what: Louis’s joy had a magical effect. I burst into full voice as I let out the chickens. Some mornings, they look gloomy and suspicious when I open the door to their freedom. This morning, they fluttered around me like tap-dancers in feathers.
My high spirits didn’t stop there. Grinding my 100% Arabica/organic/bird-friendly coffee beans felt like a ceremony designed to stave off despair. As the coffee brewed, I counted my blessings: coffee, sourdough toast, blackberry jam and newspapers delivered each morning, safely nestled in the American post box that is identical to the one Snoopy visits to collect his rejection slips for his novels.
Not that I often get to collect the papers. In this household, breakfast is not a shared event. My husband is an early riser and the early bird gets the papers first. By the time I sit down at the kitchen table, the newspapers in front of me have been filleted, pre-read and christened with traces of marmalade.
“Did I read the actual stories? I did not… Instead, I refilled my mug, made a second piece of toast, opened The Times and moved boldly on to the prose that always makes life on earth feel more worthwhile: the obituaries.”
I confess that I tend to cast a sceptical eye at those who claim the only way to occupy the sunny side of the street is to cancel the newspapers. I also know that bad news is easier to believe than good news and the articles that tell you ‘Ten Reasons to be Cheerful’ always sound simple-minded. It was from this perch — intellectually respectable and morally serious — that I took in the six headlines in the East Anglian Daily Times: ‘Tankers on their way to Suffolk as government unveils action plan’; ‘The 72 postcode areas where Covid infection rates are rising’; ‘“Poor” infection control at care home sees used Covid test swab left in pile of clean PPE’; ‘Invitation-only for booster jabs this autumn and winter’; ‘400 care workers in Suffolk yet to have single Covid jab, mostly “politically opposed” who are choosing to leave their jobs instead of having mandatory Covid-19 jabs’; ‘Suffolk GPs facing increasing abuse from patients.’
Did I read the actual stories? I did not. The headlines sat on the table edge like a roadside bomb and those four words ‘government unveils action plan’ threatened to instantly derail my attempt to lighten up. Instead, I refilled my mug, made a second piece of toast, opened The Times and moved boldly on to the prose that always makes life on earth feel more worthwhile: the obituaries.
The hour comes when I have to leave my kitchen sanctuary and face the real world, the one called ‘work’. The grape harvest has begun, which is always a time bristling with anxiety and excitement, although this year we have a new and urgent challenge: to find a large van with enough fuel to get the grapes to the winery. This is before we find out that many of our team of pickers are stranded in their rural villages.
“In this small farming community, we are equally divided between those who blame Brexit for the mayhem and those who blame Covid”
Meanwhile, the online reservation system of the vineyard restaurant, fully booked throughout October, is now clogged up with cancellations. This might be a blessing, as text messages arrive every few minutes to warn that ‘deliveries cannot be guaranteed’. I also have no idea if the man who comes in his tanker each fortnight and fills the large propane gas tank that heats the stoves will be here before the tank is empty.
In this small farming community, we are equally divided between those who blame Brexit for the mayhem and those who blame Covid. Trying to see the sunny side, I trace its roots to the decision of some 400,000 drivers across Europe to return to their homelands during lockdown.
Some were furloughed, but many more were simply re-evaluating their lives. This glimpse into a different way of living was not confined to truck drivers. Chefs, builders, roofers, bankers, lawyers, singers, dancers — thousands re-thought the meaning of life.
The lockdown soundtrack was Peggy Lee singing Is that all there is? and, as the world slowly reawakened, workers turned in their passes, bureaucrats returned their laptops and HGV drivers handed in their keys. The Government elected to run the country was slow to realise that our food and fuel depends on human effort.
They know that now, but nobody in the fuel-dependent countryside believes that spreading visas like confetti throughout Poland is going to solve the problem. And who thought visas that will expire on Christmas Eve was a good idea? The sooner they delete Bing Crosby’s I’ll be home for Christmas from the Department for Transport playlist the better.
Although I suspect we will cheer up when things get back to ‘normal’, I also believe that human happiness grows when people pause and examine their lives. I am convinced that having a job of some kind tends to make folks more cheerful, helps keeps their feet on the sunny side of the street.
Despite the headlines (‘Disruption at petrol pumps could last for a month’, The Times, September 29), I have not succumbed to ‘Hope Abandoned’. Like the drivers who decided to stay put in Poland, I, too, have had moments of reflection. Taped to my computer are words from Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes: ‘It’s easy, after all, not to be a writer. Most people aren’t writers, and very little harm comes to them.’
Carla Carlisle on being a pessimist, making lists, and seeing snow for the first time.
Carla Carlisle took enthusiastically to the first lockdown, but found herself languishing during the second one.