Lucy Baring: ‘Her dressing gown is covered in ketchup, but she can barely take it off to wash it. This is someone I think of as a party animal’

If we are in the last days of lockdown, worries Lucy Baring, there will be a lot of getting used to what was once 'normal'.

When Alf announced that he hadn’t been in a car since Christmas Eve and I spent much of the night wondering why they’ve stopped making long Twiglets in a box, it might appear that our horizons have shrunk over the past year. Now they’re set to expand and a certain edginess has crept in because nobody can decide if they’re an introvert or an extrovert any more. For every person delighted at the lifting of rules, another says they never want to go out again. Often it’s the same person, on different days.   

This morning, I spoke to someone who panicked when her online yoga teacher said ‘We’ll all be able to meet soon’, because she says her dressing gown is covered in ketchup, but she can barely take it off to wash it. This is someone I think of as a party animal. 

A year ago, I had a new hip and we’d just had the wettest February on record. I can hardly remember either of these things, but not because they seem so long ago — or perhaps it is. I don’t know how to judge time any more. What I do know is that the days go remarkably quickly and when my sister said ‘They’re still here then’, looking at five over-sized woody celeriac by the back door, I realised we probably dug them up in January. But which January? There’s nothing like a ‘roadmap’ to make you realise you haven’t done the photograph albums or painted the loo.  

Having only flexed my social muscles on dog walks, often in conversation with strangers, I am a bit nonplussed at the idea of seeing friends, although they might reintroduce some welcome elements of reality in a world full of falsehoods. This is a typical example: ‘Ohhh, look at the little fellow, isn’t he a cutie?’ ‘No.’ ‘What actually is he?’ ‘A nightmare.’ ‘But it looks as if butter wouldn’t melt…’ 

“Zam may have created a whole new world for the fattest squirrels in the south”

At home, there is no sign of Zam, which means he is making another bird box. The boxes began with a tall structure set in the roof of the wood store; there are a series of holes in walls that will attract the prospective nester to a comfortable landing platform from which they can access spacious and private accommodation (no cameras). I’m told any barn owl should find it entirely satisfactory. This was followed by an equally large structure now set high in a tree at the far end of the field, for tawny owls.   

A sparrow ‘terrace’ followed: four semi-detached areas providing communal living, but with your own space. Next came an open-sided ranch-style box in the cherry tree (blackbirds) and, last night, an unusual chalet-log-cabin design appeared. The size of the hole has been giving Zam trouble because he’s read that although some species like 32mm openings, others prefer 28mm. Here was I not knowing that 4mm can really make or break the attractiveness of a nesting box.   

When I answer the telephone, I’m surprised to hear a friend I haven’t spoken to in over a year. I find the talking muscle is actually in fine form and barely draw breath for half an hour.

‘I’d better go,’ I wind things up.

‘Actually, I was ringing to say happy birthday to Zam.’ Zam is tilted back in his chair for the perfect vantage point. ‘A sparrow is eyeing up the log cabin,’ he tells the confused caller.   

Next morning, I hear noises in the ‘terrace’. I have the unwelcome feeling that it may not only be our horizons that are expanding. I think Zam may have created a whole new world for the fattest squirrels in the south.