Sitting with my family around the increasingly wobbly antique dining table that still reminds me of childhood family Christmases, I am passing around bowls of pasta with two types of tomato sauce.
“Do you want the one with olives, Beth?”
“Is it the olives that taste like fish?”
“They don’t taste like fish, but yes it is”
My daughter is telling us about recent conversations with her grandmother who is bedridden with dementia, sleeps most of the time, and pretty much only eats soup and ice cream which has to be fed to her, often by the grandchildren she fed when they were young.
Far from being an unremittingly depressing scenario granny often comes out with amusing lines that sustain us all through the endless days of pandemic gloom.
“Granny was staring out of the window this morning,” my daughter tells us, “and I asked her what she was looking at.”
“I’m watching a bird flying back and forth. It’s been doing it all morning……I suppose it might not be the same bird.”
Everyone chuckles and, for an instant, debilitating, chronic end of life illness doesn’t seem so bad.
It’s an odd paradox to narrow your gaze and see more than you did before.
In the park where I walk most mornings, there is a tree I have begun to take photos of every day.
The beauty of the tree itself is less noticeable than it was the first time, springing out of the ground like a rabbit out of a hat. Instead, my familiarity with it has opened up everything around that I had never really noticed before.
The silhouette of the landscape behind the tree, the line where the earth meets the sky and, the sky itself changing in ever tinier and almost imperceptible ways as the warmth of early autumn surrenders to the relentless squeeze of the darker mornings.
When granny was well we all took less interest in what she was saying because an abundance of anything is easy to ignore.
Just weeks ago it was easy to find a blackberry on the bush to pick off for the dog as she waited at the same place every morning for her tiny jewel of fruit. Now, it’s much more of a challenge but, if I look hard enough, I can still sometimes spot one that’s just about edible, for a dog.
At the end of the week, I was finishing a book about creativity by Austin Kleon. In it, he writes about the importance of asking ourselves, “What’s the best thing that’s happened today?”
It’s the same idea, looking past everything in order to focus on something joyous.
If we are indiscriminate about what we focus on it’s much easier to see what doesn’t help us.
After dinner, I am washing up while the children sit under throws on the sofa.
“These smell nice,” my daughter calls out, half of her head obscured by the blanket.
“I washed them today before the rains come at the weekend.”
I’m cleaning a heavy cast iron pot with a wooden brush, feeling the warmth of the soapy water on my bare hands.
Putting it out onto the rack for drying I pop an olive into my mouth and, as I really concentrate on its taste I notice a depth of savoury that almost tastes a little like salty fish.