It has been drizzling incessantly this week. Making a hasty return from school, I noticed with surprise that the daffodils are out already. The dingy weather and the brightness of the blooms epitomised early March, a month of contrasts. Inside, faces pressed to a window running with raindrops, four velvety scarlet amaryllis flowers have trumpeted out from the apex of their sturdy stem. A stunted hyacinth, remnant of last year, pours out scent from the centre of the table.
I have been reminded of the paintings of Eric Ravilious several times recently – perhaps because we live beneath the Westbury White Horse which he famously depicted. Is there anyone who has better captured the British weather? The soft relentlessness of the rain. The subtleties of grey within the clouds. The subdued greens of an ancient sculpted landscape. Romantic in a quiet way, no histrionics; innately British.
Ravilious stayed with the conoisseur and collector Sir Geoffrey Fry at Oare House in Wiltshire in the early 1930s, having been commissioned to produce three painted panels; while there he explored the Wiltshire downs, as well as the gardens and greenhouses at Oare. Later, in 1939 – just before receiving a letter from the War Artists’ Advisory Committee – Ravilious travelled through Wiltshire and Dorset drawing chalk figures for Puffin Picturebooks: ‘the Weymouth George III, the Cerne Giant, the horse at Westbury and the other white horse at Uffington’ he wrote to a friend. But then the war took over.
This quiet rain is in many ways a relief after the recent storm. Storms are anxious-making. Every whistle of a gust squeezing through a crevice, every tapping of a branch against the window or rattle of a loose sash pane distracts my attention like a fitful baby. Whatever I am doing I must get up again and go to the window, watch intently for straining branches or loosened tiles. I cannot bring myself to call storms by their invented names; it demeans them. Maybe this is the purpose of it, to reduce mass panic by humanising the chaotic force. But I would rather acknowledge the overwhelming power of nature, cancel our plans again and wait. The storm in the skies eerily echoed the distant news filtering through on the unreliable internet; and now the rain continues to fall.
Despite being confined inside (or perhaps because of all this weather-induced isolation), I have struggled to keep up with events. Pancake day almost passed us by (and the hasty production of drop scones for tea did not impress anyone); Ash Wednesday, late though it is this year, seemed to have come early; and at 8.30am on World Book Day I remembered that we were supposed to be creating ‘a character from your favourite book’ out of a vegetable. I swiftly draw an eye patch on a carrot; the origami tricorn was a dismal failure, but covered the carrot’s mouldy head. It was something, and off we went to join the throng of literary vegetables in the damp mist of Thursday.