By Janice Turner in THE TIMES, 28 March 28 2020
Imagine it was winter. That’s what I thought as I queued around the Sainsbury’s car park for 30 minutes just to buy milk, as I passed a padlocked children’s playground, shuttered cafés and discarded latex gloves. Imagine it was November and we were heading down a dark tunnel into grimmer, colder days.
But it’s spring — thank God! The days are chill and blue, the leaves are their palest, sweetest green and you can smell the earth awaken. We’re bathed in lemony vernal light and tomorrow when the clocks go forward we’ll get a whole extra hour of it in the evenings. They can ban birthday parties, school proms, beach holidays, hot dates and lunch with old friends. But, as the artist David Hockney said, they can’t cancel spring.
When he was dying of cancer, the playwright Dennis Potter remarked that the world had acquired a heightened intensity. “At this season, the blossom is out in full now . . . and instead of saying ‘Oh that’s nice blossom’ . . . I see it is the whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom that there ever could be. The nowness of everything is absolutely wondrous.”
This year, when the world is mired in sickness and death, the blossom seems more blossomy, the spring never springier. During my government-approved exercise hour, I stop to gawp at magnolias in front gardens, admire the foresight of ancient aldermen for planting a line of cherries down a suburban street and thank anyone who in December buried a daffodil bulb. In Dulwich Park, south London, the scent of hyacinths — unsullied by car fumes — has the intensity of a fifty-quid Diptyque candle.
Out in the sunshine are people who, I’d wager, never normally take an hour-long daily walk. But listless, frightened, uncertain, they consume their state ration of spring. Look at the tulips, listen to the birds, watch the frisky squirrels. Breathe. It will be fine.
If you can only cope with so much news, if you feel the days are blurring into one another, that there is not much to look forward to, just stare at a tree. I do every day. The weeping willow next door seems to photosynthesise before my eyes.
As someone with mild Sad (seasonal affective disorder) I want to celebrate spring like a pagan. At first after winter solstice we win just a few seconds extra a day, then minutes. Spring is like going up and up on a rollercoaster, until you get to the thrilling downhill whoosh of summer.
But that’s the melancholy thing about it: summer’s over too soon, you’re scared of wasting it, then it’s back to darkness.
But spring is about promise, possibility, incremental advances . . . the best is still ahead. Spring is playful: a fiesta of cheap, Crayola-coloured flowers, goofy newborn animals and Easter, that most chilled out of religious days.
In the countryside you cannot forget the seasons: you are always part of the landscape. But in cities, nature is just background to our bustle. Leaves are something which clog up commuter lines: the parks are somewhere to hang out. To appreciate spring truly you have to slow down — and most of our lives have come to a stop. Yes, this could go on for months. But for now just enjoy the sun warming your bones.