The View from My Window | Alexandra Harris
No matter where you live, coronavirus has altered daily life. We’ve asked Faber authors to share a snapshot of their lives.
Here’s my centre of operations, in the front bedroom of my house in East Oxford. It’s a new set-up for the new times. This room is usually rented out, but it’s just me in the house now and I’ve moved in here because it’s close to the router and gets the afternoon sun. The Zoom calls may still flicker on and off, but I’m basking in warmth all the while.
Other advantages have been gradually revealing themselves. Stationed over the street like this, I can keep an eye on the action. The children opposite have a new archery set and there’s spontaneous outdoor aerobics at the far end of the road (which I won’t be joining in). All the normal shunting of parallel-parked cars is gone, which is blissful and speaks its own sorrows. I imagine the road grassing over. Occasionally there’s a delivery and I resist looking out, but then again . . . An impressive consignment of compost at 19; wine at 34.
I have a desk, as you can see, but it’s a decoy. Work happens in the armchair just beyond. In normal life I go to cafés to tackle anything I’m anxious about: I like to be buoyed on the currents of other lives around me. The funny gathering of furniture by my window rouses a memory of that café feeling. The Windsor chair was given to me by a friend in our first flat-share after university, and is always a companionable presence. The armchair I bought last month when I realised I was going to be at home for a long time. It came in several parts, which meant I could carry it upstairs. Isolation presents many small quandaries, like how to carry chairs, and small triumphs of resolution.
I’m a judge for the Forward Prizes this year, with two hundred and eight books to think about. So I settle into my chair for the day and let the books take me. Towards dusk the evening star rises very sharp and white above the chimney pots opposite. ‘The folding star’, as William Collins and Alan Hollinghurst call it: signalling the time to fold your sheep. I fold my books for a few hours and go into the garden. Because I’m very asthmatic I rarely step beyond the front door, but my small suburban garden feels astonishingly sufficient. Every inch of it brings me pleasure.
Occasionally, if it’s quiet at twilight, I slip out along the street, pausing at all the big attractions, like the magnolia halfway along and the pink-blue party of clematis growing up through ceanothus. Then down to the Kidneys, a very roughly kidney-shaped common by the river. It’s fairly plain scrubland, not glamorous as landscapes go, but to me – and to hundreds of others who live nearby – it’s a place of wonders. Here it is in the last light; there’ll be bats after dark. The wild carrot leaves now delicately frilly underfoot promise big foaming waves of flower to come. That big hawthorn in the picture will be a blaze of white next month, and the brambles underneath will proffer blackberries. I’ve no idea what the human world will look like in August, but the blackberries will be in their usual place.
Alexandra Harris’s The Rising Down will be published by Faber in 2021.