As I write, I can see the bandstand through my window. Not the iconic one of many art forms. I don’t live in a big house or little apartment on the Promenade. I live with the lovely view that is the full length of the People’s Park, Bray.
After that most ominous of Friday the thirteenths in March 2020, I worked from home. First, setting up camp in the front room bay window, where I started to make the acquaintance of people I’d never known before. They walked their dogs once, sometimes twice daily past my door and started to wave to the lady in the window, and I back.
Come Easter Monday we stretched the limits of our #2kmfromhome and found a route taking us to the footbridge to Enniskerry on a 7km walk within our 2km radius. I needed to stretch out the body that had been hunched over a laptop, neck and spine screaming out for the ergonomic setup back at HQ in Dublin. I arrived home, grabbed a chair to sit in the garden, when suddenly No! No, I was not going to be able to sit down. No, I was not going to be able to stand up. The only place I was going was the stone floor of a patio for the next several hours. A familiar tale to anyone who’s ever done their back in.
This was the start to a week of online tutorials I’d organised for students and lecturers, with times that found me lying on the kitchen floor while I talked someone back into a virtual room. Different chairs, desks and setups were tried throughout the house. There wasn’t just my back to consider, there was also the backdrop – how much of my house did I want the world to see? Did I want to look like a faceless angel with the sun bouncing off my face or like an episode of crime watch with me cowering in the shadows? I also needed to recover without visiting a hands-on professional.
I returned to what I knew had helped before. I slowly walked the park. I did Tai Chi every day. There was no room in our little back garden while my husband completed his latest lockdown project – reconfiguring the sheds so they looked like colourful beach huts. But the bandstand; the bandstand was the perfect amount of space for the 8 sided form of Tai Chi. It also kept people at a good social distance, though their dogs seemed to like staring or standing right beside me. I went out early in the morning, partially out of self-consciousness, but also before I took to the desk for the day. I got to know another band of people: the cute cocooner couple, sneaking out before everyone else; Mr Slow Walker; Master Fast Runner; Ms Music Listener; the couch-to-5K joggers and the stay-out-of-my-way cyclists.
But as I twirled slowly around on the bandstand I came also to know other visitors to the park: the not-so-socially-distant pigeons brunching at their canteen of a bald patch in the grass; the crows apparently mocking me from the heights; the lonesome mistle thrush who preferred to breakfast in a favoured spot in the central lush grass; the hooded crows like a couple of bouncers either side of the locked playground gate in their grey and black suits; the gulls not batting a wing, as I walked alongside them the length of the park wall, their various forms now distinguishable to me as the greater and lesser black backed, the black headed and the herring gulls; the various spring mating rituals and little love chases as feathers fluttered around me. I knew spring was officially here when the sand martins swirled over my head for the first time, apparently manic to be back, so different to their stoic pterodactyl-like relatives, the herons. These security guards of the Dargle, occasionally sharing their shift with a white egret, became the subject of many a mindful moment.
One morning on my route to the bandstand, casting an eye over the wall to the river, I froze. It couldn’t be. Was I seeing things or was there really a kingfisher just perched in full view on the edge of the slipway, not just a flash of blue whizzing by or a dot of orange in a bush, but giving me a bird’s eye view of the fullness of its regal cloak? I’d no phone, no bird-watching son or husband nearby to call over, just another mindful moment of staring at it to enjoy. Who knew when or if I’d ever see one again. I decided to stay as long as the king would grant me an audience. Ms Music Listener approached on her daily walk. As she came close to the two metres, I signalled to look over the wall and meet our most beautifully feathered neighbour. This moment had to be shared, as would a loud hello over her soundtrack, every morning thereafter.
On an evening stroll with my bird-watching nineteen year old, we gave it another shot. Yes! The King appeared to have set up court in the little pool bordered by the slipway and two rows of flood-defence rocks. It stayed so long I had time to run home for the camera and come back to find it posing on its catwalk for my son to take this shot.
The long evenings of June and my new found courage (born of people being used to me by now slowly chopping and kicking my way through the air) brought new views from the bandstand of the sun setting behind the hills beyond my house. I could be forgiven for thinking a couple of sand martins were out late, when it was the bats, equally small, equally fast, equally amazing.