The Coronavirus Diaries, Still Basking in the Sperrins

The weather continues to defy expectations. I am under a tree with Westie Boy asleep at my side. I have spent much of the day reading, watching the birds at the feeders, admiring the garden and the scenery beyond. Smudge is asleep on an unmade up bed in the second bedroom of the annex where I am staying. Poppy is asleep inside. I haven’t seen Dizzy since first thing this morning, so I imagine he is visiting one of the neighbours and has a cool spot.

This morning Cecilia came to visit. We had planned to walk with or without dogs depending on the heat. She managed to miss the house and spent fruitless minutes driving up and down the road. My mobile phone reception here is hopeless, so although she tried ringing me we could not speak while I was in the house. Texts worked though so I told her I’d walk to the entrance of the driveway where she’d be able to see me. Reception was better there and we managed to speak. She told me where she was and I told her where I was. As she rang off I saw her car leave the parking space opposite the chapel and come down the hill, as she turned into the road I was able to stand in her path waving both arms.

The dogs mobbed her. She dealt extremely well with an excited Westie and an exuberant Labrador. We decided it was too hot for us to walk even without dogs, so I made coffee and we sat at the back of the house. Westie Boy let the house down by jumping up and snatching her biscuit from her hand. I had warned her they are a pair of thugs. Poppy captured her heart and sat as close to her as she could manage. Westie Boy went off to play with his ball, and then barked at us to gain our attention. Male Look-at-Me syndrome.

Cecilia was our landlady in Bellaghy when Celia and we’re over at the end of April. She’s the best Airbnb landlady in Ireland, warm, welcoming, cheerful and considerate. We were the first people to book her accommodation and were treated like royalty. She asked after Celia, and was obviously sorry I had come unaccompanied. We talked about her new Airbnb venture in Toome which will shortly be available to book: Timmy’s at Toome after the last tenants’ cat. I loved her comment about the choice between Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak as our next Prime Minister, like being asked if you want to die by drowning or being electrocuted, she said. I’d say that’s about right.

She said she’d like to take Poppy home with her. She isn’t the first person to say this about this very engaging dog, but she had reservations about biscuit-snatching Westie Boy. Maybe he had criminal tendencies, indulged in a spot of pickpocketing or money laundering as sidelines to his biscuit thieving. We parted with hugs and promises to stay in touch.

Tomorrow Cousin and I are taking the bus to Belfast where Kathryn will collect us to visit Uncle Bill in Ballygowan. I think my cousin Alec is away sailing, but his wife Michele will be around. So a family day. Yesterday we did the regular pilgrimage to Upperlands, driving the small roads, looking at the increasing spread of houses where there were once fields. Oddly, given the number of families now living in the area, the children’s playground where we used to go has been closed, and is now a sad place of weeds and rubbish.

It seems likely this is the last time we shall visit the derelict offices of Clark’s of Upperlands. The dams, the factory, the offices have all been acquired by a developer, so by next year it may be unrecognisable. Clark’s is still in business, and I understand is moving to Kilrea from the site they currently operate from.

Maybe it’s a good thing, as the once proud offices are sad ghosts of themselves. We walked by the smaller dam, which looked tranquil under blue skies. Not a bad way to remember it.

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