As I write, if I turn to my left, ignoring the cat staring out of the window, I can look straight onto ye olde Englishe village green. There’s an elderly gentleman creaking by on a bike that obviously hasn’t seen the light of day for years. Two children and their mother are walking towards me; the woman tight-lipped and tired; the children dressed as Batman and Snow White. There are a couple of Aylesbury ducks chasing each-other around the pond in the distance. But apart from that: nothing. I can usually see and hear trains and planes as well as cars. Nothing.
Except – and here’s where I open my CORVID-19 diary – jackdaws, crows and red kites. I know red kites aren’t corvids, but I can’t leave them out. Their cry is incongruously weak and whiny; I can’t usually hear it above the sound of every-day traffic. But on warm days especially, when they wheel around in thermals (not long-johns, the other kind), they fill the air with sound.
The jackdaws are nesting in a disused chimney a few feet away from where I’m sitting now. They would be useless at self-isolation: they never stop chattering and bickering together, and constantly seek the company of others. And the crows are in a new-build rookery – hang on, crowery? – in some lime trees across the road. I love the sound of their cawing: it’s somehow timeless and comforting.
Learning to listen is a skill I’m developing fast. I can hear the sound of tea-leaves hitting a warmed-up teapot in the kitchen downstairs in defiance of a closed door and Captain Oates’s purring. I can hear the approaching footsteps of our brilliant postman as strides along, still jaunty, in his shivery shorts. I can hear the anxiety in the brittle-bright voice of a friend or family member online. And I can hear the voices of the women I write about every day.
I specialise in social history through women’s eyes. I like to acknowledge the people who have been working away behind the scenes of history to make life better. Women who campaigned long and hard – and peacefully – for a political voice; for access to higher education; for equal opportunities in the professional workplace; to be respected, dignified, and to be heard.
One thing all these campaigners shared was a sense of sisterhood. Solidarity. The heady knowledge that when you all reach a hand to others (metaphorically speaking), you are strong. When suffragists were being attacked by mobs with firebombs and rocks; would-be students were being told their brains were too small for serious thinking; the first doctors were assured that there would never be any need of them; their silver lining was the mutual support they discovered in adversity.
That is a message worth listening to.