SOUTHSIDE STORIES

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Locked Down and Loved Up

by Dakshina Gammanpila

News of the vaccine reaches far and wide, as the roll out to the most vulnerable, care workers, medical staff and elders in the community continues. Vaccination numbers in the UK increase daily, and as I write the statistics show that over 15 million injections have been administered. Closer to home our older relatives, friends and loved ones have received their first dose. Adhering to rules continues and lockdown remains but the end, if not here, appears more tangible.

In addition to the science behind the vaccine and the promise of better days ahead is the science behind the smile. We have often heard that smiling, and laughter in particular, is a medicine in itself, releasing a surge of happy hormones. So at the end of the working week we were all in need of some respite and the surprise snowfall which made for a magical week, was a perfect excuse for all manner of tomfoolery.

The tranquil wonderland on our doorstep and surrounding fields was offset by the activity on the hills. The farmhouse is nestled in a little valley with a microclimate of its own, adding to the feeling of other worldliness.  We donned a hundred layers of clothing and headed out to greet the day. Exuberance was everywhere and we too wanted a piece of the action.

We watched the sledges and makeshift vehicles including a pimped up decommissioned (one hopes) Medivac stretcher and a chair on skies. Broken sledges, victims of previous escapades, bore testimony to the battering they endured and failed to weather unscathed. However, the fastest conveyance was a sign (it may have been an estate agent For Sale board) customized with a string for reins (hanging on for grim life as opposed to steering) and a cushion for padding and luxury. The grown man astride this marvelous feat of engineering managed to make it alive to the bottom of the slope, some considerable distance. He even kindly assisted members of my family with a starting push, on its laughter-filled downward descent in our own crazy contraption.

In Brazil we had attended a festival where all manner of machinery bearing all manner of persons, sporting all manner of costumes hurled themselves into the lake, simply for the fun of it. Fabulous to witness. Brazilians love their fancy dress – think Rio Carnival, and their speedy risk taking – think Grand prix, Formula One, Piquet and Senna. We recall being on our terrace in 2012 when two jet pilots in their Air Force Mirage 2000s flying at around 700 miles per hour, almost broke the sound barrier smashing all the windows of the Supreme Court building in the nation’s capitol on an unchoreographed, low altitude supersonic fly past. Despite being miles away on the other side of the lake we felt the impact, as we lunched by the pool one Saturday afternoon.

This Saturday afternoon in England, with the hills glistening like a continental ski resort, we were not equipped with anything remotely resembling a jet plane or even, it has to be said, a sledge. The sky was so clear, an incredible shade of blue in contrast to the snow that my husband said it reminded him of when he lived in Canada. Ever one to persevere and have a go in the great outdoors, he had fashioned what could loosely be termed a sledge – a veritable time travelling machine. Rudimentary as it was, the laughter and fun made us all forget the current state of the world and transported us instantly to a more carefree time. Priceless.

My kids persuaded me that they would ‘transport’ me down the hill and after some cajoling, I acquiesced. My brain had been whirring overtime all week. Something ridiculous and out of the ordinary was the prescription I needed. There is a great deal to be said about gaining pleasure from the enjoyment of others, and we fed off one another’s happiness and laughter on the journey. It was contagious and after a year of hearing only of The Virus, our laughter which went viral amongst the people on the slopes was certainly a thing worth catching.

I laughed so hard that no sound emanated from my mouth. Catching my breath I could feel the laugh in every cell of my being. Our own empirical snow and laughter research proved the point unequivocally, as the dopamine surged through us. This week’s photograph is of my children chasing each other up the slopes only to roll down (as you would a grassy bank) giggling. They were truly my snow angels. It really did feel as if all my birthdays, Christmases and Valentines had come at once.

The snow on Sunday, Valentine’s Day no less, provided the romantic backdrop to more antics. There was resilience in evidence too as my husband and son developed a state of the art technique (of snowman creation). Resuming their will, even when the first Frosty incarnation collapsed, they simply rolled up their sleeves (or is that rolled down?) and kept shoveling until Klaus (Klaus II?) was born. We crowded round with glee, our smiles nearly matched Klaus’ mile-wide grin. If a snowman can possess a sunny disposition Klaus had it in spades. I say ‘had’ as overnight came warmer temperatures and rain; an entirely different scene met our eyes the following morning. It was a lesson in ‘gathering ye rosebuds (or in this case snowballs) whilst ye may’ as the old English saying goes.

The snowfall with its accompanying silence pierced by our whoops of delights has been an antidote. Stunning, unexpected and ethereal.  The fleeting nature of Nature’s bounty. Ephemeral too, as if trying to catch a snowflake. The minute you touch it, it’s gone. Like time itself. The snow which blanketed everything, icicles dangling from the eaves, frozen footprints, all had vanished – a conjurer’s trick. The only snow was a tiny mound that had been Klaus, our smiling snowman. Days later it still remains, exhibit A (or K) the only evidence that he was ever there.

The week was a reminder to live every moment and bank the laughter as tonic for the soul. Just what the doctor ordered. My son has a birthday this weekend and as well as having a school holiday – a bonus for any birthday boy – we will endeavour to create some more lockdown laughter.

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