I receive a call from my sister-in-law in the UK, Monique. Our mutual sister-in-law has lost her brother to covid. He lived in the UK. I have never met him but my husband remembers him from his childhood as a keen fisherman and full of exuberance. He did not leave behind a wife or children, and he was ill and getting worse. But it has brought the virus very close to home.
Liv (15) and I go for a walk. Our intention is to paint. I have seen a primrose in a hedge I like the look of, and Liv has her mind set on a dry stone wall she’s seen next to the hedge, but we’re flexible. Nothing grabs our fancy until we get to the primroses and the wall, but the primroses are right on the road and there’s nowhere for me to sketch them without getting knocked into the middle of next week by a car. So we squeeze through the gaps in a fence into a field. That is, I squeeze through, Liv slips through like the slender girl she is. “The bars are wider apart now Mum,” she says. No they’re not. The field is small and full of lovely grass covered in wild flowers, but there are no primroses this side of the hedge. There are dandelions and daisies everywhere, but the latter have knocked off early and their little white heads are closed for the night. Luckily, we both like the dry stone wall. Liv spies Tyrone House across the fields, and she has her subject, which she’s going to draw in pen and white acrylic marker. I settle down a few feet away from her and draw a hawthorn tree and another stretch of the wall. Reuben the terrier is happy as Larry, running from one to another of us with his lead trailing after him, sniffing, exploring, in dog paradise. From my patch of grass I can small a stink-horn fungus. I remember them from the mountainside in Co. Wicklow where I grew up. I studied botany in university and mycology was by far my favourite bit of it. Each mushroom is its own little person, with its own traits and strange properties. So many will make you sick or kill you, but they’ve all chosen different ways to do so. I find them beautiful, for the most part, but not stink-horns. They’re phallic – they look very like a ghostly John Thomas growing out of the forest floor – and their special trick is that they smell of carrion. This is to trick flies into spreading their spores around, which are in a sticky, gooey matrix on the top. I think they’re perfectly hideous, with their cloud of frenzied flies buzzing around them, but it’s great fun to follow your nose in a forest and track one down. So, as I sit there, I think there must be one nearby. It occurs to me that it’s not really the right terrain for the fungi. Then I notice clumps of red fur scattered amongst the daisies and dandelions in the grass. “Oh,” I think, “it’s not a fungus pretending to be carrion, it’s carrion.” As a child I would have run around enthusiastically to find the source, but today the sketch is much more important…and besides, the dead thing – a fox I imagine – isn’t going anywhere.
I draw and paint, draw and paint, until I have a tree, some lichen-covered stones and some grass done. Liv and I finish at the same time and she wanders over. I tell her about the dead fox. “Ahhh!” she cries, “How can you sit there surrounded by the smell of rotten fox?” I tell her I don’t care, but that it’s pretty gross. I quickly find the (ex) fox. It is quite clearly the source of the smell. We leave the field and walk home with the sun a pale gold circle behind us. We tell the family at home about the rotten fox. “A rotten fox?” says Honor (20). “Why, what was it doing?” “What do you mean, what was it doing?” I ask, “it wasn’t doing anything, it was dead.” “Ohhhh…” she replied, “I thought you meant a rotten fox, like it was annoying you, being a pain in the ass, rotten, you know.”
I have mad kids.