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One year on and who would have thought I’d be writing these words? Week six of lockdown, the weather has finally broken and we retreat back indoors. As a family we are lucky, we have a garden and the local marshes are close to our house in East London. For our daily interpretation of exercise I  run to break the cabin fever or walk with my daughter using a pair of binoculars to seek out birds and other flora or fauna. Often I get pangs of guilt as others are not so fortunate, key workers, single parents, while we sit it out. At the start of the pandemic I decided I was going to offer my services to deliver food, medicines and other essentials but then it appeared I also have fallen victim to the covid 19 virus, although not confirmed my lungs even now are running at reduced capacity, a timely reminder that this whole ordeal is far from over.

This time last year I was in Ireland on the shores of Lough Derg with self isolated recluse – Del Harding, in truth he is not a recluse, although wary of people he  loves the company of others and during our brief three day visit Del was very keen to share his stories once we had gained Dels trust. Our daily routine began in the woods with a fire to make tea,  by late morning Del would rise and join us, drink coffee and share his life through  memories, time had no business here, he talked and I filmed. I managed to get the shots before the sun fell so low that the camera could no longer record a clear image.  As night closed in, Del would light a candle and talk some more, ghost stories, tales of pike, monsters from the deep, and re-living heart stopping moments of the lives of other anglers who once fished Lough Derg.

Photo: Romy Rae

Del lives on his own terms, he has the luxury of space, space for himself and away from others, Del’s routine before lockdown involved a daily trip to the local village to buy a sandwich, a coffee and perhaps replenish his tobacco pouch, I know these little trips were important to Del.  Three months after we left Ireland Del was involved in an accident when a friend managed to fell a tree, unbeknown to Del who was standing too close, the tree came crashing down without warning, missing him by an inch, caught his arm and broke it in two. After several days in hospital Del returned to his wood, thankfully his daughter lives a twenty minute drive away and through his hospital care, family and neighbours Del recovered throughout the rest of 2019 but he was restricted to his own land, no more independent trips to the shops were made in 2019.

During the winter of 2019/2020 Del started to write to me on a more regular basis and I began to write back. I cheated though, my reliance on the computer is habitual, letters were typed and mistakes edited. Del on the other hand would capture thoughts, and talk about the woods and the Lough, then systematically write it all down on the page, Del composed page after page, no words crossed out, just beautifully written letters.  One letter which arrived in November explained he has moved into one of the cob houses where he could have an open fire burning at all times, November, christ! 

As the pandemic established itself Del wrote on the topic in his own pragmatic, often blunt manner, dismissing the coronavirus as a ‘storm in a tea cup’ but soon retracting this thought and reestablishing the situation as a ‘hurricane in a swimming pool,’ soon after he mirrored the updated situation with a  Sci-Fi book he read in the 1960’s, this time the outcome was more sobering, but like many of us he swallowed the current bitter pill with the hope of a new season,  the force of nature is strong, Del would write about the rebirth in his woods and reemergence of wildlife out on the lough.

Every few weeks a new letter arrived, I left it un-opened, got the home-schooling and other chores out of the way and then settled on the sofa in the kitchen with a coffee and loose myself in Del’s words away from the internet, the TV,  and transport myself to that fire pit next to Lough Derg, words flowing like the small stream that crosses his land.