Today is my father, Robin Hanbury-Tenison’s, 84th birthday and miraculously he was able to wakeup in his own bed and listen to the spring warbling of a green woodpecker while watching theswallows cavorting on the veranda in front of his bedroom. He was brought home three daysago in an ambulance having spent seven weeks flickering between life and death while battlingCovid-19 at Derriford Hospital. I would be lying if I pretended my, usually unshakable, faith in hisinvincibility hadn’t wavered at several points during this ordeal. Many tears of joy and relief wereshed as he was wheeled out by a paramedic on Monday evening and given back to us.
My wife, Lizzie, and I live a stone’s throw away from my parents across our farmyard on BodminMoor. Since his return, we’ve quarantined ourselves from them as Lizzie is 33 weeks pregnantand the doctors still don’t seem to be sure of the contagious nature of recovered patients. Thismorning we opened a bottle of champagne from the veranda and toasted Robin’s return froman appropriately socially distanced range. He lay in bed, surrounded by cards and marvelled tous at his close brush with death. The latest in a long list of adventures and escapades that stretchback over eight decades.
My mother, Louella, has adopted the role of drill sergeant. A natural woman of action, she hasbeen understandably frustrated and felt unutilised while he was cared for by the superb medicalteam in Plymouth. Now the hard work can begin and she has sprung into action with all the vimand vigour that one would expect. A strict exercise regime will be adhered to and regularhydration and nourishment will be administered at rigorous and uncompromising intervals. Theold explorer is currently as weak as a babe in arms and needs help with even the most basicactivities, but I have no doubt his recovery will continue to startle and amaze all onlookers underLouella’s strict but loving ministrations.
As the debate rages at a more national level over whether and when the lockdown should beeased it feels like my father’s recovery parallels our country’s in many ways. He has survived theworst of the Covid beast and yet the real battle is still ahead of him. The slow and frustratingtrek up the exhausting ascent to health and wellness will need a determination and patience thathis time under sedation didn’t require. We have all come through the first, rather exciting,lockdown sprint only to find that we might face a long Summer of closed pubs, remote workingand socially distanced outdoor activities. It seems this is going to go on for far longer than we allinitially imagined and some parts of our lives will never return to what we considered normalbefore.
Alongside this gradual slog through the following weeks and months comes a reawakening of ourneed for gardens, parks and wilderness. At first, there was a gentle whisper which has risen to alouder, more insistent conversation about the healing power of nature and how we all needaccess to green spaces and the countryside for our mental health and wellness. It has taken beinglocked away to notice what’s right in front of us. For a species that evolved surrounded by junglesand mountains, it was madness to think that we could ever truly be ourselves when entombed inconcrete, brick and glass. More and more scientific studies are showing that cortisol, adrenalineand our sympathetic nervous systems are all less evident when people look at, smell, hear andfeel plants and trees. Stress goes down and happiness goes up.
This has manifested in a surge of interest in property in the countryside and a dip in urban houseprices. People are considering ‘life after Covid’ away from bustling commutes, shopping centresand cityscapes. It seems the government’s 25 year ‘A Greener Future’ environment plan wasrather prescient when it was published last year. It encourages urbanites to reconnect with rurallife and for farmers and country-dwellers to begin reshaping their industries to accommodatethis. Perhaps coronavirus has served to accelerate this transformation.
We haven’t managed to take Robin down into the ancient oak woods on our farm yet. After all, it has only been three days and he is still effectively bed-bound. However, he is now out of thewoods medically and soon to be back into the woods physically. I look forward to helping himdown into the valley that he knows so well to watch for otters by the river and laugh at thedippers swooping for insects and freshwater shrimp amongst the eddies.
He is already talking about his next physical challenge. As an octogenarian marathon runner,skydiver and water skier I knew it wouldn’t be long before he started planning the nextimprobable undertaking. It’ll be closer to home this time and he wants to focus on his newpassion; enabling intensive care patients to access gardens and promote their healing while theyare still very constrained. It’s what catalysed his recovery and he’s committed to helping othersbenefit in the same way.
In the meantime, I imagine there will be another book in the oven. This one about his medicaladventures juxtaposed with the spiritual journeys he sailed through while sedated and delirious.As he gets busy planning his next endeavours, the drill sergeant will focus on his physical healthwhile our bucolic wooded valley on Bodmin Moor helps to heal his soul.<//>
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