Some weeks ago, when the ground underfoot was less sodden, I saw a woman lying on the grass while doing my daily laps of the local park. At first, I thought she had fallen but as I approached to check, she waved me away saying she was okay, pointing skyward.
I got it straight off. She was cloud-gazing, an activity that might have been somewhat niche in the pre-Covid years, but one that seems not only reasonable but necessary now. Who could question the benefit of peering into the vast heavens to ease the claustrophobia of locked-down life on earth?
The ever-changing sky is a wonder; an open expanse of possibility on constant view to those trapped in 5km bubbles on the ground below.
It’s not surprising, then, to see that Cloud-Watcher in Chief, artist and author Chris Judge, has struck such a chord with A Daily Cloud. The Maestro of the Firmament — he deserves a title — posts witty interpretations of clouds on Twitter and Instagram, bringing much-needed lightness into the leaden every-day.
A damp Tuesday could be cheered up by a flying elephant or a glimpse of a Tricirrustops — a Triceratops dinosaur in cirrus, get it? — flying overhead.
It is these little nuggets of joy that are helping to get us through right now.
The daily news cycle was never intended to bring us cheer but has there ever been a time when it offered less hope? Indeed, has there ever been a Government that has offered less hope?
Let’s not dwell on that question, for now. Instead, let’s look at those who have offered us hope when we most need it. Like Chris Judge, who explains how A Daily Cloud came about.
“As an illustrator, I have a brain with pareidolia built in (seeing faces in inanimate objects) and end up drawing all over our weekly delivery of fruit and veg, and photos of trees. One glorious evening during the first lockdown I took some photos of clouds in the garden and spent 20 minutes drawing on them and posted them on Twitter.”
[Note to self: There is a word for seeing faces in inanimate objects. How wonderful! Look up how to pronounce it.]
He was astonished by the reaction — 70,000 likes and retweets. “They really resonated with people and seemed to bring great joy so I decided to do one every day. They are a huge help to me personally, keeping me creative so I’ll keep going as long as people need them.”
And we do need them. When we look back on this pandemic — that day will come — will we wonder why we paid so little attention to how Covid-19 affected our mental health? Although, that is not quite true; there have been warnings of the tsunami of issues that coronavirus will leave in its wake.
They have dreamt up projects to keep us occupied; posted on social media to urge us to keep on keeping on; set up community schemes to bring people together. In short, they have shown us that human creativity is an undervalued but incredibly potent force, throwing us a badly needed rescue line to help us negotiate the ongoing challenges (physical, emotional and, in particular, mental) of lockdown.
It doesn’t take much to help a person get through the day. The rainbow peeping in my window as I write will not change the endless tide of difficult news, but it is giving me a morning lift. In the enforced silence of lockdown everything seems amplified. The horror of Covid deaths and the trail of destruction the virus has left behind come into the sharpest focus when you take away the noise of the usual daily bustle.
But there’s an upside too. In the same way that the echo chamber amplifies the bad, it also highlights the simple, everyday joy of small things. I’ve been holding on to that with both hands because mental health is a fragile thing and we need to embrace relief wherever we can find it.
For some, yet another version of the Jerusalema might distract them from the news which shows, in graphic detail, how lockdown is having a negative impact on every age group in every community in Ireland.
It’s not long before the harsh reality returns. Every single area that needed attention before the pandemic — health, housing and homelessness to list a few of the entries under ‘h’ — is worse now.
Even the positive news comes with distressing reminders of how the instruments of State can ride rough-shod over the little people. For instance, every time I hear a HSE representative talk of its life-saving work administering vaccines, I can’t divorce that HSE from the one that forced terminally ill cancer patient Joan Lucey through the courts while she was on her death bed.
Take away the challenges of the pandemic, and the Government still falls down in so many areas. It is utterly dispiriting.
For example, on my urban walk, I’m as likely to see a squirrel as a fox. I get a disproportionate kick out of that. In the same way, I punch the air when I see that the lupin in a neighbour’s garden is still in bloom, months after it should have faded.
I’m also immensely grateful for the wise pal who advised me to find the sweet spot in every hour. I’m thinking tea and Jammie Dodgers (in for a Covid stone, in for a Covid stone-and-a-half) but she didn’t mean that. She meant that, at regular intervals during the day, we should look for some small thing that provides relief from the turmoil playing out all around us.
Yesterday, it was the personal trainer-turned-pop-up-barista who not only remembers my name but my order. The day before it was a re-run ofand hearing Inspector Jacques Clouseau say the classic line that the murder victim was killed “in a rit of fealous jage”.
Last week, it was the ever-cheerful national treasure Marian Keyes who posted this: “Just about to start The traditional Thursday morning ceremony where we Welcome Home The Bins!!! Himself and I clap them as they trundle homeward, tired but proud, from a fruitful night. They will be rewarded with mugs of tay and rasher sangwidges.”
And every day, no matter what is going on, remember to look up. If ever there was a time to keep your head in the clouds, it is now.