18 pebbles and 2 boxes

“All the best love, bye bye.”

I press the button on my phone ending the call with my grandmother, Margot. She is 87 years young – as she likes to say with a glint in her eye – and lives in Ireland. During our call, I asked her to take us back briefly to about a year ago as Ireland was in lockdown like so many other places around the world. I remember her telling me about the system that she had put in place to make sure that, despite being unable to go out to her local park for her daily walk, she would still get a ‘decent amount of exercise’ every day in her back garden. I wanted to capture this brief account of her daily micro travel from the back to the front garden and around the shrubbery…

“Nanny Margot, can you tell me a bit more about the system that you put in place last year during lockdown – I remember you mentioning pebbles and a box…?”

“Well, at the start of lockdown I wanted to make sure I went out into the garden every day but I found that the aimless walking around after a few days got very monotonous as you can imagine and I wanted to know how long it would take me to get my daily walk. I don’t know what it was that made the pebbles so important but they helped put a structure around my daily exercise and I didn’t want to be bothered with a watch or a mobile or anything to carry with me. Before the pebbles, I would start by walking around the perimeter of the back garden twice and then I would walk the perimeter of the front garden twice. Then, I thought I’d try and spice things up by going around the shrubbery where the hydrangeas are and I’d walk around those twice. Then, I’d go back to the front garden, around the car in the driveway and then back to the back garden. So after a few days of doing that, I thought about the pebbles. Normally, my walk around the park would take around an hour. I found that the most feasible walk around the garden without going too crazy was 50 minutes. I worked out that it required going around the garden about 18 times. I thought it would be easier to keep track if I had 18 small objects to transfer from one place to another. The pebbles were the easiest things I could get my hands on. Then, I dug out two boxes and placed them on the window sill: that’s where the transfer would happen every time I walked past. 

“What kinds of boxes were they?”

“Actually, one of them was a special box as a friend of mine gave it to me. It’s a wooden box, her husband used to smoke cigars. The box has a hinge on it and it’s perfect for holding pebbles and the other one was just a cardboard box that I found in the garage. Then, the pebbles… I needed 18 of them. Among them, there were three little beads from a child’s toy, they were all different colours… Of course, I have plenty of stones outside, but I needed 18 very small ones, you see. I know Sheila next door has this thing on her wrist that counts her steps every day but I’ve no interest in that.

So, once I had done the perimeter of the back garden twice, I would then walk around the shrubbery twice, up the steps past the beautiful snowdrops that your mother planted all those years ago… do you have many snowdrops in Paris? They really are the most gorgeous, delicate flower… Anyway, where was I? Yes, so up the steps, walking past the kitchen window where I would take a pebble from one box on the window sill and put it into the other box next to it. Overall, that would take me certainly less than an hour, about 45 or 50 minutes but that was fine. The weather was lovely for all of that first lockdown, we saw no rain. The grass needed to be cut and the man who cuts it obviously couldn’t do it so I had formed a path around the shrubbery with my steps in the long grass – it was about 15 cm high! That path was there until the man finally arrived back one day and cut the grass and… oh, was I glad to see him!

I remember my neighbours next door – the man and his wife would go for a walk outside in the evening every day and her excuse in case she was stopped by the Gardaí (Irish police) was that she had diabetes.”

“How long did the first lockdown last in Ireland?”

“Hold on, let me check it – I have it in my diary… the first lockdown lasted six weeks. Diary entry on the 27th March: ‘all over-70s to remain cocooned in home’. Oh and here I wrote ‘walk in park for the first time in six weeks on 5 May’.

Well, fortunately it was Summer and I was able to talk with Colin and Sheila next door as they stood in their garden.

Tell me, we always talk about the weather – what’s the weather like out there?”

Contribution by Margot Carthy (edited by Daphne Carthy)

Leave a Reply