The moon is waxing gibbous in the bluest of blue skies on this, the hottest day of the year, and I’m not sure that it really belongs. Like catching sight of an owl in the daytime, this nightbird looks out of place up there, among the almost cartoon-like pillowy white clouds that are drifting lazily across the firmament.
I am in one of those corners that is forever England. Before me is a game of village cricket; the players in their whites sweltering in the heat, one of them my daughter; a pair of floppy hatted umpires, eschewing the white overcoats of yesteryear for shorts and flip-flops; beyond, behind a white picket fence, the functional rather than pretty pavilion offers a little shade for the batsmen nervously waiting their moment. It is a quintessential scene and, women cricketers and flip-flopp’d umpires notwithstanding, it is one that has hardly changed in a hundred years. In our time of flux, this is a reassuring thing to cling onto. To be perfectly honest, given the world’s current privations, I feel a bit as if I am burying my head in the sand. But I don’t care. I reckon I’m due a break from existential angst and this place is as good as any. So, for a couple of glorious hours I do just that.
I lay back in the grass just beyond the boundary, and drink in the sound of the bees in the clover. It’s a closely fought game and the concentrated effort of the players is in stark contrast with the idle Sunday afternoon mood. The air is hot and still; apart from the odd shout of “catch it!” (he did, too) and the gentle noise of the drowsy bees, there isn’t much to disturb the peace. This is one of the joys of cricket – it can’t really be rushed. It moves at its own pace and rhythm and, even at its most intense, still allows for snoozing in the outfield. Meanwhile, above us, steady and silent, is the lovely old moon.
Just like the cricket, the moon offers something in the way of timeless escapism, but more than that; the moon is a thing of wonder. Which is extraordinary when you think about it – it is ever present, a constant in our lives and yet it can still captivate me as if I am seeing it for the first time. It also enjoys its own pace and rhythm – one that is the very heartbeat of our own planet; waxing and waning, pushing and pulling the tides, our moods, our bodies and our minds. Its influence is felt acutely by the poets and artists, the romantics and the moongazers, the mad and the sane, and it casts its spell on us all. Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that it is up there, watching over us, passive, calm and serene, but out of reach and unattainable. Was the moon the prototype for our gods? Perhaps that sense of wonder was the beginning of faith.
As we hurtle through space, the moon remains our steadfast companion, or at least it usually is: reports last week claimed that the moon is due for a decade of wobbles (you and me both, pal) which will wreak havoc on our already fragile world. Time to run for the hills. But it will recover and recalibrate, and the world will too, regardless of any mayhem that might have occurred by then. We will continue to look up into the sky, to marvel and to wonder and, perhaps most important of all, to mark time according to this celestial almanac that measures our lives.
One shivers slightly, looking up there.
The hardness and the brightness and the plain
Far-reaching singleness of that wide stare
Is a reminder of the strength and pain
Of being young; that it can’t come again,
But is for others undiminished somewhere.
from Sad Steps, by Philip Larkin