Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The Shed Makes An Appearance

Saturday was a very momentous (can something be "very momentous"? Surely the "momentous" cancels out the "very"? I'll stop now before I tangle myself in linguistic knots) day - for it was Shed Day. My brother-in-law - owner of the only van in the family and a man who seems to have forgotten the purpose of Saturdays (i.e. that it is probably the law that people are not forced to leave their houses before 8am) was arriving at 8.30 with necessary help. 
 
Thank god I know him of old and was in fact already at the plot and ready to rock when he arrived at 8.15 (we are a family who can't bear to be late - or even on time - to any appointment). I'd actually been there since 8, ferrying stuff down from my car and pausing to appreciate the quiet and the view. 


 
The skies over the city were beautiful, that wispy blue that promises bearable heat later, the Malverns crisply outlined. As all normal people were still in their beds, or their pyjamas at least, it was so quiet, nary a car or a clang of deliveries to break the spell. It was so quiet and early, the plot fox trotted unhurridley along his regular route home without even giving us a second glance. 
 
One big downside about my plot is it's location. It's at the bottom of a steep slope down to the canal (the shortest route) and a good 500 metres from the main car park (the flattest route). We opted for the shortest and then spent 20 minutes (it felt like much, much longer), lugging shed panels, fruit cage sides, bags of tools etc down. And then going back up it a further 3 times as the need for different screws/nails/opportunities to prolong the agony arose.

 
It is funny listening to boys constructing things though. The chants of "to me, to you" which never gets old, the gentle ribbing about the right way up to hold a shed panel, the banter around roofing felt and the nailing down thereof, the bordering-on-heated discussion about the right way round to put the fruit cage...
 
While they bantered and "discussed", I stayed out of the way and got on with putting a small fence made out of tree stakes and green-covered wire at the top of the plot. This is for the sweet peas that are currently running rampant at home as we wait for the frosts to be done, to climb over. Then I used my new edging tool (new tools!) to edge the beds and try to halt the gradual grass takeover.
 
Luckily, the work I'd been putting in in digging the area, raking, digging it again, raking it 500 times more in an attempt to get a flat space on sloping ground, really paid off, as you can see from the jaunty angle the door of the shed is leaning at. Bugger it all. 
 
 
But actually, I don't mind too much. I'm just so pleased to have a shed! Finally, a place to store tools so I'm no longer carrying them around with me. A place to store a deck chair so I have somewhere to sit, instead of plumping down to the ground and then trying to lever myself back up again. A place to store a little camping stove so I can brew myself some coffee! 
 
By the time the boys left, we'd been there for 3 hours, and I spent some time afterwards just sitting and smiling around myself, strangely reluctant to leave, enjoying the peace and quietly making plans. 
 
 
The first plan is to paint it. Bless my Dad, he was a man of practical thinking and his practical thought had been to paint only the bits of the shed that people could see, not the bits of shed that were inconveniently against the hedge. This is a school of thought I fully subscribe to, but as it's completely exposed on all 4 sides, I need to paint them. I've managed to find a Cuprinol wood paint of the same shade he had already used for the front (a rather subtle Green Orchid), so I spent a happy half hour yesterday painting the left side. I shall be away up there again this afternoon to do more. 


I haven't gone mad with populating the inside just yet. I want to paint the interior and put up a handy potting shelf before I do. I'll also get a sowing guide up in there as I'm quite bad at remembering when things are supposed to be sown. 
 
By the way, if you're looking for allotment inspiration, I can do no better than recommend this episode of Gardener's World. Our allotment Facebook page quite lit up after it's airing and there was a healthy debate about whether we'd like little doors and closed off plots, or whether we'd miss the chatter of other plot holders. I do like the chatter but sometimes, after the 14th person has said "you need a rotavator on there" to me, I can see the appeal of a little hedged off, door closed area. 
 
It's amazing how much happiness this 6x4 wooden structure has brought me. I'd rather have not had it and still had my Dad around, that much is never far from my head, but having it here feels like having him here. Not in a creepy looking-over-my-shoulder way, but in a reassuring way. He's not there but a piece of him is. And that's quite nice.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Expedition of the Springiest Kind

It is hard to resist spring, for all it's wild and woolly weather, waking up to snow flurries, winds to take your ears off and glowering skies, only to have it completely change within the hour. That first glimmering of weak sunshine appears to apologise for it's lateness before getting onto the serious business of warming your bones.


Easter Monday, I and 4 friends set off for a walk in the Malverns, a little known area of it, judging by the few people we saw. I had expected hoardes of them, maddened by incessecant insiding, squabbling and puffing their way along the ridge, but my friends are wiser than me, and in charge of the route, so we made our way downhill from the northern side of the town, through a farmyard where the tractor appreciators among us (me and 2 others - I'm not the only weirdo) were in seventh heaven. Plus there were lambs and gambolling to witness. Is there anything more cheering to the eye than lambs, wobbly on their legs, leaping at each other?

This was, by a long shot, the longest walk I have undertaken for at least 2 years, but determination and cabin fever will carry you a long way. We set off in snow that was whipped into tiny frenzies by a wind that clearly had a grduge against something. The copse was a welcome relief from it, even if it did rattle the tree branches furiously: they sounded like bones outside a witch doctor's, clacking together in a gale.

There were loved-up trees that had twisted together in unbreakable embrace, snakey roots to trip the unwary. No bluebells (too early) but wood anenomes and violets in carpets, and the smell of wild garlic hanging around like an open air deli. We didn't pick any. Instagram feeds are full enough of wild garlic pesto - they don't need me adding my 2 penn'orth.



I liked the tiny mossy bolt hole under this tree and instantly wished I could live in it. Or at least write about the tiny person living in it. She would be called Minnow Brown and have wrens for friends. This is a story that first cropped up when my son was small and I wanted to tell him stories. Given that he's now 22 and I've still not written a word, I think Minnow Brown may have to remain in our imaginations. Which is probably for the best.

By the time we reached the quarry, the skies had completely cleared and the sun was making up for lost time. The wind stayed and when we stopped for shelter and lunch (and to look for fossils), it rattled the bones-branches even more furiously.

Apparently, this quarry has been rigoursly plundered for fossils over the years. The Earth Heritage Trust maintain it now. I loved the layers of the rocks in the quarry walls above the lake (sadly small - there has not been enough rain, even if it feels like there has), each delicately resting above the next, subtly shaded differently. This is, according to geologists, stratification, but I think it looks like the layers of a piece of delicate French patisserie. 

I may have been ready for my sandwiches at this point.

Not so ready that I couldn't join in with turning over rocks to see what there was in them. To be honest, I don't need to be in a fossil quarry to do that, I can lose hours looking over gravel or at the stones I turn up at the allotment. Geology and fossils are fascinating, so this was like being in a candy shop. We found mostly traces of tiny sea creatures, or rhynchonellida brachiopod, if you're feeling fancy. I brought just 2 home and they are now with the rest of my small collection. One day I shall catalogue them and then I shall really have gone over to the dark side.

Everywhere were signs of green and new growth. Tiny leaves on trees, distant hills wearing a gauzy cloak of green over their brown winter pelt, blossom petals drifting down. It is most cheering after this winter. As was the glow of satisfaction at having made it so far without legs buckling. It is good to be active again.

That said, the above was taken when we lost the path, my feet were complaining and I really really needed a wee but don't like wild weeing. It's amazing how grumpy a previously sunny tempered, entirely amenable person can get in that situation. Imagine how bad I was then. 

Heading back to the cars, we passed fancy drains, fancy landscaping and fancy outside art.



I have never stumbled more gratefully into a Waitrose loo than I did that day. 

Of course, across the land, things reopened yesterday but we failed to jump into action at the calls to spend spend spend to save the economy. I did go to a garden centre at the weekend, and that will do me. Despite being half vaccinated - people can talk to my left side only - I'm reluctant to throw myself into crowded situations, but that's me on a normal day, let alone Right Now. My natural reluctance to be jostled in stores has stood me in good stead so far, I see no reason to change it for the moment. 

That said, I miss bookshops and charity shops, so I may only last till my invoice is paid and then I'll be poppin' off to the shops. 

This week is all about preparing as there is a big weekend coming up. Oh yes, this coming weekend is Shed Arrival Weekend and I am already excited. So many plans for what will go in there that my brain can't contain them all and I keep coming across scraps of paper where I've scribbled "wallpaper?", "where potting table?", "make seed store", "canes too big - storage!". 

I will, of course, document the whole installation in tedious detail. You have been warned...

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Radical Manoeuvres in the Dark

Yesterday, I did something radical. 

I was tidying up the big spare room which used to be my son’s room, and is now my office and early morning retreat space. In here, as well as laptop, desk, Edwardian walnut wardrobe and dresser that don't really fit but I can’t seem to get rid of, is a pile of books. 

I’m an early morning reader. My favourite start to the day used to be bringing a cup of tea back to the guest bed and reading for an hour or so before having to start the day proper. Mabel would come and join me, purring and kneading like a wind up toy. All would be cosy and calm. 

The to-be-read pile sat on the bedside table and was never less than 4 deep. On the shelf underneath, there would be another 5 or so. I enjoyed that. I liked knowing there was something to read, the visible sign of my love of books and how much they mattered to me. 

On the dressing table would be the pile of books I’d read that month. 

Yesterday, tidying my way around the house, I stopped in front of these piles. The Read pile has remained static since February, the To-Be-Read since January. And all of a sudden, I felt oppressed by both of them. 

Obligated by what I was supposed to be reading at a time when my concentration doesn’t even extend to Twitter, and mocked by the paucity of what I had managed to read. 

I took the Read pile downstairs and carefully put them on the shelves (alphabetical order, naturally; I haven't completely lost my senses) and sat with the To-Be-Read for a little while longer. Did I really think I was going to make it through a history of Orkney, the saucier side of the Victorians or the autobiography of a woman unfortunate enough to marry Philip Roth? How about that novel about the cafe in Japan, or Hamnet, or the one about Death’s assistant?

No. 

Reader, I put them away. 

They haven’t gone away but they are tidied away, back onto the shelves. There is space on the table that I’ve filled with red anemones from the garden. I breathe more easily, no longer feel defined by the that pile.

Still can’t concentrate on a blasted thing, mind. Maybe I'll try poetry. 

This is the time to be slow, 
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes. 
 
Try, as best you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light. 
 
If you remain generous, 
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise, 
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning. 
John O'Donohue 

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Through It

 Yesterday was my last day at work. To be clear, it was my last day in my current employment. I am now officially Freelance. 

This year has been unlike anything I’ve ever known before. Rollercoaster years are not unknown to me, with my chequered, swift moving, changing past. But I don’t think I’ve ever gone from over the top excited to utter despair so quickly. 

Dad has left this massive blank space behind him and we live from moment to moment, simply moving around the edges of it. It's never going away but we find ways to accommodate it. 

Sudden death robs you of the opportunity for final words, for the last considered hug, for adjustment to the not-there-ness that will follow. We had none of that. One day he was there and I had thought "I must phone Mum and Dad this week." The next morning he was not and I missed that chance. The last time I held his hand, he was already cold.

I'm not sure when I'll be able to forgive myself for that. 

There is no way through this but through it. One step, one decision, one hour at a time if needs be. I make plans, book tickets for things later in the year, send messages to friends that say "yes, we really do need to meet up!" but I find it hard to believe that I will.

 And in a horrible twist of be-careful-what-you-wish for, I find myself the owner of a shed. Dad was a man of several sheds because he'd been a man of many activities. The main shed stored the lathe he brought a few years ago (I have some things he carved on it before the tremors in his hands got too bad). This little shed was home to random pieces of wood, the purpose of which we'll never know now. 

The little shed is coming to my allotment. 

My son has the first set of shelves he ever made me at his new home in Sunderland. They moved with me into adulthood and my own homes, and I find it comforting that they still have a home in the family. 

I phone Mum every day, aware that as the funeral recedes from memory, people will let themselves think that she is adjusting and fine. She is and she is not. They were married when she was 18, had been together for just 3 days shy of 46 years. She is keeping busy but she feels his absence like a physical pain. How do you adjust to that?

We both find walking into either of the sheds comforting and not. I don't believe in life after death but he is so vividly there, the smell of the oil, wood and metal mingles to bring him back and I hear his voice in my head most clearly when I'm in there. 

He did see my allotment. He liked it. I think he would be happy the shed is going there. 

All of the cliches are spoken. Of course they are. They are cliches because they contains kernels of wisdom or truth that still resonate with us. It's what he would have wanted (it is and we know this because we knew him). He would have been happy with that. Take it one day at a time. Time is a great healer. 

It might be but it has lost almost all meaning for us, moving slowly and speeding up at the same time. How are we 6 weeks since it happened, since that dreadful morning, the ambulance, the flurry of masked men, chest compressions and incomprehensible words? That mad dash from my house to theirs, still too late? How am I able to write, to work, to make plans for the future?

There is no way through it but through it. We take a step at a time and know, deep in our bones, that he would have wanted us to. We laugh when we remember things, cry at others. We stumble and fall on this new path, sometimes literally. 

I have lost track of the things I have tripped over because I've stopped being able to see things.

Some days the grief is a heavy weight, others a feather-light ache. On all of them we try not to look too far ahead. We do a lot of looking back. A lot of rearranging our heads around that big blank space. We try not to look down into it.

Gathered In

Its that time of year again. The worktop by the sink is cluttered with empty jars and bottles that all need a long soak in hot soapy water b...