After the first winter in our new home, I embarked on one last un-sensible solo escapade before entering the world of mortgages and boilers. A month in India & Nepal. From Chennai to Kathmandu - on a big orange truck called Daisy. What timing that turned out to be.
On return, just two weeks back in to Birmingham life - we entered the first lockdown. I can only tell of my own experiences and that of friends and family. All fortunate not to have been affected health wise, however, work wise - the virus seems to have infiltrated everyone's lives in one way or another.
My sister started a new job, yet to meet any of her new colleagues or even go to the office. One friend was made redundant. Matt swapped his helmet for pjs and a 30 minute cycle became ten paces to the 'office' in the spare room. Like a lot of the UK work force, I was put on furlough from the jewellery shop that I work in four days a week.
For the first week I carried on as normal, filling the day with self-employment duties. Emails, website building, accounts. I filed my tax return in April for the first time in self-assessment history. Coinciding with a sunny spring week - my smugness was spoiled by being asked if there wasn't anything else I'd rather be doing.
Haven't you got anything to do in the garden?
It is actually okay not to do anything. It is allowed. Such a bizarre concept. The doing of nothing. Why do we find it so uncomfortable not to do anything? There is always something to do.
And so, without anything to do and sunny spring weather, I ventured into the garden.
We have a long narrow terraced garden. It is quite plain with a bumpy lawn and a big shed at the end. It didn't really feel like our garden. Inside, after walls met prints and plants commandeered the mantle piece, we felt at home but the garden belonged to someone else. We were visitors - infrequent and fully coated.
Barely visible from inside the house, the best view is from the top half of the bathroom window. Which makes for good teeth brushing bird spotting. So far we have been visited by two pigeons and a gang of magpies.
I remember helping in the garden when I was little. Leaning over mossy sandstone blocks, digging holes and shoving flowers in them. I'm not sure if they survived and I don't recall being too precious about it.
Mowing the lawn. Bottom of the list of fun things to do in life. Kicking the tangled orange power cord out the way and the vibrating handle. Is it game over if you run over it? Despite my dentists best efforts, the trauma fuels my loyalty to the analogue toothbrush. Static serenity.
Growing up in the countryside and being a kid in the garden was a lot of fun. Cycling a very cool yellow and black bike around the oval dirt track on the drive, over the clunky manhole cover. Me and Olivia would fill up buckets of water and chuck them over each other. Clambering over the metal gate, following the flattened trail through the over grown field to the den in the corner. I remember asking if I could catch a mouse in the field with the traps from the cereal cupboard. I'm not sure I'll let my own kids do this. He wasn't very happy in my hamster cage.
We do agree on the pub - cold Pepsi and cheesy chips. Lemon, no ice and Heinz mayo. Call search and rescue should there be no such establishment en route. Disaster. Panic stations.
We always find a pub.
For the time being, with no room at the inn - face mask or no face mask - we'll have to make do with BYO. Still working on not consuming it all before the walk willpower.
Nosing at next door's garden - it was very neat and had borders. This seemed like a good place to start. I dug up the left hand side and relocated a bunch of miscellaneous plants from an overgrown flower bed, to make way for a vegetable patch. I took photos of the residents and asked our road group chat if anyone could help identify them. One mass tangle turned out to be a strawberry plant. I divided it up and left bunches on doorsteps. Picture This rescued the road from further plant spam. Now a pro, amongst the weeds lived rosemary, a blueberry plant, mint, thyme, a cider gum - and one huge conifer.
Everyone's first words on entering the garden - chop that down.
I wasn't so keen on the idea. It’s a tree. We can’t kill a tree. It’s been there for so long. It’s a living thing. What about the birds that live in it? All the bugs? Their homes, we can't destroy them. We can’t murder the tree. It has to stay.
What about the vegetables? Struggling alongside the conifer sucking up all the water and blocking out the sunshine. Those poor vegetables. All wrinkly and floppy. Parched and pale. Whilst the greedy conifer basks in hydrated sun-kissed glory.
Let’s chop it down.
Good progress - chopping the branches off. Maximal effect, minimal effort. But getting the stump out was no beans on toast.
Thankfully conifer roots are only 2 to 3 feet deep, but after digging a hole deeper than the stump itself we discovered half was growing under next door's fence. It was floating on our side, but didn't even flinch with a good kick. Sweat. Despair. Blisters!
Time to call it a day. One blunt chainsaw and arms that could no longer pick up the axe I was throwing around so enthusiastically at the start. We were defeated. It was getting dark and my arms were jelly. We'd given every last sap of energy and it seemed like we weren't anywhere close to getting it out. Is it connected to the centre of the Earth?
One curry and a lie in later - it came out within a couple of hours. It was like being hauled up the Tough Mudder ramp all over again. Our team mates tied their high viz vests together to make one of those knotted fabric lengths people in films dangle out of windows - to pull us exhausted stragglers up over the ridge. The impossible made possible. We did it. If we can do this we can do anything.
Now we were on a mission. Ground Force is go. Next up was the shed. If the tree was hard - the shed was a whole new world of pain. Not some screw it together in an afternoon job. It was built like an air raid shelter. The same architect must have put the washing line in. Concrete foundations 3 foot deep to survive the apocalypse.
Matt started hacking away at three layers of metal frame, cladding boards and strip panelling, several cobwebby days later the last bit of frame came down. Made slightly anticlimactic by the mountain of debris now collected at the end of the garden. Ignoring that half - I set about making the rest pretty.
Conifer branches made perfect archway fodder. I dug a second half to the vegetable patch and lined it with bricks from around the garden. Giant shed was replaced by mini shed. The fences got their first manicure. Dusky Gem - is it blue? Is it grey? The mystery of the colour changing dress all over again.
I fell for a mosaic table which money saved from being housebound helped to fund. It's amazing how much gets whittled away on superfluous things in normal life. Those penny pinching chai lattes and giant buttons on the post run. Not to mention the diesel, sandwiches, jacket potatoes and ciders in between.
The vegetable patch eagerly awaited it's inhabitants. I'd dug, sieved, raked and upset a lot of worms. It needed compost, but with no wheelbarrow access except through the canyon of spring-bolted shed debris, activities paused.
The vegetables would have to wait.
Around this time I embraced, or rather - was forced, towards the doing of nothing. I ran out of things to do. At this point I probably could’ve starting jogging or Joe Wicks or some other chai latte busting activity. I ordered enough paint testers to open a small shop and started making modern art on the walls. On show for slightly longer than intended, as painting the house was something that could wait until winter and until we could see family again. Mom said she'd help us decorate.
Calendar - 2019
I realised how full life used to be. Cramming everything in.
Life is short. Must do it all. Go to all the things and see all the people. Perhaps that’s what makes time go so fast? The rushing around, making every second count.
Never before have I sat and looked out the window at the trees. There is a spot in our lounge where you can see right down to the end of the garden to the big Maple tree. In the afternoon the sun hits the sofa. I sat there feeling the sun on my face, turning the insides of my eye lids bright red. Coming and going with the clouds and lighting up the whole room. It felt magical. Like I was connected to the trees, the wind, the clouds and the sun.
The days are darker and life is fuller, albeit not as full as last years calendar. But I still sit in that spot, close my eyes and wait for all the twitching in my cheeks, forehead, and chin to fade to nothing. Perfect stillness, until it just feels right.
2020 has certainly been a weird one. So many mixed emotions, as friends, co-workers and family share their stories. It's not been pleasant for so many reasons but I do feel some resistance towards life returning to it's previous sprint. Perhaps it’s time to take note of the things that have been missed and not missed. The positives and the negatives.
I’ve missed seeing Mom. I've missed our walks and hot chocolates. I’ve missed friends round for dinner. Curries in winter and BBQs in summer. I’ve missed dripping sweat on the mat in hot yoga. I've missed clinging to the climbing wall. I’ve missed collage workshops and the frantic tidy up before hand. I've missed the celebratory G&T afterwards. I’ve missed the excited couples at work, choosing their wedding rings. I’ve missed catching up with my little sister in town. I’ve missed toasting marshmallows on sticks found in hedgerows with Kate and Lily. I haven't missed the resulting food poisoning. The sticks or the brie. Hung jury. Culprit still at large in a campsite in Hay.
Pre-restrictions, where was my attention?
I planted up the vegetable patch with carrots, spinach, chard, little gem and spring onions. I never imagined myself as a vegetable grower. There's so much to learn.
In an effort to educate myself, Friday nights rolled out a new line up. Gardener's World followed by Jools Holland. I added Monty's 'The Complete Gardener' to my bedroom library and along with a new birthday border fork and shovel - I was away. A new obsession was born.
I could not stop talking about the garden. Every day bought more pins and layout sketches. Not just a hobby, a hopeful and steady pursuit of an enchanting magical land outside the back door - fire flies, tall flowing flowers and waterfalls, with stepping stones and lily pads. Or just somewhere nice to sit and watch the bees.
Peaceful, restorative and the best distraction. There's always something that needs your attention. Bindweed in the gravel. Leaves down the side return. Thirsty plants. Crowded plants. Crispy plants. Dead heads. A dead mouse. There is always a task to get lost in. Or not, in the case of digging up the mouse.
Surrounded by nature in a private world of plant pots, daisies, apple trees and pond snails. Your own little universe.
Our first harvest of maris pipers
Mid-summer I returned to the jewellery shop - helping customers and crumpet toasting. I can't include tea making in the job description for lack of completing and delivering complete cups of tea.
Life in Birmingham somewhat returned to normal - traffic filled the roads, customers returned and pubs opened their doors. I was ready to go back to work, I'd pop in for a chat on workshop days. It was nice to go back. It was nice to sell some jewellery. It was nice to sit on a pub bench again.
As quickly as 'normal' got it's wellies on, they were pulled back off again. Shoved in to the cupboard and a hoover dumped on top. Third time round lockdown isn’t quite so fun. All the projects are ticked off, bar the sensible ones. No more group zoom chats and the Whatsapp memes remain blurry.
I’ve been thinking about Bug - the houses and a route forwards.
Bug has always followed my obsessions. Something which previous soul searching revolted against, perhaps because of focusing a little too intensely on documenting every breath in jewellery form.
It's shouting, waving and giving me a poke. The garden and the niggle. Gardens are attached to a house - this relationship seems to be enough to settle the stubborn supervisor in the watchtower. Everything must connect.
A plan - four big tools, four mini tools and some bugs. There does not need to be endless collections. Do not overwhelm. Start small then add. You do not need to launch with the entire contents of a garden centre worthy of coach trips.
I present to you - one 'big tool'. Of the border spade variety. Thank you to my Auntie Judith for the birthday present - it has now become the first member of the new garden adventure.
Sending you love and luck for any venture you are in, coming out of or about to embark on. You can do it. Get that stubborn stump out of the ground.
- Tags: creative journey