Monday, 31 May 2010

A day off


The weather forecast had said it would be cloudy here all day, so I planned to gloss-paint the dormer window. Loathsome task, and not one to tackle in sunny weather when the dormer turns into a glass oven.

So when I got up and looked at the un-forecast sunshine blazing hotly, I decided I should have a day off from all this house stuff, and answer the increasingly-frantic calls of my allotment.

When I got down there, Alan, almost 70, and the husband of the fearsome secretary who so far has held back from sending me a Warning Letter about the state of my plot, greeted me fondly. I had expected sarcasm - "Hello, stranger!" or some such  at the very least, but when I bleated feebly in response that I was going to have a go at taming the jungle, he astonished me by asking kindly if I would like a hand.

Now this is unheard of. People will offer you seeds, plantlets, produce, loan of tools, and shedloads of advice, but help with digging and weeding? Never.

And to my further astonishment, I welled up with tears. A first sure sign of over-tiredness - second is dropping heavy things on my feet or cutting my fingers with sharp things - but I was only too happy to accept.


So for the next two hours we put our backs into tackling the horror that is couch grass, pron. 'cootch' here, or wicken, not easy to get rid of under any name, and requiring a thorough approach to weeding that only the kindly help of an older person in poor health can inspire in the slovenly gardener. Those long fleshy roots need to be dug out, preferably without leaving any little broken-off rhizomes in the soil, as they will surely grow. It has healing properties, but we decided to ignore that, and treat it as an unwanted guest.


As we dug, we chatted amicably; we exchanged bits of news that we weren't to tell anyone else yet, we asked about each other's families, past and present - Alan is related to the famous 18th Century engineer George Stephenson, although his teacher hadn't believed this until his mother sent him with a note confirming the connection - and we dug a smallish area each, with great industry and thoroughness. Several wheelbarrows of the dreaded couch grass got wheeled to the river bank behind Eddie the Poisoner's plot, where it can rot quietly under the trees, and release its rich store of minerals into the earth.

Tomorrow I'll take one of the last of the remaining jars of rhubarb and ginger jam down there and leave it in Alan and Elizabeth's tidy shed as a thank you. I carted a huge amount of fresh rhubarb home with me, and will make another batch of jam tomorrow.


The dormer window can get painted another time. The To Do list is shrinking, and the house sale is not quite such a distant prospect. I have lived here for 28 years, and I can't run out of the door. It's a slow process, this dismantling of a life, and a complex one. At times, as I sift and sort, shred and burn, bundle and box, I'm conscious of the weight of history and of memories, of family happiness, troubles, separations and goodbyes, reconfiguration and adjustment, and I need to consider and absorb their meaning before moving on.

And today, a couple of hours of hard graft in the sunshine, with a pleasant companion and the sounds of birdsong to keep me at it, I felt like I was having a proper day off.

16 comments:

Dan said...

Hmmm, I know what you mean about hard work being a day off (and not the window glossing type of work either). Proper graft can be so good for you, though made better when you have unexpected help and good conversation!
Glad you had a great day!
Dan
-x-

Karen said...

How interesting about George Stephenson. Railroads were certainly the Internet of their times.

My bête noire here in my garden is centipede grass, but it is much easier to deal with - a little spray of weed killer and poof! No digging down to China to deal with the rhizomes.

BumbleVee said...

Oh, good for you....a day off in the sunshine is perfect. 'Specially if the weatherman screwed up in the right direction for a change.

How nice of old Alan to help you out ...and I bet they'll love some jam. I bought some rhubarb over a week ago...and while cooking it down.... burnt it. Waaaahhhhh what an idiot I am!

Lucille said...

I'm glad you had sun today and some help. Yes we call it b****y cootch grass too. Also b****y bindweed, b****y brambles and now, because of all the crushed and broken plants, b****y foxes. Hey ho. Cold and cloudy here. Made biscuits.

Susan said...

I know this is completely off topic and perhaps "gauche" in the lands of proper commenter decorum but ... I just have to comment - that photo of "the" tiny dog in your sidebar, underneath the photos of the team, just slays me, each and every time I look at her sweet, expressive, scrunched up face. We're so sorry to hear that she hasn't time for a blog of her own and hope that the team will report from time to time on her behalf.

And ...

Well you know how I feel about gardening help. Sigh. Haven't forgotten about replying to your shopping email. Merci ! xo S & les Gang

Fran said...

For rhubarb and ginger jam, even I would help you with weeding, and I really am not a natural gardener.

mountainear said...

How kind of him to help - why are small acts of kindness so unexpected these days?

Couch grass - the devil in grass form. Damn its perniciousness

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

A day doing something uncomplicated in the sun . It sounds ideal and you'll sleep like a log tonight !
Cootch grass soup ?

Rattling On said...

I've been painting today. Did one skirting board and the old dog leant against it for the aftermoon...no point moving her, damage done!
As you know, I like a bit of good weeding. It always feels satisfying and like something has been achieved

Sweet Virginia Breeze said...

Hoew nice of Alan to help you. Work always goes faster when you have help and someone to talk to. Your couch grass sounds like it is similar to our wire grass. You have to dig to China to get all the roots and if you leave just a small bit it grows right back.

Von said...

It is unheard of..a true random act of kindness sounds as if you needed to be the lucky recipient.Lovely post...I'd love to try some of that jam!!

the veg artist said...

Hot Bank Holiday Monday here too. Stayed home, and lots of long-awaited things are now done. Such a lovely feeling, even if they are hard work!

Pam said...

This is a lovely post, and pensive too. I know only too well the processes of shifting house, including my parents after 56 years of emotional investment in their home.
Re the couch grass. I bubbled and boiled a couch grass concoction when I had cystitis and it worked wonders, but I did feel like a witch from the Middle Ages.
...and the teacher scepticism hit home to my daughter when she bought her Russian stack dolls for show and tell, explaining to the class in a small country school,"Nanny bought these for me when she went on the TransSiberian Express to Russia". "Don't be silly and don't lie" the teacher huffed "You can buy those here". Soon put her straight with the note from home! Guess teachers do hear a few porkies in their time.
Glad you received some help with the allotment.

elizabethm said...

I love the small act of kindness, or not so small really. I hope the slow dismantling of your life in this house is only a precursor to the slow putting down of roots into your new life.

Gwen Buchanan said...

sounds like this turned out to be a good day...happy surprises are always welcome...

Isabelle said...

I'm feeling a bit delicate here and your dismantling-house post made me a bit tearful. Beautifully written.

Now I must go and get on with the marking - grief-inducing for other reasons...

Related Posts with Thumbnails