Monday, 31 May 2010
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.
Posted by rachel at 18:17