Monday, 29 March 2021

The Shed has Landed

It didn’t come from another planet, but in sections on the back of a truck. Two fellas laid the base on concrete blocks, made sure it was level and then fitted the wall panels one by one. After that they screwed the roof panels on and covered them in bitumen felt, which they burned on to make sure it was watertight. In little more than an hour, the job was complete. We now had a new shed out the back of the house. Or to be more precise, T had a new shed where she could emulate Monty Don to her heart’s content.

The job had begun a week earlier, when two neighbours came round to help clear the back corner of debris and weeds. It was massively overgrown. Using a pickaxe and two shovels, we filled a wheelbarrow twenty times over. Along with thickets of briars and great tussocks of hard grass, we came across parts of an old boiler-house, the wreckage of a whirligig clothes line and two hula-hoops. After several hours of back-breaking work, we had it cleared.

The new shed is made of stained pine. Its two windows look out across T’s raised beds and containers to her greenhouse. The main elements of her cottage garden are now fully in place. The shed is sturdy and surprisingly roomy.  I wondered if she might consider setting up a counter where passers-by could get cakes, fruit pies and other delicacies made from produce grown in her garden. But down our lane there are more sheep than people. So I might have to eat the bigger part of it myself.

Then I thought of all the famous writers who had worked in garden sheds. George Bernard Shaw, Dylan Thomas, Roald Dahl and Philip Pullman had all written large parts of their output in sheds. And most of these writing sheds were a bit smaller than ours. Then there was Mark Twain and Virginia Woolf, but they had worked in much larger and posher buildings, more akin to summer houses. A little voice began to suggest to me that T’s shed could also become a writing retreat. Then, I thought again. A lot of garden implements are pretty sharp and I didn’t want to upset her.

With thanks to Sheds NI


Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Summer Holiday

We have just booked a late-summer break. We briefly considered going abroad, but then decided it was safer to stay at home. So we chose a seaside cottage in Co Clare. It’s a county we have visited before, for the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher. But this time we will be staying in West Clare, in a wee house beside the ocean. During these burdensome days of lockdown it’s given us something to look forward to. And this morning I found myself humming a little tune that took me way back. ‘We’re all going on a summer holiday. No more working for a week or two.’

I can picture Cliff Richard and the Shadows singing this. The song was from a film of the same name. It featured Cliff and his pals driving to the Cote D’Azur in a red London double-decker bus, looking to pick up girls. But the plot wasn’t important. The film was a succession of song and dance routines. It was the second most popular film in the UK in 1963, only beaten by From Russia with Love. I don’t recall seeing the film at the time. But I do remember the song. It was No 1 in the charts in June of that year.

A decade or so later, I did the very same thing. My journey to the south of France with my mates wasn’t in a London bus. We went by plane to Corsica and stayed on a National Union of Students campsite. I recall getting sunburnt during the days on the beach and drunk on cheap red wine in the evenings. Unlike Cliff, I wasn’t very successful at pulling girls (my main preoccupation at the time). Halfway through the first week, I decided to go exploring on my own. I rented a tiny moped and set off down the coast for a ride. Instead of turning back, I just kept going. I ended up travelling around a good bit of the island.

Corsica is mountainous and the roads were pretty rough. The little moped wasn’t powerful enough to take me up the steep hills. It had pedals like a bicycle, but I often had to get off and push. I wasn’t in any way prepared for this jaunt. I had no map or tent with me. I’d headed off on the spur of the moment in just the clothes I stood up in. I was also fairly skint. I slept in woods on the edge of villages that nestled among the hills. I lay down on the sandy soil with pine trees for shelter. Despite the heat of the day, it got chilly by during the night. I lived on lemonade and baguettes for a few days. When I got back, my mates were still going to the beach each day and drinking red wine at night. On our last weekend, there was a great firework display to celebrate Napoleon’s birthday. I returned home fairly pleased with myself. I hadn’t pulled but I did have a great adventure (the forerunner of many such trips I would take by motorbike and cycle in the years to come).

T and I will be carrying our creature comforts with us in the car to Co Clare. Some days we will go out on trips, others we will just sit and think. The cottage has picture windows that overlook the ocean and a remote beach. In the evenings we may drink a little red wine, but it will more likely be cups of tea. Happily, my pulling days are behind me.