Friday, 28 November 2008

Significant Shed

This was my husband's place - a space into which I seldom ventured, and was never invited. He built the whole sizeable structure almost entirely from reclaimed materials. Then he filled it with matchboxes full of meticulously sorted nails and screws, nuts and bolts. He loved those nutty chocolates that come in clear plastic boxes, because he could use the boxes for storing washers and curtain fittings. He had biscuit tins containing old locks and keys. He had a desk, two filing cabinets, an office chair, a radio, an electric kettle. He also had - far more than I had ever realised - a substantial range of expensive power tools.

Nothing was thrown away. Old plastic tubing, once used in a long-vanished aquarium, was kept there in case it might come in handy again one day. Old towels, which I had relegated to the recycling bag, were rescued, folded and stored in the pigeon holes because, again, they just might come in handy.

The shed is a place that defies logic to the female mind. Who needs a biscuit tin full of old locks which no longer work? Who needs twenty seven different lengths of string stored in a box labelled, 'String - Assorted Lengths', and a tottering pile of 'New Scientist' magazines dating back twenty years? I think only a man could answer this sort of question.

My husband defended his territory, suspecting, quite wrongly, that I might attempt to have a clear-out. He even had a lock on the door and hid the key. If I needed a hammer I was told, 'Leave it to me, I'll see to it.' It was implied that women could not use hammers, could probably not even tell a hammer from a bradawl. It was clearly stated that the contents of the shed were sacrosanct, that I would not be able to understand their significance. That is perfectly true, and I believe most men would agree with him.

I would never have attempted to clear-out the shed. My husband died two years ago, and I have still not done it. Sometimes I go in there and look, in a bemused sort of way, and remember. Sometimes I go and get a hammer, and use it efficiently. Widows can do things that wives can't. I can use a bradawl, too, and some of the power-tools, but I have not taken possession of anything, and I feel uneasy, somehow, making free with things that are not mine.

We have a summer-house, and a garden tool store, both part of the same building, and both built by my husband from reclaimed materials. I would not dream of calling either of them a shed. The summerhouse and the garden store are bisexual.
But sheds are for men.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Disposable Dogs

Here is my dog, (thank you 'mm' ).

To appreciate my dog you must go for personality, rather than looks.

She looks a lot better than she did a year ago, when she came to live here. A year ago she had very little hair, she was covered in scabs, and had been so heavily used for breeding that her undercarriage was almost touching the ground.
She was found wandering in the cold, and was taken here, to 'W.A.R.S'.
She's a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, a breed I specifically did not want because of their unfortunate reputation.

Animal Rescue Shelters, W.A.R.S. especially, are full of Staffies. Ben, the manager of W.A.R.S. is enthusiastic about the breed. Look at how many he has in rescue, waiting for new homes, at the moment. Staffies who end up at Ben's place are very lucky. Some Shelters won't take them in at all.
Staffies are disposable dogs. They are bred in large numbers, sold for high prices, sometimes used for appalling purposes, and may be thrown out when they have served their purpose.

I did not want a Staffie. They are street dogs, paraded in studded collars by young men with tattoos and baseball caps. They are not dogs for respectable old widows. Poodles, Yorkies, Cavaliers are dogs for old ladies.

So, of course, I ended up with a Staffie. I was doing a bit of dog-walking at the Rescue, to stop me having another dog. Tessa, on reception, rang me: "We have this dear old dog, in a bad way, so much in need of a home."
"Tell me about her," I said.
"She's a Staffie."
"No, absolutely not!" I said, and within four days she had moved in.

The personality shines through. The hair has grown back, the under-carriage has tightened up - and so has mine, thanks to regular exercise. Every time we go out, someone stops us for a talk, mainly to her, but they tend to involve me as well.

She's had a year with me, to recover from whatever horrors she had to face when she was made homeless, and to get me organised into her way of thinking.
Now, hopefully, she's going to start doing a bit of work for 'Pets as Therapy'. She'll enjoy it. She loves everyone. She probably still loves the people who used her and then disposed of her.

Staffies are like that.
(She's been described by a friend as, 'typically late 18th century - mahogany veneer on cabriole legs.' A very classy old bitch. Thank you,'Beth' for the photograph.)

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Rough Justice?

A few weeks ago I was woken in the early hours of the morning by loud banging and crashing. Loud, invasive noises which made no sense.

The adrenaline kicked in immediately.
I thought there were intruders in the house, and I forgot that I had a telephone beside the bed. I did the thing you are not supposed to do -especially when you're a lady of a certain age, or more, living alone.

I came downstairs.
I put on the light in the glass porch, trying to make sense of what was happening, thinking to identify who ever was crashing around my house.
I stepped into the porch and unwittingly, stupidly, made myself into a target.

The glass shattered around me with a terrifying explosion. I heard jeers and laughter, coming from the garden. The force of the explosion was so great that I was convinced that I had been shot at.
I used the emergency number and said I thought someone was shooting at me, and that they were still in my garden.
The police were wonderful, and were with me within a very short space of time, as was a helicopter, equipped to catch criminals.

I was not being shot at.
Several neighbours and I were the victims of an attack by vandals, trespassing on the railway line at the bottom of our gardens, and hurling very large rocks at our roofs, windows, and at me, spot-lit in my own glass porch.

The police caught the vandals. They were apparently quite young. They wept and confessed and made many abject apologies. Several different police officers told me that they were basically 'nice young men', who were ashamed and sorry.
I am a sceptical old lady. I said I guessed much of the sorrow and embarrassment was connected with being caught.
How cynical I am!

They came before the magistrates the other day.
They all pleaded 'Not Guilty', so now we have to come to Court.
I received a call from the Crown Prosecution Witness Service.
I have to remain available to go to Court, too. I must not make any appointments for the next few weeks.

I do not want to see the people who attacked my house and my person in a totally unprovoked and violent manner in the middle of the night.
I don't want them to see me.
I have no wish to be involved in any sort of Court proceedings.
They have damaged my ability to sleep properly at night, and to feel safe in my own home once darkness falls.
They have done enough.
I have paid the bills for the repairs of glass and roof slates.
I want absolutely nothing more to do with them.

Who is being punished, I wonder?
It feels like me.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Blooming Britain.

Here is part of my garden in the summer. Today it still looks green, but if you walk on the lawn the water will squelch into your shoes. You will need to wear something warm and water-proof, and your hands will turn blue with cold if you try to do any proper gardening.

Today I sat in a Town Council Committee room. The rain was crashing against the sky-light and streaming down the windows. We all kept our coats on because (hopefully as part of the Council's economic and green policies) the heating was off. I have absolutely no objection to wearing a coat indoors. It's part of my economic and green policy, too. We were plenty warm enough, in that Council Chamber. What was keeping us all warm was mental energy and (in most cases) enthusiasm.

I felt deeply British, deeply patriotic, honoured to be there. To be sitting in a cold room on a dank November day discussing, with some passion, next summer's floral schemes for our town's part in 'Britain in Bloom'. It's the stuff of Rule Britannia, the spirit of Elgar. It's what (once) made Britain great.
It's also pretty competitive!

We were not just discussing the colour schemes, of course. It's much more about involving people. Involving schools and youth clubs, Retirement Homes and the local hospital. About all of us picking up the litter, lovingly tending the town's hanging baskets, making the station look welcoming.

We forgot the rain and the cold. We could see our town glowing with care and pride. We could see happy visitors relaxing in sunny parks, admiring the jewel-glow of the flower beds (we will not be sure about the colours until the next meeting). We saw colour and beauty and warmth and productivity.
Best of all, we saw communities coming together.

What a way to spend a November morning.
If we're not careful we'll be inviting each other into our sheds next!

(Mine is just behind that squareish looking bush (it's a camellia) if anyone is interested.)

Sunday, 2 November 2008


This squirrel was sabotaging a squirrel-proof feeder in my garden.
He or she and his/her friends and family had previously trashed four squirrel-proof feeders. Look at the smile on its little face! They know they can win, every time.
I had not realised that squirrels smile until I saw this photograph, taken last year by my nephew, 'pohanginapete' on one of his all-too-rare visits to England.

The smile on the face of the squirrel raises some interesting thoughts.

My husband and I spent several years creating a wild-life garden. We entered a competition run by a national newspaper to find 'The Wildlife Garden of the Year'. We were glad we didn't win, because the first prize was £1,000 worth of plants, and our garden was already full of them (as were all the other competing wildlife gardens, I'm sure).
What the competition required us to do was to keep a detailed record of all the forms of wildlife visiting our small suburban garden for a twelve month period. This was the really valuable part of the exercise. We were amazed and gratified by the results.
The bird-life was richer and more varied that we had realised, the insects were wonderful. We had a grass-snake zig-zagging across the pond, hedgehogs mating with the most indiscreet noise and fuss beside the dustbins, and badgers at the bottom of the garden.
It was idyllic.

Then we had other things, as the word spread among the wild-life, and the food-chain extended upwards.
For several years we had free-range bantams trotting around; dear little characterful creatures. The buzzards found out about them, as did the foxes.
The birds flung their food around, and the rats moved in. The squirrels wrecked the feeders. Rabbits ate the new shoots in the herbaceous beds. A heron systematically emptied the pond of fish. Crows and jackdaws raided the bird-table in yelling hoards, driving smaller birds away. A sparrow hawk swept in regularly, picking its appropriately named sparrow snack from the bird-table without pausing in its flight.
There are infrequent but well-documented sightings of Big Cats in the area.

Where does a wild-life garden end? Should it ever contain squirrel-proof feeders, rat-traps, anti-heron netting, sonic devices to keep moles out of the lawn and bird-feeders that allow some to feed, but exclude others ?
When you invite wild-life in to your patch, encourage it, feed it, provide it with nesting boxes and little houses and nesting materials - can you then say, 'I'll have you, and you, but not you'?

The smile on the face of the squirrel is similar to that on the face of 'pohanginapete' as he studiously photographed the rats and the squirrels, rather than the honeysuckle, in which direction I was pointing him. We took him up on the hills. Did he photograph the panoramic views? No. He lay face down, lens trained on a particularly succulent orange and grey slug. What a lesson in total acceptance of the wholeness, the fragile interdependence of wildlife!
Beauty, appreciation and understanding is in the eye of the beholder. Squirrels continue to smile. They are safe in the garden (they have their own special feeder now, but still prefer bird-food) as are the herons and crows. The Big Cats are waiting in the wings.