Born without a clue. A lifetime later, situation largely unchanged. Nevertheless, one perseveres.....
The only remaining member of my original 70s neighbourhood is Kath. She and her husband George lived a couple of small villages away but they had been stalwarts in the old “Arts Workshop” days. I’d occasionally dropped by their house in the 30 year hiatus, but less and less as my inclination to visit the “estate” diminished. But I still had an email address for her which I thought might still be current. I told her of one of my pending visits and hoped for the best. Without any ado, she jumped on her pushbike and cycled over. I looked up from my bramble bashing and there she was, coming across the recently cleared space, arms wide open, enormous smile, and we embraced for about 5 minutes.
The more recent of the intervening years had been rough on her. She and George had been avid cyclists but she’d come a cropper on one of their French excursions and gave her head such a wallop that they weren’t sure she’d surface again. Happily, she did, but then George, her life companion and fellow traveller, was disgnosed with cancer and died shortly thereafter. In the course of his passing, the shattering and demoralising experience was compounded by the fact that she’d had to battle her own demons as her head recovered from the walloping. She was, now, years later, still mourning and missing her George.
But she was glad of the company and uninhibitedly willing to throw herself into the meadow reclamation project. Not only that. She made it clear that her house would be 100% available to me and my family 24/7. This offer was instrumental in getting my girls on song for longer stays. If we ever got over-knackered or the weather turned nasty, hot showers and warm beds became only a 5 minute drive away.
Kath’s appearance was particularly timely as the Easter break was coming up, and this was going to be our first major spring offensive. Georgie, Isla, and Hazel all trooped down and met Kath and loved her. Hazel especially, in the absence of any grand parent of her own, suddenly found she had someone who fulfilled that role unstintingly and to a tee. They became great buddies. And it didn’t stop there, because Kath also had two actual grandaughters of the same age (they were twins!) and their chemistry with Hazel was an absolute wonder to behold. And our little social circle expanded as I re-met Kath’s two children - Joe (the father of the twins) and Hannah - whom I’d last seen 30 years previously as little people the size of Hazel. Our evening bonfires started to become much jollier and more sociable.
I think that Easter break was also a turning point for me personally. I could now begin to see the old meadow, the little nurturing valley of years ago. The end was, if not yet in sight, at least imaginable. And, having perfected our technique of heaving cut brambles on top of uncut ones and firing them, we sometimes had more than one bonfire going at a time. Progress became evident and encouraging and one could begin to visualise an outcome.
It was also around this time that I acquired another piece of toolage for my arsenal. This was a heavy duty wheeled strimmer. With strim chords as thick as a little finger, that thing could chomp and chew just about anything the meadow had to offer. All I had to do was push it - a much better workout than heading down to the gym! Nicknamed “the beast”, this machine advanced the programme beyond all recognition.
Of course, beating back the wilderness had the side effect of begining to reveal the scale of the rubbish problem. Under all that growth we began to discover, or re-discover, piles of broken glass, rotting clothing, hard core, rusting bits of vehicle, and - carpet, acres of the damn stuff. We would turn up a corner and find an infinite area of carpet nicely rooted through and almost impossible to pull up. Some of the earlier progress we’d made in beating back the brambles and nettles and watching the grass recover was illusory. The grass was growing on top of yet more carpet and wrenching it up destroyed the little bits of lawn we’d thought of as “coming along nicely.” Soul destroying but unavoidably necessary. Can’t think what the carpet layers had had in mind. Perhaps they were going to plant something once the growth underneath was dead. Perhaps they simply wanted a comfortable surface for dancing or loafing. Who knows, but they certainly laid plenty of it….
The onerousness of the rubbish clearing could be overwhelming. The more we cleared, the more we seemed to find - especially that damned carpet. It was much more dispiriting and labour intensive than clearing bramble and nettle and our campaign began to falter.
The least fun in the whole reclamation exercise was/is visits to the tip. After three or four joyless runs, it takes a lot to stay motivated. Georgie and I tended to mix tip trips with other, less disheartening, activities just to keep ourselves going.
But one day Nick showed up in his motorhome again. This time he brought his wife Maggie along and, after a survey of the scale of the problem, they decided they would drive back up to Cambridgeshire and come down again the next morning with their Japanese four wheel drive and another trailer. We tried to talk them out of it (there was no urgency), but they were determined.
True to their word, they appeared the next morning, fully kitted out in work clothes and gloves. The four of us initiated a sort of two team rota - taking turns to load trailers with rubbish and then disgorge them on trips to the tip. Reinvigorated by the change in personnel and the mixing of teams, by the end of the day we’d made significant inroads and the rubbish that was still there didn’t appear nearly as overwhelming. I think we passed the halfway point that day, and our enthusiasm began, once more, to recover.
- One Man's Madness / Part 17
The continuing saga of one man’s 60 year love affair with 2.5 acres of Essex countryside.
© 2019 Deacon Martin