Walking Back Home 5: A View from the Shed

AUGUST ALWAYS runs away from me. I find it such a curious – and rather downbeat – month: everyone is scattered to the four corners, the days are amorphous and sprawling, nothing conforms to a routine… And there is always a hint of melancholy. The whisper that summer will soon be over: time to get busy and go back to school. And oh, the slow, soft dying of the light.

Anyway, the “walk” this time is really no such thing. It is a view – from inside my tiny, scruffy shed, onto my equally scruffy and overgrown garden. What can I see? An elegant though rampant plum smokebush, Cotinus “Grace”, one of the first plants I grew in my very first garden – bought for me as a birthday gift from my mother, and so always reminding me of her. (I plant a new one, wherever I go.) And next to “Grace” is a tall Crocosmia “Firebird” – strong and scarlet and entirely splendid  – transplanted from my long-lost allotment and redolent of hot, sticky summers spent there, digging the heavy Yorkshire clay to exhaustion, then lounging  against the wall of another mighty shed, and forgetting myself in the cheerful chaos of a semi-wild urban space, away from home and reality and every grown-up chore.

Being in the garden always does this to me – reminds me of places, people, times gone by. As film maker and remarkable gardener Derek Jarman once wrote, “I walk in this garden, holding the hands of dead friends.” I do that too. And it doesn’t feel sad or regretful to me – rather, it gives me strength,  fills in the gaps of my life, and puts the beautiful solid ground back beneath my feet.

It is good to be a solitary, I think. Time to gaze and wonder – floating away from the worrisome world and back to the centre of the self. To stillness. The garden is a real aid to this dreaming.From my perch in the shed, I watch masses of bumblebees working the pollen on a shaggy lavender bush. And look up at the skyline to see the trees of the little local wood, where I walked my dog, day in, day out, for 13 years – the dog whose ashes are now scattered there under  a big old holly tree. (Although in my mind her spirit still dances a jig of freedom –  scrabbling through the undergrowth and leaping over fallen tree branches –  always in pursuit of the squirrel-that-got-away.) Sometimes, I just look at the sky itself, and that is enough. Shape-shifting clouds in a vault of blue. Or grey, as the case has often been, this particular August. No matter. Sky is sky.

I do love to be among people – but it’s always such a relief to return to being alone. Perhaps that’s the writer in me, naturally introspective, with a teeming and unruly inner life.  There’s so much going on in my head, being exposed to the contents of other people’s for too long is tiring and overwhelming. The garden provides a useful corrective to this – wordless, mute.

Last weekend I broke the rule of a life time (which is never to talk to more than one writer at a time – it makes me far too nervous!) and spent two days mixing with a huge gaggle of writers at Swanwick Writers Summer School in Derbyshire, England – a kind of holiday camp for would-be novelists, crime writers, travel journalists and essayists of all ages and temperaments. The food consumed, the pints downed, the heated conversations had, were prodigious, dizzying. By the end of Day Two, I could feel my head begin to burst with the relentless over-stimulation.

But put me in a room, as a tutor with a particular subject to teach, and a bunch of people ready to write, and I am in my element again. The short course I taught this time was “Diving for Pearls: Writing about Loss and Recovery”. Circumstance has made this a recurring theme for me – with rather too much personal experience of it for my liking. But everyone, young and old, brings with them their shadows and griefs. And they have a light to shine. The people at Swanwick were particularly generous and courageous with their contributions. Making pearls from plenty of hard grit.

Meditation is a natural thing for me – I practise a sitting and walking form of it almost every day. And then, when I am outside with the flowers (and the weeds), the garden practises it back on me. But there is a particular stillness that falls, I find, when people sit in a shared space and write together. “You have ten minutes to write something about ‘A Pleasurable Thing’…” I say. “And now ten minutes on ‘A Moment of Loss’.” The heads go down. The pens – or laptops – spring into action. A perfect silence settles in the room. And magic happens. Always.

People are endlessly inventive, fascinating, surprising….And yet it is so lovely to leave them and return to the shelter of my rickety little shed. To some solitary wondering. To the strange disorientation of August: summer’s last quiet breathing out, before the busy, busy breezes of September put a different juice in my veins altogether.

A Handful of Earth/Barney Bardsley, is still available here:

http://amzn.to/1LaWt8Z

Old Dog/Barney Bardsley, is published by Simon and Schuster:

http://bit.ly/1MsD3zF

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barneybardsley

I am a writer and dance/movement practitioner in Leeds, West Yorkshire. I teach at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and when I am not there I am either writing freelance books and articles, or digging in my garden, or learning fiendishly hard Hungarian grammar. Hungary is my favourite place, after Yorkshire!

6 thoughts on “Walking Back Home 5: A View from the Shed”

  1. I clicked on ‘like’ and wanted to leave a comment, to the effect that as a fellow solitary and gardener this post particularly resonates with me. Thank you for it.

    Sending love

    Vanessa x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello V. The ways and wherefores of wordpress are an enigma to me… Suffice it to say that your comment landed in the usual way, so that’s a mystery. Glad you enjoyed the post. And very glad about our Tenerife adventures! Enjoy the rest of (strange old) August. x

      Like

  2. Funny, I was only thinking earlier today that if my surname was Fisher I’d like to be called Pearl…. Lovely piece of writing and I smell too a hint of melancholy in the air. It’s as if August is not sure of its place.

    Like

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