Sunday, May 25, 2008

Things fall apart...

Recently I spent several hours working on the little hut in our garden where I have mostly slept for the past few years. The hut is made of marine plywood, such as is used to fashion yachts and dinghies, sturdy but not elegant. Just big enough for a narrow bed, some shelves, a chair, it has two very small square windows partly obscured by a rail from which some of my spare clothes hang down. Only one of these small windows opens, and this makes for a stuffy atmosphere in summer.

I'm aware that the last part of the first sentence of this post may excite wonderment and speculation about my sleeping habits, and - perhaps - the state of my marital relationships. It is not, perhaps, as you think, or perhaps it is; but it merits no further disclosure of facts, and there will be none. Not for the time being, at least. And if that's not a cliff-hanger, it's the nearest I shall ever get to writing one.

What I had to do was to completely dismantle the front wall of the hut, as I intended to instal a ready-made softwood window-frame bought from a local retailer. This was twice the size of the windows it would replace, and had a good-sized casement allowing it to be wide-opened and thus ventilate the cottage freely. Dismantling one wall carried with it a risk of the whole structure falling apart if I removed a key support without recognising its crucial role in holding things together. I hoped to proceed slowly and mindfully enough to anticipate a sudden collapse.

It took me a couple of hours to remove old weatherboarding, timber infrastructure, old glass windows, ancient nails, piece by piece. The carcass of this hut had been built in very ad hoc fashion: no symmetry, no true angles or reliable measurements. It looked as if everything had been done wholly 'by sight', using rough-and-ready judgement of length, and without a plumbline, set-square or spirit level. When I inherited it it had been used as a pigeon loft, it was not built as a dwelling; but very robustly and, I think, lovingly.

As I worked I was very aware that I was undertaking a project the like of which I doubt I shall ever repeat. This growing awareness of my mortality is around a lot of the time these days, part nostalgia, part gratitude, part curiosity, part resistance to the frisson of fear I feel in recognising that I may die soon. Recognising is not the same as accepting, of course. There's a qualitative difference, I believe. Acceptance is an inclination of the heart, not a movement of the mind.

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