An Accidental Haven
Have there been positives over the past couple of years?
Actually, yes, there have been some bright spots but you have to dig among the rubble of some dreadful goings on.
First plus point, my wife is not in prison. She was in the unenviable position of being stuck in a brick box with me for two years. Lordy lordy. How she didn’t take up arms is beyond me. But she didn’t, probably because I locked her in her bedroom. Thanks to my ‘modest’ door-hanging skills there was huge gap at the bottom and I was able to slip the odd bowl of porridge under the door to keep her going.
Perhaps the primary reason I wasn’t assassinated is because she saw improvements around our modest homestead. Perhaps even approved of my endeavours on the literary front. You see, I renovated our garden wrote a couple of books.
About two months into our incarceration she said to me, 'you need to immerse yourself in a project. Why don't you bury yourself in the garden?'
I knew what she meant, I think. But rather than digging down, I went up and built a pergola, also some raised flower beds. Raised beds make working easier for those with dicky backs. Unfortunately they also bring anything that's died closer to eye level. Killing plants is something at which I am historically adept. For the beds I used the ceiling joists discarded during our house renovation.
Recycling. Are you listening Greta!? Oh, wondrous Scandinavian root vegetable, are you taking note?
I planted flowers in the beds, more in hope than expectation. They were ordered from a virtual online garden centre and delivered in huge trucks belching black smoke.
Look away Greta.
The flowers were disappointing. One little cardboard box contained a few small trays within which were an assortment of tiddly flowerlets - most barely alive. My modest package cost well over a hundred pounds and was so unexpectedly meagre that they needn’t have come from a garden centre, a garden shed would have done.
An alarming proportion of my new flowers went into the soil and disappeared without trace. I’m a bit new to all this. Do you think I planted them upside down?
Overall, it's been a difficult couple of years for everybody, everywhere.
We’ve been pulled here, pushed there, locked down and repeatedly jabbed.
We walked the dog. The we walked it again. Then we took it to a retreat for knackered dogs to recuperate.
At one point there was a helicopter patrolling the skies above our town. Looking back, I can hardly believe it!
Then, safely locked in steamy-windowed houses, we saw delivery drivers, inexplicably immune from catching anything, working with gay abandon. They dropped off shopping, some of which we'd actually ordered, that we put in the garage for 3 days to detoxify (and de-frost).
It was a bonkers time. As a result, we’re collectively stressed out.
We all coped in our own way. Me, when I wasn’t pleasuring Greta with my recycling, I disappeared inside for a couple of years. Inside our house, inside my head. This is where the books came from.
The first one features a doddery 62 year-old oaf on an electric-bike. That's me, in case you were wondering. It's a factual account of a blob in a nasty green jacket waddling around rural England at modest speed. The book sort of took care of itself. There's recent stuff, like ending up buried in my neighbour’s hedge due to a clothing malfunction or encountering Mr Slightly Ratty in Cumbria; a man who tramps the fells in the company of his dog and his demons.
There's also some ill-thought-out historical experiences, like the least successful cycling club ever formed. It was called The Grey City Rollers and comprised a group of corpulent would-be athletes more suited to cake-eating than cycling. To this day the thought of our laboured progress, in sweltering heat, through the lanes of rural France, raises my heartbeat to alarming levels. Anyhow, put all that together and we have a book called A Bike at Large.
It is factual, though it's hard to believe that so many people can be so incompetent.
The second book is a novel. Fiction of course, and a bit of a surprise. It's called Twice Removed and within it, I inadvertently create a place I'd like to live. My subconscious built me somewhere to escape the frustrations we've all experienced. My mind wandered off on a tangent and the town of Thistledean was born.
I get as wound up as anyone but my dim brain seems to have found a means of escape.
I am one of the proletariat, a potterer who shuffles along in third gear. My problems, like many people in their seventh decade, are generally mundane and I can cope. They involve gas bills or nagging health issues, such as mechanical iregularities like dicky legs, or unseemly dribbles. Or now I’ve got even older, I've more to worry about, like whether I’ve taken my 75mg Aspirin, or fed the cat, or put bog rolls on the shopping list.
Yes, frustrations pick away at us, day by day. They rumble away in the background, driving us inexorably into the ground, like a fence post walloped, time and again, by a sledgehammer.
This new book took nearly a year from start to finish, including editing. Then I had to re-write the bits my editor said were crap. Very un-editor-like language, I told him. ‘For impact,’ he said. Finally, it was put to bed. Actually, no, the act of publishing it woke it up and it wandered off into the big, wide world. Above the parapet to be shot at or embraced.
With a puff of the cheeks, I looked back on the finished product. This was the moment I had a bit of a surprise. I realized I’d created a place I’d like to live. I had taken the spirits of my real friends with me, though they wear different clothes, but I left behind the bad bits. I didn’t want people telling me what to do, so I didn’t write about it. I didn't want more houses built or more cars on the road or marauding kids charging about in a cloud of weed. No, I could leave all that behind in my real life.
Now, a few weeks on, whenever I get frustrated I jump in my virtual car, head north and take a trip to my surrogate home where I laugh with my new friends. I wander through the market, share a pint with the locals in the pub and tramp the surrounding hills. I cycle without tortured legs and painful posterior, at a pace I choose, in nice weather.
However, you’d think that as creator, I would have been in charge of the dialogue. Thing is, as characters developed, they took on a life of their own and began to converse in their own way. It was bizarre listening to characters I’d made up, answer back and poke fun at me. But isn’t interaction what friendship is all about? I’d created a new set of pals and we bantered in a pub I’d built in my head in a town I’d invented. Very bizarre.
In the town, operating in the cobbled square, is a recalcitrant traffic warden with a bleak sense of fun, a merciless issuer of tickets. All very amusing as long as you’re not a victim. There's a determined lady nicknamed The Colonel, former military, now running the local scouts and guides with a rod of iron, somebody with whom nobody messes. There’s a larger than life man who drives his wife around in a golf buggy, and another chap who observes goings-on from his second floor window, a people watcher, or snoop as he’s teased. There’s a pub – all decent places need a pub.
Overseeing the town's affairs is an eight-person council, known colloquially as The Junta. I'd created it so I could direct them as to how exactly I wanted the place to be run. Not just on my behalf, but also for my new friends. I had to create situations, or at least outcomes, that were favourable for my new mates. I can’t afford to piss them off, I need them happy for when I return.
The Junta ensures fair play and makes sure the town keeps its walnut and aged-leather milieu. If it’s coffee shop franchises and fast food you want, go somewhere else, there are plenty of other places to find that. Here it’s strictly slow roast and cobbled streets wandered in comfy slippers.
Running throughout is a special friendship between an ageing man and a woman who has already aged. In a way, it’s like a crinkly love story, or a touching closeness at least. She may be old, but she’s still adventurous and goes delving into her past. She charges back through the years but ends up in a right old muddle. Her new friend tries to help but……. well, you’ll have to have a look see.
She's my favourite character I think. Old school, respectful, wise, spirited, yet also a little vulnerable. The type of person you could put in any situation and she would thrive. Julia, she's called. Yes, I like Julia.
Anyhow, the latest book is called Twice Removed set in an imaginary town called Thistledean. It’s worth a visit, perhaps I’ll see you there.
Here, have a look... Twice Removed