I returned to work today after a week off. As it is a friendly office and my co-workers had the decency to notice that I’d been away, the first question everyone asked was “did you have a nice holiday?”
Well, yes and no. I had a good, productive time off, but it was certainly no holiday: I spent the week gardening. So, given that gardening is not really my “thing”, how did this come to pass?
It’s all my wife’s fault. She has always had aspirations to be a 1950s housewife, which in many respects is a good thing. She is an excellent and enthusiastic cook and she enjoys baking, which works well because I like to eat. Inspired by a variety of television programmes and her new favourite magazine, Country Living, things have now taken a delicious new turn with the introduction of homemade bread and jams. So far so good. I have even joined in by buying a beer kit and starting some home brew.
However, for a while now she has had aspirations to take The Good Life a stage further and grow her own vegetables. Now I have no objection to this per se: I can see the benefits in terms of food with zero air miles and zero plastic packaging, and everyone tells you how much better food tastes when you grow it yourself. I do have reservations though.
Firstly there’s all the hard work. Planting a few seedlings in the bright spring sunshine is one thing; trekking out into the muddy garden in your wellies on a rainy wind-lashed November morning to dig up your parsnips is a whole lot less inspiring. And your veg becomes available, obviously, when it is ‘in season’ and hence ridiculously cheap in the supermarkets.
My biggest reservation, however, is that our gardening experiment is not to take place in the ground in the old fashioned way, oh no, our gardening is to be done in raised beds. Guess who gets the job of building them!
And so, finally, I get to the point of this blog. If you are a regular reader, you may recall from a previous blog that I am not the world’s most adept DIY-er, so such a project is not something that I undertake lightly – hence the fact that I have been putting it off for six months. But I could procrastinate no longer, so I booked time off work and got cracking.
Now, to a soft-handed office dweller like me this represents seriously hard work. Firstly I had to strip away half of the lawn that I had loving laid some years previously. You can get mechanical help with this in the shape of a turf cutter, but a brief calculation showed that hiring one of these for the day is more than twice the price of a visit to the chiropractor, so not financially justifiable. I did it the old-fashioned way with a spade and a lot of sweating and swearing.
Then the ground had to be levelled (ish), weed suppressant laid and post holes dug in the unrelenting, solid clay that is my back garden. If your name is Tommy Walsh this is the work of but a moment, but with my skills it is quite easy to inadvertently end up with raised beds in random trapezoid shapes rather than the planned neat oblongs. The side planks finally got nailed into place and after almost a week my garden looked like a Ground Force project at 11:00 Day One. Yesterday saw finishing touches: a few slabs cemented in by the compost heap and then, late into yesterday evening, I was laying brick edging along what is left of the lawn.
The story so far can be seen below. The eagle eyed may notice that it is not complete: the decorative (and expensive) gravel to surround the beds is yet to be ordered, as is the even more crucial top-soil to go into the beds – any recommendations for suppliers gratefully received.
My chiropractor tells me that, despite the fact that I can now barely walk and I groan in pain every time I try to sit down, stand up or recklessly brave a staircase, all of this manual work is actually better for my back than sitting at a desk. And, despite the project not being totally completed, I have achieved a great sense of satisfaction from my week’s work far beyond that which I get from my normal day job.
Maybe there’s something to all of this manual labour stuff after all.
Am I going to make a habit of it? Not a chance!