Often, when people visit my mountain cottage, with its thermal store, cast iron seat/radiators, double 1920s cooking ranges, and map-room, they exclaiim how they would love to ‘do up’ a derelict like I did.
I think about breaking several pickaxes whilst digging out the scores of tonnes of clay-shale necessary for making the house a sewage system, an say ‘I hated every minute’. They are often shocked.
But, here is a moment of calm contemplation which I just found in an old archive. A vignette of an ex-cavedweller:
Nettle Soup for an August Storm.
I have met only a few people who have lived in shacks, even less who have lived in caves. Of course, all of my African, Dominican, Tobagan, Cuban and Mexican friends are excepted from this rule. Having so many exceptions may have been the reason why, at the age of 27, I think it quite acceptable to be staring out of a cobweb-encrusted window into an overgrown summer garden, peering up for a rainbow’s promise that one day, all this would come together.
The roar of the 1950s primus stove obscuring the soundtrack, I have just read Fastnet Force 10, which has helped me to start expecting that August is a time for gales. Penniless, I have harvested the only two victuals yielded by the garden; delicious black gooseberries and vibrant juvenile nettles. Hoards of them. As the rain thrashes against the corrugated iron roof, I am boiling them down into a hearty summer soup.
Happy, for the moment.
My wet trousers are hanging from a hook which threatens to pull out of the ancient fibreboard wall-lining. They are soaked from my earlier foray down through the high meadow grass as I have gone out hunting for the greenest, healthiest nettle heads. A garden fork to trip over, a grassy hole to stumble into: the hole which I dig my ‘toilet’ into each time the bucket is full. An abandoned rake and a slippery sheet of corrugated tin lying on the floor. All these things have ambushed me on my way to the nettle bed, all of it soaked from the previous ‘shower’, with deceptively glittering droplets hanging tantalisingly from each lower edge. My garden is something I try to avoid most of the time. Every couple of months I blitz it with extreme prejudice in the form of a rusty scythe. Everything is a battle. A battle against the growth or a battle against the weather.