It's a ten minute job, right, installing a water butt to collect rain water? Wrong. It should be. It's an ecologically friendly thing to do, it's good for the planet, so it should be simple.
But I failed to reckon with a basic fact of life. The back of the shed is, of course, the place for all those things that you might just need one day. They can be stored there, out of sight and out of mind, which is where I nearly was when I took a look at the proposed site for my newly acquired rain butt.
It's a mixture of jungle, scrapyard and rubbish tip back there. Out of sight and enclosed on three sides, it's a repository for so much…stuff. So, before I can attach the guttering to collect the water from the roof, I have to clear a space. The wheel barrow and the two plastic sacks of compost, one opened to rejuvenate the potted umbrella plant that's resided in the living room for 20 years, is simple enough. Then I discover that some helpful neighbourhood bird has deposited a cherry stone in the fertile soil back there. The result is a huge cherry tree that I'd never noticed, since it's doing a twisting dance with nextdoor's unidentifiable tree and the lower branches of my rather magnificent eucalyptus tree. It's no good. It has to be removed. But, before I can take the hand saw close enough to cut the trunk, I have to clear the fallen leaves of the past ten years. Now the compost bin is almost full of leaf mould, so that's a bonus for the garden later on.
The trunk is exposed and I take the saw to it. It's a relatively simple task and I drag the weed equivalent of a tree onto the lawn to lie; a sorry trophy until I can deal with it. Next, there's a large slab of rough concrete. It weighs about seven tons and measures forty foot by thirty five. Well, okay, I admit that's an exaggeration, but that's what it feels like when I try to shift it. And shift it I must, otherwise every time I approach the spot where the water butt will stand, I'll fall base over apex over this errant lump of concrete. What's it doing there anyway? Well, last year, whilst preparing the ground for the gravelled turning bay at the front of the house, I came across this flat topped lump of concrete that had once served some unknown function for the previous occupier. I managed to raise it and somehow placed it into the wheelbarrow without actually breaking my back, though it did rather bend the wheelbarrow. There was nowhere for it to go, so it ended up behind the shed. That's what you call 'planning', you see. So, now it has to be moved. But there is no other out of the way place for it to go, except, if I do a little bit of clearance, I reckon I can slide it underneath the shed, which is raised off the ground on bricks.
Before I can shift the concrete block, I need to clear away the things that are in the way of me sliding it out of the way. So, there's a small sack of white edging gravel I bought to make the patio look pretty. I'll need that for when I relay the patio later on, so it comes out to sit on the lawn. Then I discover I'd secreted a couple of those enormous plastic containers they deliver sand and gravel in, you know the things that hold around a cubic metre of product and that they never want back. One time only use; now there's an environmentally friendly use of plastic! So, they come out to join the growing pile of rubbish on the back lawn. I disturb about fifteen thousand spiders, some pretty fearsome and large, and an equal number of woodlice. Next, I come across the metal frame of an old garden bench that I'd intended repainting and refilling with wooden slats, so we might sit on it on the patio on sunny days. It consists of a couple of cast iron decorative ends joined together by a long metal rod. The original wood rotted away years ago. I figure if I haven't re-used it by now, I probably never will. Onto the lawn it goes.
There's a pile of mixed bricks, paving and household, along with some flat slabs of York stone that once formed a small feature and now lie awaiting a new lease of life. Too good to chuck out. But in the way, so they go - that's right - on the lawn. You're getting the gist now, aren't you? I forgot about the old orange plastic washing up bowl and the old brown rubbish bin, both full of lovely brown water and soaked dead leaves. Into the compost bin with the contents and the two containers, kept for reasons even I can't imagine, go - right again - on the lawn.
The space is clear. All I have to do now is fix the guttering and place the water butt on its stand and we're away and ready for the next rain.
Guttering. Some short while ago, we had the outside woodwork on the house replaced with UPVc plastic as a way of smartening the property and reducing the need for maintenance. I asked the workmen to save me some of the old guttering, as they were replacing it, of course. I knew, you see, I'd need a short piece, about 8 feet in total, to feed rainwater into the butt. They were kind. Left me four lengths, totalling around 36 feet, along with two downpipes, some joints and brackets and other bits and pieces. They were all stored, if that's the word, on the patio.
So, out comes my trusty Black and Decker folding workbench from the garage. Of course, I have to take the car out of the garage in order to get at the workbench. I set it up, on the lawn (is there really room there?). And, in the process, manage to place my thumb between the end of one of the folding legs and the place where it sits when unfolded. Two pieces of fairly hefty metal with a thumb between; I think you can guess where the damage occurred. I suffer, always have, from a strange condition that causes me to feel faint, even occasionally actually causes me to faint, when I attack myself in certain ways. I feel the world start to spin and, with plenty of experience, recognise that I need to place my head lower than my heart for a while or my body will abruptly do that of its own accord. So I lie down on the lawn (yes, I know, but there is room). That grass is doing great service.
Once the initial feeling has subsided, I rise slowly and grab a folding chair from the shed, plonk it on the patio and sit there with my head between my knees. A position in which Valerie discovers me as she is hanging out the washing on the outdoor airer. Sympathy and a plaster are both forthcoming. The blood is stemmed and the thumb appears still to be functional, so I continue the job. Valerie attacks the fallen cherry tree with saw and secateurs to make it small enough to fit in the recycling bin for garden waste.
I select the first piece of guttering, place it against the shed to gather measurements and see exactly how it will work. The hacksaw cuts through the plastic with ease and I strip the necessary joints and brackets from the lengths left by the workers. When all is assembled, I return to the garage to search through seventeen thousand assorted screws for the four I'll need to fix the brackets to the shed. Nine hours later, I've found four screws. Valerie holds up one end of the assembled guttering whilst I mark the spots needed to ensure there'll be enough slope to drain the water into the butt. I fix the brackets; that small electric screwdriver blessed again for its ease of use.
I clip the guttering into place and look at the spot where the butt will stand. Uneven and a little too low to get a watering can under the tap, even allowing for the stand I've bought for that purpose. So: oh, I forgot about the bag of sand I also discovered behind the shed and had to move using the wheel barrow and emptying the bag in three loads as it was too heavy to move full. Now that sand comes into its own as I spread a layer of it on the ground and then place a layer of house bricks on top. The spirit level assures me they're level in both directions and I place the stand on top. Next the butt itself is raised. All that remains is to cut the hole in the lid. Good old Stanley knife does that job, and the down pipe enters the hole and all is done and ready.
Time for lunch.
Valerie does the catering whilst I organise chairs and tables for the first time on the patio this summer. We eat.
The tools come in handy to reduce the old guttering and the several lengths of wood I'd also forgotten about that were stored behind the shed. I need them all to be short enough to fit in the back of my hatchback. The old bench frame eventually comes apart with the aid of a spanner and I fold the old plastic storage bags neatly to form a base for the rest of the rubbish in the back of the car, once I've taken out the seats.
The local recycling centre is quiet at this time of the day and I find the various deposit points for the different bits and pieces.
Back home, I tidy up the tools and have a shower. I've learned that I need to rest after any form of physical activity if I'm to be any use for the rest of the day: a legacy of 8 years of ME/CFS. So I lie on the sofa and watch the news on TV before finally coming in here to do some writing.
Only then do I remember I haven't done my usual writing piece on the blog. So, there you have it: my excuse for failing to supply you with a thoughtful piece on writing this Thursday. And, if you've got this far, all I can say is, you've got more stamina than I have!