Detritus

I was aware of a dull melancholy descending over me yesterday and from long experience, attributed this to the levels of carbohydrate I am eating. This morning I have woken late, seven thirty am, it is another early indicator of a depressive stage.

I am feeling an itch to move on, to reclaim my freedom and autonomy. I am pleased to have been here, think Thelma and I have worked well together, pleased to have grown to know Shapinsay a little but am ready to go, my brain is becoming clogged. In some way, through taking Lodger’s and workaway or helpx placements I seem to have become immersed in other people’s relationship breakdowns for much of the last eighteen months and I have little energy to listen to more stories.

I digress. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the ease of eating muesli for breakfast and indeed, even set the pattern for it. I could have changed it with more thought but making spinach and ginger smoothies or cooking vegetable omelette an hour or more after starting jobs, as is my usual pattern, would complicate things in someone else’s house. I often try to think about a quick and easy protein breakfast, but what? My longtime habit of restricting refined carbohydrates to one meal a day has also been lost and not only my belly but also my brain is suffering bloating and lethargy.  My knees too are complaining, they miss routine strengthening exercises, they hurt, they need regular walks in good footwear not wellies, hummocky grass and pebbles.

Yesterday was Sunday, a day of intermittent, unsettled jobs. A day of getting garden furniture in to the sheep byre, of bringing garden pots in and selecting space where they might get light and water from holes in the roof. Thelma goes to practise for her music concert and I return to scrubbing algae from the rib, a task for which I find I have less energy than previously. It is a seemingly never ending, get nowhere task. I try different techniques: spray and leave to soak, use circular movements, try spurts of hard elbow grease, make long sweeping movements or a fast up and down scrub on the spot. None seems more effective than another and inevitably I have to acknowledge that a continuous but slow, scrub scrub scrub, over time, gradually removes the algae. I probably covered thirty centimetres in an hour yesterday. One side is now finished, the rest will wait for new scourers and a repositioning of the trailer.

I am summoned to help clear the small Nissan hut. I cant tell you how many men’s discarded rubbish we are clearing, Thelma tells me but just like Norse myths, the complexity of relating names to stories is beyond me at this point so I let it drift. My thoughts slide back forty years to a massive plume of smoke I saw whilst driving home from work in Ipswich. I watched the bonfire smoke for around ten miles and as I drew nearer, felt it’s location all too familiar. It became apparent that it was as I thought, from Rosehill, the house in which I had spent most of my childhood. Logic allayed my alarm when I realised the smoke was some distance away from the house itself but I nevertheless stopped to see what was happening.

I saw my father pushing an overladen wheelbarrow towards the hill at the far end of the paddock. A woman walked by his side, counterbalancing the furniture. At that point I wished I had not stopped, wanted to disappear. Although we all knew he had been with her for years and despite the fact that my mother had left him some years previously, this was the first time I had seen them together.

He was clearing the detritus of twenty one years of family life, the jumbled collections from dead relatives houses and unwanted items left behind when I, my siblings and my mother, had all departed.

I felt more numb, he was a hoarder, never throw away anything that might be useful one day, but here he was burning furniture, photos, clothes, games, anything that would burn. He invited me to help, I inwardly squirmed, rescued some large old photos in frames. The Georgian portraits of the original owners of Rosehill, I kept for a while until I took them to the new owners of the house. I took photographs of my great great grandparents on my fathers side for myself, rescued them before they went up in flames.

I felt such enormity in what he was doing, a sadness imagining how it must be to be clearing a lifetime and doing it without any of those who had lived within it. Despite his own anger, bitterness and jealousy lying beneath the destruction of the family unit, I could nevertheless feel for the man in this moment. I found I was pleased for the presence of Mary, for she stopped me feeling tender towards him and made it easier for me to retreat. There was too much for me to take in so I left him to his inferno.

So while Thelma was telling me about the owners of these chattels, I was actually elsewhere.  They probably belonged, I suspect, to her husband, to the previous owner of the house and a friend who had ostensibly helped her but in so doing, had added some of his own clutter to the debris. So while I sorted and discarded both useful and un-useful items, into burnable, glass, scrap metal and an occasional, ‘I really think this might be useful can’t discard it’, piles, I felt I understood some of the emotion that lay behind the task and how lifes’s detritis is tied in both with endings as well as new beginnings.

Suddenly Thelma decided we had done enough for the day. Have you heard the story about the elephant, she asks, The one in the room, I enquire. No, she says, anyone can eat an elephant as long as you tackle it one mouthful at a time. She is very pleased with the work we have done, I want to continue to clear and sort, finish the job, but respect her wishes and stay just another ten minutes. It is another job left half done.

Writing is good for me, my spirits are lifted and I could easily stay here all morning, thinking and writing, but it is now eight forty am and I must shower and appear for my muesli at nine.

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