Friday, 16 March 2007

A shed and a wooden leg

Jo Shapcott at the poetry reading I attended on Wednesday night said she retreated to a shed to write. I have a shed that is full of things which you eventually put into sheds because that is the only place you can think to put them. It is very over full, therefore logic suggests I have accumulated endless things that will inevitably find their way into the shed. Nothing in there is for specific retention, everything is there because it can’t go in the dustbin or is too large to fit in the car to take to the dump…sorry it is now called the re-cycling centre.

Our local dump(RCC) is now as trendy as All Bar One, there are colour coded skips with steps up to them that have slip proof coating so you don't go arse over tip in the rain. Cars drive in and friendly attendants help you dispose of your stuff and waste in a flurry of good humoured customer relations. It is quite a treat to go there now, although it is very close to a compost plant which sits on the rural crossroads a few hundred yards away. The Boo called this The House at Pooh Corner as a child as the stench could at times be quite rife but of course now we know that this is the smell of eco-friendly bio-degradable fertiliser production. This is good shit as opposed to bad shit happening if somewhat slowly: good compost I am assured takes patience and careful layering. However despite its overarching eco-friendliness locals do check which way the wind is blowing before embarking on their jaunt to the dump with their flasks of coffee, sandwiches and picnic tables to ensure their re-cycling experience is fully enjoyed.

So, I digress, I was in my shed or rather I am outside my shed as it is now so full all I can do is wrench open the swollen door and gaze at the compacted contents. If I had layered my stuff more effectively it might have hunkered down into a re-useable rich mulch of stuff. The roof is leaking and I have neglected to slap on the wood preserve. I think the shed is actually now held together by its contents; what it contains propping up the walls and the roof.Note to self, rich metaphor for this writer's body going to the dogs. This shed would not be a great place to write, it would take a large skip to even skim the top of the stuff in order to let me even perch in there with my laptop.

So no shed for me, I am a travel writer; I write on the sofa in the living room, on the kitchen table, in the spare room, in my bedroom, outside in good weather, in bed with the electric blanket on full when the nights are colds. I am frankly oblivious to my surroundings when I am in 'the zone' but of course if it is not going well I am aware of everything going on around me and I start to fixate on small things. Why does the clock tick so loudly, I ought to shampoo the living room rug, the fat balls that the birds are fighting over outside the window will need replacing soon, there is candle grease on a photograph and how did it get there? I have wondered what it would feel like to lock myself in a totally black room with nothing but a table, chair and a laptop. Even a plain grim shed would not do as I would be bound to start examining the wood for knot holes and creating small maps of Belgium or pictures of Kate Winslet posed on the prow of the Titanic out of them. I would be searching for a passing spider in order to re-enact a scene from Robert the Bruce’s life and apply it to the endless sestina or chapter opening I may be struggling with. I would start to think of ways to make it more homely, a milk bottle full of wild flowers, an old rug on the floor, photographs hanging from a few nails hammered into the wood.I would start to indulge in imaginary cluttering.

Trust me I am not a natural homemaker, I do not quilt or bake but I can do clutter; that’s why I don’t have a shed I can write in because I have a surfeit of clutter and I have poured what I have gathered around me into any space available and the last ditch stand for clutter is the shed. This cluttering trait also spills over into my writing; I have to be aware of the clutter and ensure I get rid of it before it starts to take over. Adjective, do I really need it, I might be quite fond of it but is it serving a purpose? Will that adjective keep falling off the top of the wardrobe or trip me up on the stairs. Adverbs are also a slippery slope, before I know it I will be boldly cramming adverbs where no adverb has been crammed before. Make the verb do the work and don’t keep a poor one simply out of laziness I tell myself, as if I were trying to rid myself of all the old Christmas heart shaped lights wound round the banister that no longer work. I can’t be bothered to take them down because I might make them work if I fiddle with them just like that poor choice of verb. Get rid, shouts the voice of life laundry and good writing. One day I will aspire to a vacant shed like Jo Shapcott or many other writers. I tend to think that if I had a shed free of crap I would be a better writer. The shed is therefore turning into some sort of totem of personal creativity or alternatively a gauge from which I can read the extent of my mental clutter and crap retention. I could just hire two very large skips but that would be far too easy and relieve me of my excuse for not writing better poems or more prose.

In Transactional Analysis terms (famous for the I’m OK Your OK catchphrase) I am playing what is labelled ‘the wooden leg game’, which goes….”If it wasn’t for my wooden leg I would be an Olympic runner, I would be able to climb Everest, I could be a ballet dancer” etc. There was a story in an old girls magazine called Bunty I believe about a ballet dancer with a wooden leg and we are now in the era when physical handicap is regarded as no barrier to success so perhaps the wooden leg game, so called, is not a very politically correct term. Perhaps it should be re-entitled the ‘If it wasn’t for my shed game’.

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