Yard Work

I’m lucky that a have a small-to-reasonably-sized back yard. 

I’m also lucky that’s it’s in a pretty neglected condition.

I wouldn’t normally be saying that, of course. On a normal day, I’d be looking out of the window at my back yard, berating my utter lack of gardening motivation and general uselessness. But these are not normal days, are they?

Yesterday morning, being encouraged to stay at home, I ventured out into the back yard and had a look around. There’s no doubt that I value the idea of being outside much more now that I’ve been told that I shouldn’t leave the house. 

On a normal Saturday morning, I’d be running to the shop for breakfast provisions. I’d probably have some writing workshop thing that my mind would be full of. I’d be a man on the move. But these are not normal Saturdays, are they? So, to get some air, and to get out from under everybody’s feet in the house, I ventured out into the back yard. I figured that a little day-to-day yard work will get me out of the house and into the air and might even wreak a small improvement on my valuable amenity.

Look, don’t get me wrong. My yard is not a disaster area or anything. It’s not like a toxic wasteland where three-eyed froggies freely roam. In fact, it’s quite a pleasant little corner of the world. Me and the cats seem to think so anyway, as last week’s post confirmed.

As I surveyed my tatty domain, I started to get a tiny sneaking ‘what’s the point?’ feeling about the proposed work. The place is just too far gone, what good could old ‘Soft-Hands Ken’ possibly do?

But I reminded myself of a Twitter pal, Josie George, who shared with us how she did a very small bit in her garden regularly and how, day on day, these small endeavours brought about improvements that were both satisfying and rewarding.

So, I gathered my tools.

I don’t have very many tools, as you would expect from a home-boy wuss like me, but I found a secateurs and a spade and a brush and a long-handled snipping-thing that I can already tell will be my ongoing weapon of choice. I WD-40'ed the shit out of the few moving parts and then I picked a corner and started snipping and clipping and dragging and piling.

The ginger cat from last week’s post sat on a flat sun-drenched stone round the back of the trampoline and studiously ignored me, choosing instead to clean itself from head to paw and not even flinching when the oil-drenched clipping tool came out.

I cleared some space around the twirly clothesline area, such that all three sides of it is now accessible where only one-and-a-half sides was before. In the end, I may have done little more than transfer an unclipped area of bramble to a clipped pile of bramble across the yard. But, hey, the sun was shining, and I stopped at unreasonably short intervals to just lean and breathe and watch the cat’s studied cleaning regime.

I realise I’m very lucky man to have a little space that I can go out in without being a hazard to anybody else and I’m not trying to rub anything in either. I suppose I’m just thinking that, as our world closes down for a time and as a great challenge sits ahead of us, we have to do what we can to remain strong and clear in our thinking. We gotta use what we have, be it a book or an open window or a pet who is glad to have you around so much more.

What do I know? I’m off to clip a thorny bush. It’s funny how the bush will always get a little nick out of me before I’m done. That seems fair, somehow.

And hey, Monsieur Cat, isn’t that bit clean enough yet?

Speaking French to the Cats

The first thing to say is this; the cats won't care.

You must always keep that in mind.

We have a reasonable little back garden/yard here at the house but over recent years, if you’ll forgive a highly technical gardening term, it’s been let go to fuck. Every year, there’s a little less grass to mow, as the wild things intrude further and further into the clear space. 

The big trampoline, once the site of offspring lie-outs and junior social scheming circles, now lies fallow, unbounced-upon and quietly rusting, refusing stoically to be whisked away by a convenient high wind.

For a long while, I consoled myself that all this landscaping neglect was good for the environment and great for the bees and I’m sure it probably is. It doesn’t get away from the fact that the garden is closing in on the house and, if there’s any triffids lurking out there in that undergrowth, we could all be in for a time of it.

Into this untamed world, the cats come.

I think I’ve mentioned it here before but there seems to be an inordinate number of cats on our street. In fact, it is hard to throw your eye in any particular direction without it landing on a random moggy of some description. I think most of them have homes that they retire to in times of reflection but, generally, they hang around the street stalking each other and eyeing-up the passers-by. I have a theory that they are fed by some kindly neighbour who mistakenly thinks they are all feral (with their little collars and their tinkly bells) and who feeds them copiously in an unnecessary attempt to keep them alive.

And, yes, my garden may be a bit overgrown but, my, how it catches the sun. Beneath the gently swaying leaves of some immature triffid lie little pockets of sundrenched bliss and it is to here that the cats come.

They don’t come all together, that would be too freaky even for me, but it’s not uncommon to see two of them basking together down the backyard wilderness.

And, yes, I speak French to them.

My French isn’t any good. In fact, it is ‘tres terrible’. I have only the smattering of catchphrases that many a lapsed schoolboy clings onto. As a result, my conversation with the loitering pussies is generally limited and invariable one-sided.

Bonjour, pussie-cats,” I say, “Comment ca va, aujourd'hui?

These chats generally happen when I am taking the washing to the swirly clothesline to hang it out. Have I mentioned that I’m something of a domestic god? Ah, well, I’ll do a special post on it soon and them you’ll shake your head gently in amazement. Sometimes, though, I will even make a special excursion into the garden at lunchtime, to enquire after the cats’ wellbeing.

The cats watch me through heavy-lidded sun-soaked eyes, and one feels that they know what I am saying. At the very least, they know from experience that I am not there to spoil their day. So, although I can’t say that they engage with my exotic parlance on any meaningful level of interest and reciprocity, I can be sure of one thing: they tolerate me.

Why do I speak French to the cats? I really can’t say. It’s just something I do. Perhaps it’s because I tend to see cats as slightly exotic creatures and I feel that they deserve a little extra from my lame conversational ploys. Perhaps (being harsh on myself) it represents some subconscious wish on my part to be overheard by a curious neighbour and judged to be a) offbeat and interesting or b) mentally challenged. I don’t really think that’s the reason though. There are few opportunities for neighbours to overhear my back-garden emissions and that is a good thing. The things I say when the coal bunker won’t co-operate are definitely not for general consumption.

In the coming period, when there might not be many other things to do, I may go to work on the garden. I may try to ease the ancient forest back so that I have some room to sit down out there. If I do, it won’t be an industrial effort. I picture it more like Mr. Miagi snipping minutely at his favourite bonsai tree, expecting that a minimal effort, expended over many days, will reap some wonderful reward.

Whatever I do, I will remain mindful of the cats. I will reserve a warm corner where they can continue to come and visit and bask in the warmth of my yard.

Whatever I do and whatever way I do it one thing will remain true, now and forever more.

The cats won’t care.

FOOTNOTE - This post has grown into a short series about my relationship with one of these cats. If you like, you can read the next post here.

Write a Sentence…

Write a sentence, Ken, see where it leads you…

This Sunday morning, sitting here at my desk, the temptation to write nothing at all is considerable. 

I mean, what should I write? Should I recall some happy event from times gone by? Should I tell a funny little story about something that happened during the week, preferably against myself? These are all options but it’s hard to find the focus or the motivation to do any of that.

Similarly, I suppose, I could attempt to write some grand diatribe about what we  should all do and what we should all not do. How we should ‘be’ in this challenging moment. But, hey, what do I know? I read the advice and the news like everybody else and I’m trying to do my very best with it. Trying to do no harm to anyone else with my actions. But that’s the story of my life anyway. It’s what I always do, just heightened in every possible way. So, no, there’s no point in me telling you what to do and what not to do. You can read just like I can. Well, you’re here so I’m assuming that you can.

All I can type about is me.

To type about anyone else I know, or even to include them peripherally in this typing seems intrusive and poorly advised. We’ve all got our own stuff, it’s not for me to be hanging any of it out here to dry.

So, as ever, as always, all I have got to work with here is ‘me’.

So, what’s with me?

I’m okay. A bit worried about where we are and where we’re going. Making a lot of attempts at planning and thinking-forward and such, which is kind of counter-productive as the data available about what comes next is ever-evolving and hard to work with.

The four of us are all here, which is lovely. It feels reassuring too, to have us all under the one roof. We are lucky to live in a place where it is not difficult to respect the space between another person and where most things can be accessed without needing public transport. I don’t work in a big crowded office so, for now at least, I think I can slip from home to office desk without touching or troubling anyone else. The advice might change, of course, and I will change with it.

Everything’s a little bit ‘heightened’. The sunshine outside my window right now seems brighter and more spring-like. The birdsong seems louder. The anxieties are heightened too, as I am sure they are for most every other person. Am I doing the right things? Have I made some kind of a mistake somewhere? What will happen next?

I get the news every day, but I try to take time away from it too. A constant stream of repeating updates, particularly at this moment, tends to mess with my equilibrium a little. If I give myself too much of it, it gets to be like a ping pong ball bouncing around inside my brain pan. Even typing that, just now, has set the ricochet off again. Have I done this? Should I do that?

I need to stay out of people’s way whilst also trying to help as much as I can. I’m being nicer than nice, such that some people are looking at me funny. Who is this guy?

This could be a lovely time together here in the house, if we all avoid the virus or only get a lick of it, but it’s not that simple. What happens from here will inevitably be hard to watch and, obviously, even harder to be wrapped up in. The chart-curve, that I am told to aspire to, will doubtless play out. The big questions being how steep the curve will continue on before it declines and whether there will be another curve to follow that one.

I don’t know, I just don’t know.

But that’s life, isn’t it? I never know. On any given day there could be a bus coming up the road with my name on it, a tree destined to fall on my head. It’s just that, these days, the bus seems clearer, I feel that much closer to the tree.

I just have to keep on, doing the best I can, taking the advice, doing what I am told to do or what I tell myself I have to do.

It’s life, Jim, just bigger than we usually know it.

Review - Chekhov in Widescreen – Druid’s ‘Cherry Orchard’ in the Heart of Galway

Patricia and I made a pilgrimage to Galway on Thursday evening to see Druid’s brand-new production of ‘The Cherry Orchard’ in a translation by the late great Tom Murphy. It was a double opportunity for me. Firstly, to finally get to see a production of this play, because I had never seen one, and secondly to once more visit Druid in their home place, which is always an experience.

Another experience is this one; whenever I see Druid in action, I like to try to write down some of my thoughts on what I have seen. After my years in London, and although I see lots of great theatre, Druid provides a rare opportunity for me to get a very early view of a production that will have the best of everything possibly instilled into it and which will often go on to great things.

So, here we are. The Druid ‘Cherry Orchard’…

Probably the first thing to say is that it is a slow burn, in at least two different ways. Firstly, well, it’s a slow burn. There’s a lot of characters to meet and to come to grips with. When the interval came around, I stared into my fizzy water bottle and worried that the material wasn’t engaging me as I had hoped it would. The second half hit home harder. We knew who everyone was by then (well… almost) and the stakes had been defined. It was a slow burn in that respect.

And it was a slow burn in that other respect too. Leaving the theatre, I was thinking it just hadn’t moved me as much as I needed. Yet here I am, three days later, still mulling it all over, still engaged, still questioning. That may well be the nature of this beast – that it delivers ts punches gradually.

With so many characters to deal with, it is a challenge to define them all clearly. The production did this well, though one or two seemed to veer a little too much towards caricature in order to set themselves apart. Some characters are forgivably broad. That is there in the writing, but Varya, in particular, seemed too easily defined by her worry and her gloom. Everything about her nailed this aspect of her character, from her dour, key-ridden, costume to the inevitable cloud beneath which she resided. Despite this, her climactic scene with Lopahin was a definite high point of the play. The silences between them tortuously played and very telling.

I was not familiar with the text before seeing this production. Afterward, I read an old copy of the play that I had in a collection on my shelf, that translation credited to Constance Garnett. What jumps out, for me, between that text and the Druid production is that there are no out-and-out ‘bad guys’ in the Druid version. One could see how Lopahin, the poor-boy made-good, could have been easily painted as the culprit in the piece. But Druid works hard to make it not so. When we come into the theatre he is there already, asleep in his chair. He is played with sympathy and thoughtfulness and, even when he does what he inevitably does, the words of pleasure and satisfaction that he is given to say seem to ring hollow and unconvincing.

This seems indicative of the overall approach to the play that Murphy, but particularly Gary Hynes, has taken here. The Druid version does not seem to wish to be about a bad person or two. It does not seek to lay blame. It is not (as it may initially seem) primarily about corporate greed or property or money. Rather, it seems to be deeply concerned with the needs that people have and the inability, that other people have, to satisfy those needs.

All the characters in the play express their various needs quite overtly but, invariably, the person or persons who could help them either chooses not to acknowledge their need or chooses not to act.

This will be the first time that a Druid production will be live cast to Cinemas around the country. That is happening on Thursday 5th March. Looking at the play, I couldn’t help but feel that the production design has been largely influenced by this momentous development. The set is astonishingly wide and is inset with a similar widescreen ‘frame within a frame’. The whole thing seems deliberately cinematic. Oddly, it evoked for me one of those almost inevitable early morning RTE Christmastime viewings of David Lean’s ‘Doctor Zhivago’, particularly the later scenes (which always seem to be on, when I finally get up). In one sequence, Yuri and Lara return to the abandoned estate, the house now a striking ice-mansion. The set here, though not icy, reminded me of that ice mansion and the wide-wide aspect ratio of the staging made it feel as if a cinematic event was unfolding. 

One side effect of this impressive staging may be a loss of intimacy in certain moments. The cast spread out to fill the stage but, in doing do, they seem to lose touch with each other. As I write this, I wonder if this is also deliberate, further driving home the impression of those spaces between what we need and who on earth might give it to us. Deliberate or not, and visually striking as it is, it left me longing sometimes for the ‘in your face’ intimacy of Druid’s Godot from a few years ago, where I felt as if I was lying in the dirt with Vlad and Gogo instead of watching a movie, as I rather did here.

I came out of the theatre on Thursday evening with more concerns than I seem to have now. On the evening I was very pleased to have added The Cherry Orchard to the collection of artistic things that I have seen. In seeing it, I was entertained and treated to a generous spectacle. In truth, it just didn’t set me alight. Since then, though, I have found quite a lot of food for thought and consideration in what I saw. This leads me to think that instant gratification might not always necessarily be the goal. It’s that slow burn again. It’s still glowing a little as I write.

Love it or not, Druid inevitably affords us a golden opportunity to see world class theatre being created and performed here in our home in the West of Ireland. It is far too good an opportunity to pass up. And, even if you come away a little mixed-up or unfulfilled by the experience, the echoes of what you have been shown might well resonate in your mind in the hours and day to come.

And that, in itself, can only be a very good thing.