27 weeks to go…

by Max Akroyd

To have a rubbish-looking wood pile around here would be like not washing your car on Sunday if you lived on Acacia Avenue. Presumably a bit rankled about the disorder everywhere else, men (it’s always men) build perfectly formed stacks and park them front-of-house. It is a surprisingly enjoyable task, this stacking wood lark. Like lego for grown ups… and all of that potential warmth merits careful treatment. But I get bored after a couple of hours and, instead of an immaculate cuboid structure, I end up with a Ponzi pyramid of logs which could present a mortal danger to unsuspecting passers-by.

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Drudgery has had a bad press in recent years. We’ve done our best to hide it. We export the really dreadful tasks to distant lands. Or we import people to push cleaning contraptions around the place – fishing them out of a seemingly endless sea of labour willing to exchange rural idiocy for a wage. If any of us have had the misfortune to experience drudgery in our jobs we certainly expect enough in return to live equal to a prince or princess of a few generations before in our leisure . And if that’s not enough then there’s always the X Factor, shopping, the cult of celebrity and a thousand and one other ways to polish the turd of progress.

Conversely, in the crash landing known as the Good Life, all this unravels. You even witness the life and death of what you eat. To see your beloved pig bleeding out is, among other less noble emotions, a stark moment of reconnection with responsibility. A less spectacular, but no less important aspect of this up-ended life is a re-acquaintance with drudgery. The end of choice is a slow shock to the system: an acceptance of the inexorable need to commit fork to soil on every damn damp and dreary November day rather than watching Bargain Hunt in front of the fire. I can’t decide whether success in this regard makes one akin to a zen master or a pig.

But the need to plant beans, prepare allium beds and dig potato beds before the end of the year is only as optional as eating is. An obligation fulfilled; it’s you, the soil and the weather with no intermediates; and gratification in the form of a crop is deferred until late next spring, and then only if you’re lucky! In the interim you have to be content with fresh air, the last warmth in the sun: being in the moment. Oh, and no swinish boss. It’s an epic uphill plod, though, things being as they are…

Maybe that’s selling it short? Your life can be aligned closely with natural processes of birth, growth and dying. No more, no less. The zeal attached to going back to the land was never going to outlast the realisation that the land doesn’t care. It ends up a pared down kind of life, and nothing as ersatz as status attaches to it… it’s like walking your dogs in the rain or tending to your crying baby in the dark night. Or like building the world’s best wood pile, but keeping it hidden.