Monday 19 October 2020

A Tale of Two Sheds

It all began in an energetic spring. Lockdown was a mere six weeks old and after a lovely April spent outdoors painting anything made of wood my attention drifted to seed sowing and hardening off.

I only have two window sills and two indoor cupboard tops on which to start off my seedlings. No, I have no greenhouse nor a conservatory. And this year, on top of all the extra chores such as sanitising frequently-touched surfaces, washing all groceries under the tap, sorting my husband’s meds and arranging workmen to do whatever workmen do, I got tired of taking my trays of seedlings in and out of the house twice a day, uncovering them for slightly longer periods, and I decided I needed a greenhouse. But, better than that, a new shed with a greenhouse front. 

Hey presto! Such a thing as a potting shed seemed the ideal solution. My aunt was quite adamant in her specifications for such a new potting shed. Was it cladded? Was it lined? How many windows opened? 

And where would I purchase it? I sorted out all the fine details she’d itemised. Then got on to a-man-who-constructs-sheds.

He came to look at the site I’d chosen for the new potting shed. The sun was at the right angle and should bring on my beans and tomatoes a treat.

‘No, no, no. That won’t do. There’s no room,’ he said.

( No room? There was a huge gravelled area at the top of our garden doing nothing).

‘And look at that slope.’

I couldn’t see a slope.

‘What about the cherry tree?’ I ventured expecting the answer “We can dig it up and replant it”.

‘I’ll get my chain saw to it, leave a small stump. Burn the rest.’ 

I almost passed out in horror.

These were not the responses I was expecting.

‘But I can do you a small shed in that space over there. On a gravel floor.’

He pointed to a dark corner I hadn’t even considered. 

‘I want a solid base.’ I said. (What was the point of a wet gravel floor? Everything would get wet! And what had happened to my idea of a potting shed?)

‘Difficult,’ he muttered.

I would not be put off.

‘There’s another place we could put a potting shed. A second shed,’ I said, showing the less-than-enthusiastic workman a paved, flat area. He looked and measured and kicked a few slabs. And eventually he agreed that would work. Except there is already a shed there. 

‘What if we move the old shed up to the gravelled area?’ said I, still foolishly optimistic.

‘Nah. Only good for firewood. It’ll fall apart if we move it. It’s rotten through. Not a bit of good.’ Great!

I felt rather more deflated after this last exchange. And the question of moving our water butt created such problems that I wondered if I’d actually ever taken ‘A’ level physics. Maybe I had absolutely no comprehension of how water travels. Was it me?  

We left it that a small shed could be erected on the gravelled area with a new concrete base and I would order the shed myself and get back to him. I felt somewhat dismayed. I’d wanted a potting shed - in the sun!

Suddenly it was the end of August. And it was a filthy, cold, wet day.  I put the same questions, queries, plans for my shed(s) and my preferred solutions to a friend of ours. He could see no issue with what I suggested and within days the site of shed number one was ready. He had carefully dug up the cherry tree and moved it to a pre-fertilised plot for me. No chain saw nor burning required. He also shifted my water butt and rerouted the guttering. My idea worked perfectly. Yes. I did do ‘A’ level physics after all. My raised beds were also shifted and that made space for a 1.83x1.83m shed. (6ft x 6 ft in old money).Thank you my friend. If you are reading this you know who you are. 

And no-one had to burn a perfectly healthy, pretty cherry tree or worry about a wet gravel shed floor nor uproot precious rose shrubs or worry about a sloping shed roof to allow the guttering to meet the water butt at the right point.

Stage one was over. 

After a beautiful April when the year was young and the sun was shining who would have imagined how hard it would be to even get the garden site ready for just the one shed? It was the devil that in August the weather had turned against us. Friend number one had shovelled so much soil in damp, drizzly, murky conditions he looked like he’d been in a rugby scrum. Friend number two (DFL - down from London ) trimmed an enormous rambling rose and cut it up into little pieces for the green waste bin and changed her rain hat at least twice. I changed my outdoor coat three times. And I was merely transporting garden waste. Not digging nor hacking back.The bloody rain did not let up. But we finally managed to organise the garden such that at least one shed could be sited and be used effectively. April, May, June, July and now August. Back in the spring I’d had such plans...

And what had happened to my dream of a potting shed? I wanted storage, windows, staging and a side door. When had my idea - from last April - been derailed? 

It seems I needed two sheds. One for boring things ie a dry shelter for garden tools, tarpaulins, vegetable fleece, a riddle, the cat basket, a wheelbarrow etc And the other - a potting shed - for fun creativity: for sowing my seeds, for potting on, for hardening off, for ripening. In short to cut out the work of transporting seedlings and young plants from inadequate window ledges to the outdoors and back again morning and night for six weeks during April and May. 

Today, dear reader, it is October 19th. And I’ve managed to order one shed. Friend number one collected sand, cement and concrete blocks to make the base. Way hay. We were in business. Or so I thought.

Can you deliver the shed? Yes. Can you bring the shed sections through the back gate to the gravelled area? Yes, madam, we can. Can I have a double door on my shed? Yes. And when can you deliver? The website says 2-4 weeks.

‘You’re looking at 10-12 weeks, madam.’

‘January?’ I asked, my heart sinking.

‘About then.Yes.’

‘If I also want a potting shed ready for next April when should I put the order in?’

‘I’d say the end of November.’

‘Thank you. I’ll do that.’


By the time I get my two sheds a covid-19 vaccine will have been found. And I’ll feel about a hundred. But I’ll be two-sheds-better off.

Marvellous! Excitement over. We’ll be in a new decade by the time these garden constructions are in situ. And I haven’t even mentioned what the workman said about coming over to make the concrete base nor my husband’s reaction to all this change. That’s, as they say, a whole other story. Friend number one is taking over and starting footings and preliminary painting work this week, while the weather is still open. In March 2021 I may have a potting shed delivered. Better not get my hopes up though! 

Perhaps I could rewrite ‘War and Peace’ while I’m waiting.

(Is it me? Is it?)

Friday 16 October 2020

Do adults laugh less often than children?

Apparently it’s an urban myth 

that children laugh 300 times a day.

I taught in schools for 32 years and children in my classroom didn’t laugh that much. Or at least that’s how it felt. They moaned. They said ‘Aw, miss.’ They avoided work. Most of all they would natter to the person next to them. But to say they laughed 300 times a day seemed a whole lot of laughter to me. 

According to Rod A Martin, author of ‘Do Children Laugh Much More Often than Adults Do?’ children laugh 7.7 times per hour during play. This is based on observations of five-year-olds carried out by the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor. That’s humour without the ‘u’.

If we assume the five-year-olds are awake  early, say 07:00 and go to bed twelve hours later they laugh 7.7 x 12 = 92. 

92 laughs per day.

However children don’t play for 12 hours. They might be in class at age five. They might be at home still. Part of the time they will be interacting with adults, or eating, or having a bath or watching something on a screen. To say five-year-olds laugh 90+ times a day is, therefore, generous.

To test out the myth that adults hardly laugh at all I decided to mark down each time I chuckled, laughed or made some sound in my throat that was more audible

than a simple smile. That was over the course of a short day, approximately midday to 8:00 pm. 

That day a friend came round. We sat in our masks in the sitting room with the doors open. And we laughed. I watched a couple of quizzes on the tv - with Richard Osman. I chuckled. I cooked and listened to the radio and a couple of comedies at night time. In other words I spent more or less a usual day. Of course I was more conscious of the number of times I laughed. That could have raised the number of titters because I was consciously trying to prove adults laugh more than 15 times a day. So this was not a scientific study but I clocked up 44 laughs over a few hours, less than twelve hours at any rate. 

It is true we grow more serious as we age. My younger friends laugh far more than my older ones. However my younger ones happen to be ones who haven’t suffered from depression. And my older ones seem to skirt or delve deep into depression or feel loneliness. Not all. Just more than I would have imagined when I plumped for early retirement. To be mixing with people who aren’t joyous all the time isn’t something I planned after 32 years full time graft. In other words I thought people would be happier than I found them to be. Perhaps I mix in the wrong circles.

To truly test out the theory that adults laugh less than children we need scientific sampling, scientific conditions and a scientific definition of laughter. Plus someone neutral to record the laughs.

But, back to Rod A Martin who does suggest some adults laugh more than their infants.

‘Two-year-old infants laugh an average of about 18 times an hour during interactions with their mothers, whereas their mothers laugh almost twice as often, at about 33 laughs per hour.’ So that’s the research. 

Don’t babies cry a lot? 

Case closed.

Saturday 10 October 2020

Mental Health Awareness Day

What is the point of an awareness day especially Mental Health Awareness Day ? The reality of suffering mental health problems and being given such diagnoses is that the NHS is so stretched that in our experience (and we aren’t alone) patients are sent home from hospital still under the effects of anaesthetic or the trauma of surgery. The mental health team (MHT)  is brought in after a long time on meds (usually antidepressants) prescribed by the GP but because they too are so stretched the MHT discharge folk who can cope ie go to the shops, have a ‘carer’, are not suicidal nor a danger to themselves or others. 

Private psychiatry, in our experience, won’t take on a case while their colleagues in the NHS MHT have the patient on their books. Many work in and out of private/NHS consultancy on a routine basis anyway.

Mental health awareness. I can make the reading public aware. It’s about very poor provision indeed. And it’s not the fault of the psychiatric doctors, nurses and social workers. We know that funding is dreadful. But it’s not my fault, ie the ‘carer’, either.

And why make everyone aware of mental health issues if the treatment, support and funding are inadequate? I understand ‘Mind’ and local groups are helping by getting patients out for walks and activities. I applaud  that. But the problem resides in the home. As I implied above I am now deemed a ‘carer’. Thanks for nothing! 

My husband did the driving, shopping and cooking while I worked full time. Now I’m retired I’m doing the shopping, cleaning, cooking, dealing with his meds and numerous medical appointments. I didn’t ask for this. It’s not a job I applied for. But I’m stuck with it.

And I’m not qualified. Yes, I can shop, clean and cook. But do I really want to? If I’d chosen to become pregnant, in my twenties, I’d have known what it meant to juggle child care, look after the house and garden and work full time. But my husband’s mental health issues were not planned and our whole way of life seems altered because of his needs and the lack of support. 

And add the stress of the pandemic ... It’s a perfect storm. 

Wednesday 7 October 2020

These aren’t a few of my favourite things

Thirty years ago I had an accident which damaged my left knee. We were on a school trip to Exmouth, camping under lashed-down tarpaulins, military style. Thankfully - as staff - we had one tent each. By the time we went on this school excursion I’d already had an injury to my back and was cautious in my movements.

One sunny morning we lined up, again military-style, to collect our packed sandwiches and orange juice cartons. It was only day one of the week’s field trip and we were going out on a boat. We had half of year nine with us, plenty of staff and the weather looked good. However, whoever ran those boating excursions has, thirty years later, caused me to have an arthritic knee.

That day the incompetent crew allowed our boat to go out when the waters were shallow, ie the tide was out. In order to stop us running aground they slowed the boat to a halt and each one of us had to jump over 8 feet from the deck on to the sand below. That’s ok if you don’t have a bad back nor a fear of heights. I had both. I angled myself such that I wouldn’t land on my back and took the plunge. I landed on my left knee.

For the next few hours that injury caused me great stiffness but I could walk. That night told a different story. The knee, as they say, blew up like a balloon. I lay on a rickety camp bed under billowing tarpaulin for days. I could barely reach the shower block. I had no painkillers and no doctor was sent for. 

Last year - the day of Trump’s visit to the UK - I knelt down to pick something up from the carpet. Aaargh! I couldn’t move. The pain in that same knee was acute. I managed to pull myself up on to my stronger leg and fell on to a chair. The pain was so bad I couldn’t even raise my weaker leg on to a stool. Nor could I get upstairs to get my anti-inflammatories.

What to do? We had guests coming and Richard was having routine surgery and needed support when he got home. I put on the tv - remote controls save struggling to get up and switch the box on - Trump had landed.

Eventually the pain subsided enough for me to heat a wheat bag to soothe the ailing joint and get upstairs for my painkillers. I limped around with a long-handled umbrella as support. And made a tray of tea for when our guests and Richard arrived.

I have, after all these years, just had an x-ray for the knee problem. It got worse again during early lockdown when a friend was doing some tree surgery for us. The weight of the chopped wood, when I shifted it off the lawn, must have upset my damaged knee. Not my favourite thing. An arthritic knee.


Today I was up at 6 am, in very early dawn light, to put out waste food for the recycling trucks. It was raining last night and I truly resent Wednesday evenings. I hate sifting card, metal, glass, plastics and food waste into inadequate containers and dragging them out on to the pavement. They burst open encouraging wildlife to pick over the entrails. But most of all I find the notion of putting out peelings and more unmentionable food into a separate bin even more revolting. Until very recently we had an active composting bin in the garden. But the local badgers have got into it and strewn the contents over our veggie plots so many times now we’re not currently making much home-grown compost. We need a new badger-proof bin. The drum kind with a sturdy frame and proper locking device. 

I feel especially aggrieved that the recycling team often leave washed, carefully-sorted plastics behind. I don’t know why but my guess is that printed labels won’t recycle. Some polypropylenes have to go in the main bin. Thus far cellophane and plain plastics have been accepted for recycling. Plastics with labels have had to go in the general rubbish. What is the point of that? I thought we were trying to cut down plastics waste. Not my favourite thing. Recycling never gets easier.


Now that summer is behind us, winter is, meteorologically-speaking, fifty days away, it’s time to put the garden to bed. But the lack of dry days for hanging out washing is a nuisance. Yes, we have a heated airer, yes, we have a tumble drier, but I like sheets drying in the wind. Less so rushing out in the rain, in the semi-darkness, to save the dried washing from the constant showers we are having.

I’m doing so much more around the house, partly as we are eating out far less and partly because Richard is still unwell. As a result I rely on the dishwasher, our fabulous new Shark upright vacuum cleaner, the microwave and the washer-drier. I cannot imagine for one moment what it must have been like, a hundred years ago, doing endless domestic chores. My great aunt washed using a dolly. Their bedding had to be hung around to dry on airers in front of a coal fire, which itself caused ash that had to be cleaned out every morning. Each evening the fire would be relaid with scrunched-up newspaper and kindling, to be topped with sooty coal. Every plate, cup, saucer ( there were few mugs), saucepan, bowl, knife, fork, spoon, server had to be washed and dried... three times a day... there were no dishwashers. A carpet sweeper just about got up debris from the carpets but great aunty Louie had to thwack rugs on a washing line to get the dust out. There were few vacuum cleaners. And everything was cooked on the stove - or on the range in older houses - there were no microwaves. 

I got tired yesterday and had a rare nap around 6pm. Richard cooked. But the weariness that overcame me was after I’d made plentiful use of the dishwasher, the microwave, the Shark vacuum cleaner, the dishwasher and had had someone in to trim a hedge in our front garden. I couldn’t possibly contemplate the domestic labour great aunty Louie had endured. I was ready for my bed after a relatively straightforward day of chores. But the recycling always gets my goat. It will be written on my gravestone

‘Here lieth Kathryn Nina MacPherson 

Wednesday’s recycling finally got the better of her’

Domestic chores are not among my most favourite things. Our cleaning ladies are on furlough. Should I get replacements? Or is it a risk too great? I don’t know whether having someone in the house - touching surfaces - going from one home to another then another and another - is a good thing. These times of coronavirus are testing us in ways that couldn’t be foreseen. 

And I need to stop complaining. I have my health. I can cook, clean, do the garden, hang out the washing and do the dishes. Unlike some poor souls. For them lockdown must bring life’s difficulties into sharp relief.