…they have been busy doing things for a while.
First they dug a hole.
I’ve noticed that generally, men love to dig holes. Just look at them closely next time you pass some road-works. They have a good dig, and then they straighten up and admire the hole they’ve made. They often chat about the hole to their mates, and point to different bits of it (different bits of a void). The two men in my garden are no different. They took enormous care with their hole. And I had to admit, when they’d finished, that it really was very, very beautiful.
Then they started mixing cement.
They shovelled sand into their mixer, and added water, and they carefully poured the cement into their hole – not all in one go, but very carefully, in sections, making sure it was perfectly level (with a tiny, imperceptible drop, for drainage). This took effort and time, and great skill. They smiled while they worked, smoothing the cement with a long, thin piece of wood, balancing expertly on their haunches, like landing acrobats, or someone in the jungle with a javelin, stalking prey…all this with squinty eyes, and a perpetual roll-up, poking out of their mouths.
Then they began laying bricks.
London stock – soft pink with apricot undertones. They worked from the centre, using taut string for guidance, and a spirit level on each and every brick, checking and re-checking. They stopped regularly for tea and cigarettes, and to eat over-processed sandwiches – a few words exchanged between them – always looking at the work, always surveying the next bit. Once dry, they began brushing sand between the bricks, painstakingly poking it and packing it tight into every crevice with palette knives. Squinty eyes. Cigarettes.
Then they began the wall.
It’s a tricky job, to create a retaining wall that slopes with the natural contours of the garden, melting down at the bottom, into nothing (well, lawn, and bulbs). The top of the wall must be sit-on-able, with each brick on its side. Many of them must be cut to size. Each one must be examined…mulled over…thought about. Slop of cement, tap tap tap, spirit level, tap tap, squinty eyes, cigarettes. The sun comes out, and Babety gets home from school. She runs past them and jumps on the trampoline, waving at them. They wave back. They leave at 5pm. I wait for them to go, and rush into the garden and stroke the bricks, marvelling at the men, and their skill, and the joy of watching something slowly materialising out of nothing. I think about the value of repetition…Tap tap tap. Spirit level. Tap tap, repeat.
The last leg appears.
I suddenly have the urge to feed them, these men who never speak, and just smoke and smile and tap and slop. I buy sausage rolls. Big ones, from a posh butcher. I hand them over; “for you” I say, gesticulating wildly, pointing at my mouth. They smile at me indulgently, mutter thanks, and turn back to their work. At last the central stone is cut. I had originally wanted an old piece of York stone, but time was not on my side, and we ended up pilfering from the terrace (which will go someday soon). It looks perfect. It is flat. We can put a fire bowl on it. I am in raptures. They leave as quickly and quietly as they appeared, removing all the rubbish to reveal flattened, yellowed lawn beneath, and I rather miss them. It is only when I wave my thanks, that I realise not a single sentence has been exchanged between us.
And now it’s my turn.
I’ve been digging hard, removing many stones, and planning my assault of plants. It will soften, and make the circle recede (or at least, this is what I hope it will do). I am enjoying having a flat space to put my cup of tea. It will be a space for eating and drinking, and for plonking oneself. There will be cushions aplenty. I am ridiculously happy about my circle of bricks.