Tree fellers are round this morning to sort out the business with the dead trees and the over-lively hedge. Their gaffer is a character, a good man as I know, I wouldn’t think destined for Watchdog. He’s exactly twenty years my senior.
He’s been round here before, and to a previous address of mine too, and one of his repeated disarming M.O.s is to ask: ‘What is it you do?’. It’s one of those questions designed, I think – although ‘designed’ is mean, it’s just something he does – to keep the dealings buoyant, and he delivers it in a precisely unexpected way that only afterwards makes you realise he may not have listened to all that you were saying about that tree. Or that the tree was obvious. It’s the conversational equivalent of telling you to watch this hand and then slapping you with the other.
I tell him I write.
I tell him, very deliberately that I write. If there’s one thing I learned very quickly it’s never – never – say you’re a writer.
But I write, and when I’m not writing I’m doing the stuff that gets me back to writing. Writing. Not being a writer. I’m not that.
The Tree Feller is interested and tells me he meets all sorts ‘in this job’. Yesterday he met a nuclear physicist, adding that he didn’t look like a nuclear physicist. I smile at him, knowing how this is to go, and he appreciates that.
He learns of my brewery career – and, yes, I check, his two men are not peeing in a bush because they are men not destined, as I know them, for Watchdog – and he rails heavily into his loathing of John Smith’s. Here is someone, people, who won’t so much as allow himself contact with a John Smith’s bar towel. He really doesn’t like John Smith’s. Obviously I don’t interrupt him. He does like a cask beer from Devon, and Hartington’s from Bakewell.
He asks me what I write about. I tell him a little about the story I’m working on, and he likes the idea and I add that I’ll probably write about him when he’s done. He hasn’t had that before.
He tells me he writes and enjoys poetry, and later, through a hedge, I hear him rhyming ‘salivate’ with ‘celebrate’ in a memorised piece about a bull and a young lady’s significant birthday.
The Olympics; the torches on e-Bay (are there some?); Leeds Rugby League and voice recognition – he covers some ground for such a small garden.
And he brings up Whitby – oh, our beloved Whitby – his clifftop caravan and the Teddy Boy conventions in Scarborough.
I tell him I was made in Scarborough, which I understand I was.
Is there no tea on this job, youth? he asks. I love how the ‘youth’ is applied in these parts.
By the time I deliver the tea – very satisfyingly two sugars, one sugar, none – they’re all attacking the elder (the tree, not the gaffer) and singing, with some gusto, as much as they know of Paperback Writer.
So, one final parry.
That was Number One on the day I was born, I say. It really was. This kind of data he likes, and it’s exactly why I tell him.
Then it was destined to be, youth, – is something he does not say. Instead: by, they were something else, The Beatles.
The garden looks a whole lot brighter. He says he’ll be back in two years.
© Copyright, Steve Mitchell and Fisher Lane, 2012.