Friday, 20 February 2015

Hardship and Sheepshit

“You know the lady with the log from Twin Peaks? That’s you”. Huh? “Yes you, just google it..” oh ok.

Oh shit yes that is me. Caressing a log. That glazed look in my eye as I lovingly stroke the bark. I’m obsessed with wood.  I now have books on trees, I've even started drawing the darn things. I talk about wood.. a lot. I gaze into holiday cottage lounges at twee powder blue baskets with a pink ribbon trim full of BnQ chopped hardwood, I scan my surroundings for a fallen tree. I drag branches back to my tipi, I climb over the wall and snap twigs off dead fall for fun while the rest of the UK is watching Eastenders. 

I stand staring at woodpiles outside friends' houses with the same jealousy and forlorn as a jilted spouse staring at the curtained window of an ex partner’s new home. ‘B..b..but look at your wood collection” I stutter “AND you have central heating too, dammit!!”   

I stroke public house logs that tease me in glorious textured uniform piles as I exit the building. I suffer wood envy. I, Jilly Sherlock, am a woodaholic.  Badly. Wood piles, wood sheds, wood stores. I'd read Woodburner Weekly if it existed. I get axes for birthdays, bow saws for Christmas. I have callouses from sawing. I have 2 new blades. I need wood. Forget wooing me with jewels, 2nd growth Bordeaux or brown-lipped abalone just give me a log. Don’t even woo me, or don't want to woo me? just give me a log. Now. A month’s supply please... at the very least. 

Wood. I dream of it. I’m particular too.  Forgive me if I turn my nose up at some shitty little offering. I have now experienced wet wood, plywood, pine wood, green wood, seasoned wood and way too dry wood that is like sawing through concrete with a plastic straw.. wood dragged from houseboat renovations, wood from yorkshire gardens, wood from farmyards, from wood piles left abandoned in fields, wood from railways. I’m indebted to the people who’ve donated to my log pile. Sadly my log tent blew away in the storm. I miss it dearly.



 I despair at the bags that cost you £4.50.. that just blacken and I’d get more warmth and productivity crouched and cooking over a tea light. I know my ash, my hawthorn, my oak. I know how they behave. I don't trust some logs though. I despair how I can have a roaring of heat and bubbling of food on the burner one night so I can strip off my clothing to just my thermals.. while the next night I'm shivering, cursing and starving as the wood darkens, splutters and any light dies and I give up on the hot water bottle and chilli and eat a wedge of cheese instead and bury myself into my sleeping bag in down jacket and wooly hat: damp, cold and intensely unsatisfied. 

When it all comes together it's the best feeling ever

 I live in a tent that’s why. I have neither electricity nor central heating. I’m cold. I’m damp, but it is winter after all. 



My belongings have that vibrant green pungent fuzziness on them. My down sleeping bag is tattooed with inky webs of mould. I have that smell about me. People are polite and say I don’t.  I mask it with Love in White by Creed of course and er... Febreeze. I wake with my glass of water frozen by my bedside some mornings, I wipe mud off my pajamas, I have to plunge my olive oil in a saucepan of boiling water to de solidify it and then coax out a few drops into my frying pan and then the fire dies.. again.. I have a lot to learn. My hair is often to be seen poking out in pigtails or as an involuntary dreadlock from a woolly hat. I wear rigger boots. My life is wood and mud..and wood. But the sun arrived last week and I have painted my nails.




It was easier on the road.. on the bicycle I mean.. living in a tent. I had little clothing so nothing got damaged. You’re moving each day. Things dry out. Things don’t fester and rot. Frogs don’t move in to your tent and you don't get over excited about having a frog and build a little tent to house it..



you don’t get a hen who befriends you and jumps on your knee every morning when you unzip your tent.


 A hen that you miss desperately when you leave and move to a new location in the valley where, you get a proper canvas tent with a pole and have reindeer skins and a stove.



It’s called a tipi, it’s a sought after Tentipi Safir, it’s nice, it’s big, it takes you back to childhood and the smell of canvas and the sound of a zip. You can stand up in your home for the first time in 9 months, you can swing a cat in it if you had one. A cat appears one stormy night and sits in my log basket and every day since comes in for warmth when the sun sets and leaves as the sun rises. 



The winter rota begins. I have 2 alarm clocks now: the strange cat cries each morning to wake me up and purrs as I feign admiration at the head of a mouse she has deposited on my pillow. Tyrant cat. I went away for a week and expected to see miniature stakes sporting the closed-eyed feebleness of a hundred mice heads on my return. DONT EVER ABANDON ME AGAIN. lots of love Kurtz x. I stroke it and say well done. "Murderer" I mutter as it leaves. Then the Robin comes in. He flies around my tipi pole tweeting and I’m woken to a whirr of wings. He craps everywhere. A monochrome splattering of bird poop on all his favourite targets: ooh woodburning stove.. let it fry babe!. Kapow! pillow case.. freshly washed..Zap! let’s go for her head..Kaboom! ahh books.. splatter splatter.  I like the fact he visits though. I like my solitude but it can get lonely in the field.

There are some things you shouldn't complain about .. one being it can get lonely in the field..before i know it I am up to my eyes in sheepshit. "How many sheep are there in my field" I ask as I make a feeble attempt to grab a ewe's head between my thighs. He chuckles and rubs the blue paint on a tup's chest.. "about 150. maybe more." 


 I watch his shoulders shake with mirth as I carry the bucket of blue paint around after him. "Rub their chests and balls with coloured paint and you can see how many yows he’s had."  It’s not rocket science but it kind of is.. to me. 



That is until I wake to the sound of grunts around my tipi.  Marvellous. Sod the paint.. I can tell you that this tup has had 10 'yows' in the last hour. That is not counting the other 4 tups who are also doing 10 yows an hour. I feel my home has become one of those places in the woods where cars congregate at night. My dreams of sketching the fells, willing Wordsworth's words to spill from my mouth, and following in the adventurous steps and bold drops of Coleridge are dashed by sleepless nights: tups wooing yows, tripping over my guy ropes which ping with the same ferocity as the tups desire as my tent shudders. Grunts of lust echo back through the canvas, girly eweish denials of passion. I feel I’m in cheap thailand backpacker accommodation listening to the notches on the bedposts of conquests of gap year abandon. Oh solitude and silence.. wherefore art thou. 

Yet that is the other problem. I am becoming somewhat obsessed with sheep too. Herdwicks only of course. Other sheep fill me with disdain in that manner of “Christ your child is ugly, you’ve just birthed an alien". Yet you look at the Herdwicks and you think this really is how sheep should look. Lovely fluffy little teddy bears. These sheep smile. These sheep are unique. I want to learn more about sheep farming.



But that’s another tale and the lambing time is still a couple of months away and for now, as I write in my tipi there is only one thing I need and love and still have so much to learn about..

Wood.