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Published: October 31st 2015
sweet smelling budliea
sweet smelling purple blooms
I arrived at my house in Staffordshire in the first week of my trip to England. I was expecting the house to look smaller than I'd remembered, since this usually happens, but this time it played a trick on me and the size fitted my memory. My home had been tenanted for the last 5+ years, and I'd been wondering how this would affect the 'feel' of the house for me. During the 15 or so years that I'd lived there, I'd always chosen to live alone. Sure, girlfriends had stayed for weekends, but seldom longer and friends and family would come and go; it was always good to have visitors.
In those 15 years I'd had two offers of marriage and one invite to cohabit, but after losing my previous home in a divorce, I'd no intention of losing the second. My time and space here had always been very precious and I'd become fussy about the place being clean and well ordered. Although I can see that the house has picked up some bumps and knocks over recent years, it still feels very much like my home and no 'ghosts' remain of my tenants. They did,
I have to say take very good care of my property and garden. I'm very grateful to them for that.
When I bought this house it was in a very poor condition, and had been on the market for 18 months or more. It had been used as a shop for almost 100 years, but due to parking restrictions it was not allowed to trade as a shop anymore. The roof was caving in and leaked badly, and the attached garage and workshop had caught fire as a result of an electrical fault which had filed the house with black soot. It stank of cats and there was no hot water or heating. For most people this would have been a nightmare, but for me it was a dream come true since without these faults it would have been unaffordable. The south facing garden has an unobstructed view over farmland. Although the garden was overgrown, it was large and full of potential. The house had more rooms than I would ever need, but after years of living in rented single roomed accommodation after my divorce, space meant freedom. Close to ten years of my life were spend repairing and renovating the house and garden, single-handedly and fastidiously.
Now I'm back here again. It seems like a sort of magic to find myself sitting in the kitchen as I write this and looking out over the same lush green farmland in the evening sunlight. Because I've not been here to witness the growth of so many of my shrubs, plants and trees over the last five years, I'm stunned at their size and health. Some of them have failed of course, but that's gardening. The names of plants and shrubs that I'd have struggled to recall a week ago in Thailand, spring into my mind as I see them again. The intoxicating fragrance of a purple Budliea planted at the bottom of the garden steps some twenty yards away, is drifting into the kitchen on the evening air as I write this. If you go to sniff the shrub's blooms you will often smell nothing: you must let it come to you, and when it does it floods your senses.
I had concerns about the weather before coming here. It's summer I know, but a far cry from the temperatures in Thailand. I'd checked the forecast before leaving Bangkok and saw that rain was expected during my stay. I also knew the temperatures would plummet in the evenings, so I'd gone to a lot of trouble to buy a zip-up hoodie. There were plenty for sale in Bangkok but most were emblazoned with sport or hip-hop graphics (not my style). Tenacity paid of as it usually does and I eventually found just what I was looking for. From the moment I spotted it I could see myself warm and snug in the depths of a UK summer. I'd decided to wear it on the plane, because the temperatures can change without warning and I hate to be cold.
When I arrived at Istanbul airport on my way to England, I needed to go through a hand luggage check, which involved the usual taking off of shoes, belt and the emptying of pockets. At the last moment I was asked to take my lap top out of my back pack and then out of its protective zipper case as an impatient queue formed behind me. All of the items were piled into plastic trays to be X-rayed on a conveyor belt system. As I was about to go through the body scanner I was told to take of my hoodie which I then piled on top of the last tray of belongings. The body scanner bleeped and I was searched by an operative. He found nothing and I was allowed to proceed. A bit rattled by the length of time it had taken I quickly collected my belongings and left to find the flight information boards and departure gate number. The departure area was on the floor above and was accessed by an escalator. Just as I was walking away from the escalator on the second floor I realized that I no longer had my hoodie. This mostly calm traveler who until now had been working his way methodically through the procedure of finding his flight details, was now suddenly hurtled into panic mode. Where did I have it last? Where could it be now? All my smug plans of snugness in the cool UK summer evenings had exploded into a disappointed emptiness like the popping of a child's birthday balloon.
It had to be in the customs check area, because I couldn't recall picking it up from the conveyor belt trays. So I walked back the way I'd come, only to find that there was no down escalator to get me back to baggage check. Running out of time now, but not out of ideas I decided to make a run for it down the up escalator. I'd always wanted to do this but never had a valid reason before. I waited until the passengers thinned out and made a dash for it. I recall clearly how the oncoming passengers at first stared and then shrank back leaving me space to pass, with a look of fear on their faces. I wondered afterwards if they were expecting me to be pursued by armed security guards - or have I been watching too many movies? Well I made it to the bottom without falling or being shot at, and with the aid of a really helpful customs officer- her voice booming out over the sound of squeaking conveyor rollers and bleeping body scanners - I was quickly reunited with my jacket.
Shivering in the early morning sunshine whilst out walking with my daughter and her dogs, a few days ago I'd been very glad to have my hoodie with me. At the end of our walk we went into a pleasant restaurant for lunch. When we left I walked out without my jacket. I returned to find it hanging on the back of my chair. Becky expressed her doubt that I'd manage to get this jacket back to Thailand and I had to agree with her. So as I sit here with the fragrance of Budliea in my nostrils and the cozy feel of my hoodie around me, that smugness which precedes loss, creeps back.
My plan for the day had been to dig and weed the overgrown vegetable patch. Not because I have plans to grow anything: I don't have the time, but just to do it for the enjoyment and for old time sake. But the house had plans of its own. Just as I had washed up my breakfast things, the kitchen tap refused to turn off fully. Having rebuilt this house from scratch, I'm probably responsible for fitting every nut, screw, washer, pipe and tile in the place. Luckily all of my tools had been stored in the attic, and I set to, with the task of fixing the problem like a man with a mission. I was pleased in a way that the fault had occurred while I was here. If I'd had to pay a tradesman to do it it would have cost me the proverbial arm and a leg. I also love to have my tools in my hands again. We've done so many jobs together; they feel like old friends. Well the veggie patch is only half dug as a result of the plumbing diversion, but there's always tomorrow.
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