I stood, shivering, at the door, looking at the long expanse of pale, creamy carpet, glad that I had decided to start with the back garden. At least it is not overlooked. I began stripping off the filthy, sodden clothes that clung to every part of my body with the chill persistence of death. This was going to be awkward.
My mind went back to the first time this had happened. I had moved home. The removal vehicle had needed to make two trips…one for the furniture, books and all the usual stuff, the other for the garden. I had spent the weeks before the move encouraging cuttings to grow, preparing plants lifted from the soil and packed, their roots wrapped in old stockings stuffed with compost, and digging up trees and bushes. The garden at the new place was immense. I was not about to leave behind all of the plants, so, while I put all the essential furnishings in place and made up the beds, the van made a second trip.
I had already been down to the new place and dug the small front garden over, weeding it and realising that the heavy clay was going to take a fair bit of work. On the day of the move it rained… not the usual summer rain that is warm and gentle, but the kind that falls in vicious stair-rods for hours. Even so, knowing I would have my work cut out inside the house for a week or two, I was determined to get the plants dug in temporarily to give them a fighting chance of survival. A soon as everything was unloaded, I set to work with the spade.
Four hours of back-breaking work later, I headed for the front door, exhausted, dripping and caked in thick, sticky mud from head to foot. “You can’t come in here like that!” said the friend who’d been installing the shower I was heading for. He and my sons barred the door, arms folded and meaning business. I looked down… I was wearing more mud than was left in the flower-beds. I shooed my tormentors into the house and started to strip. My curtain-twitching new neighbours may have seen more of the new arrival than they had bargained for.
I couldn’t help thinking back all those years as I stood surveying my son’s cream carpet and my own filthy person. The problem was, that for some reason I have never used a jet-washer on his decking. I’ve always scrubbed the thing before to get the slippery moss and leaves cleaned for the winter. And when you see people using a jet-washer, it looks easy.
Assembling it was easy. So was working out how to use it. I had already cut back all the overgrown bushes, taken heavy loppers to next door’s trailing brambles, swept and disposed of a huge pile of wet leaves and was already shattered before I switched on the machine. It should not, I thought, take long to finish.
What nobody tells you is that using a powerful jet-washing machine in a confined space means that everything gets splattered with dirty green and brown gunk, pulverised vegetation and other unwholesome-looking unidentifiables. By the time I’d done one small patch of deck, the entire side of the bungalow was covered in thick, black gunk. And so was I.
It is not enough to know how to do something. You have to know how to do it right… and you can only learn that through experience, of which I’d had none at all. All my clothes and any exposed skin was pocked with vile spatters. It got up my nose, in my hair, eyes and mouth and, as if that were not enough, washing the gunk off the walls sent a sandstorm of sharp brick-dust to join the fray. One step on that cream carpet and it would be ruined. I stripped and started to crawl, keeping the black, disgusting feet in the air behind me. Not an easy feat.
My son’s cat, as resentful as I was grateful, under the circumstances, for his absence, chose that delicate moment to launch a stealth attack on my ankles, tooth and claw, adding dripping blood to the equation. The bathroom had never seemed so far away as when trailing a demented predator that is firmly attached to your flesh.
I showered, raided my son’s wardrobe and stuffed everything I had been wearing in his washing machine… then realising that his size ten shoes would not help my size four feet, replaced the squelching shoes, now utterly cold, and drove home with water squishing between my toes with every press of the pedal. And today I get to do the front garden … which is bigger.
Experience is a great teacher… the best of them all. You can learn much from books, videos and by listening to the tales of other people’s experience, but you only truly learn by doing it for yourself.
Today, I will remember the Scouts’ motto, learned so long ago… and I will ‘be prepared’. There will be waterproof trousers, Wellington boots and a set of spare clothing. I will not look like a gelid, spray painted mudlark… or at least, not for long. I will even remember to cover the cream carpet… but most importantly of all, I’ll make sure that blasted cat is out of the way….