Not a good day. You could hardly say it was raining, but you certainly couldn’t say it was dry either. Grey, overcast, cold, damp, miserable – all these terms applied for the post of today, and got the job.
The bungalow was nothing special, forty years old and tidily maintained. The furnishings were very ordinary; nothing remarkable, but the visible history of the lives of two people; a couple, lately reduced to singularity.
The drooping hand-painted sign at the gate said “ Contents and Yard Sale, Saturday 10:30 am”, and the atmosphere surrounding it was dismal.
Mrs Burton had been gone for two years now, fallen in the path of the Big C harvester, and Albert, Mr Burton, had struggled on alone.
A cheerful man in the face of his loneliness, and never seen without a smile, even though it was hard to catch his attention sometimes, as he was as deaf as a post.
He’d been a hard-working man all his life, a floor layer and tiler, and he knew his job inside out. Like most men employed in the building trades, he was able and willing to do other work too, which was how I first met him.
Actually, that isn’t quite true. I first met him 30 years ago, and played Badminton against him and his mate, Ginger, but those days and the memory of the two men had long since gone from my mind, being in another time of my life, but they had remembered me.
Anyway, I got to know about Albert through a friend of a friend, when I needed some plastering done in the new extension I had built on our cottage. I had done all the building work myself, and was going to do the plastering as well, but a bad attack of tennis elbow put the kibosh on that idea. Albert and Ginger had not long retired, and a bit of pocket money would ease their finances and provide a bit of beer money when they went on holiday, so they were willing to help me out.
They worked as a team, and it was obvious they had been together for a long time. There was no end to the banter and repartee between them, and they were adept at setting me up with their jokes – jokes that had obviously been employed many times before, under similar circumstances. Such were the ways of the building trade. I was involved in the game myself in my younger years, and took great delight in the tomfoolery that went on at building sites. The camaraderie was really strong in those days, but it was always tempered by the natural rivalry between the trades, so pranks and games abounded. I believe Heath and Safety regulations will have put a stop to much of it nowadays, and probably with good reason, because there was no limit on how far we were prepared to go to get one over on each other, and sometimes someone got unintentionally hurt.
But I digress.
Albert, since being on his own, had busied himself about his place, and his very large garden, and was in the habit of cutting and chopping kindling, which he sold at his front gate for a very paltry sum, but it kept him busy on a wet day, sitting in his garage splitting sticks, and it helped eke out his small pension.
He would cut the wood to length with his circular saw, then split it through and through with a small hand axe.
Misfortune befell him on the day he managed to saw halfway through his forearm as well. Not a pretty job, and it brought an end to his little scheme.
It wasn’t long before Albert decided to move to a local nursing home. He was beginning to show signs of dementia, and it was becoming more apparent that he was in need of care.
Montreal House was a pretty big place, with a lot of residents, and Albert was very comfortable there.
He would walk or catch the bus back to his bungalow almost every day, and potter about, keeping the place tidy, but the comforts of the nursing home were becoming too big a draw – warmth, company, hot meals cooked for him, and someone to look after him. So it was decided within the family, that this should become a permanent arrangement. The bungalow should go.
So here I am, standing in Albert’s garage, looking at the detritus of a working man’s life – the odds and sods of useless bits and pieces that have probably been here for decades, gradually accumulating rust and dust.
I’m glad Albert isn’t here this horrible morning; I’m not sure how he would be feeling, although it is possible that with his state of mind, he wouldn’t worry about it at all.
I was talked into coming here by my missus, who always has an eye for a bargain, and she’s in the house having a look round at the bits and pieces in there.
I look mournfully into the garage and shed, not wanting to pick anything up, or disturb the tobacco tins of nails and screws, the old used fan belts hanging on the wall, or sift through the bits of wire and general small tools, mostly good for nothing but scrap. There are bits of wood, short ends of chicken wire, broken rakes, handle-less forks, instruction manuals, car jacks, oil cans, sawdust, sack ties, worn hack-saw blades, bunches of keys, even bunches of old strings from the sewn tops of paper sacks.
It is a pile of old toot - I can see that - but it’s also much, much, more than that.
It is the end result of a thousand thoughts, each one of which said “ I’ll put that there, it’ll come in for later, if I need one” or “I can’t throw that away, it’s still got a bit of life in it yet”
I come away with a token broken lawnmower, which I’ll probably end up taking to the dump, but at least the old boy will have a few quid of my money.
As I trundle the mower home up the street, I ruminate on the fact that my sheds are bigger than Albert’s, and they have a lot more “come in for later” in them.