“I can’t do this! It’s prison work, no skill, just hard labour!”
Failure. I admit defeat. With 90 minutes still to go I’m exhausted and my back is hurting. If I carry on it will get worse.
I had done pretty well during the morning. On the 3 mile walk to the site I talked to the most taciturn of the crew – Tom – and had several other long conversations. Working in default mode – alone – I had hit a good patch of ground and got 25 trees planted without too much hassle. After a cold damp lunch of hefty cheese sandwich, tomato and chutney, plus oatcakes and fruit, I moved to a higher spot. Then the trouble began. There are dense masses of tangled roots and grass to be cleared before you can dig the hole. Ramming the blunt spade, levering the roots up, bending, pushing, lifting: they all hurt the back and the pain, though never acute, is as tiring as the effort.
“Dick, are you alright?”
“No. I’ve had it. I’ll have to give up.”
They’re very kind and concerned – David, Rachel and Alan.
“Would you like some tea?”
“Sit down, take a break.”
We talk through the options. Dominic would go with me over the river and then I could go on the long walk back alone. Back at the Bothy I would do the cooking and anything else which needed doing. As we talk I begin to feel better. Then young Alan, (second left) mid twenties, he of the dark beard, glasses and laughing smile, makes a suggestion:
“When I was your age, I had someone doing the digging and I just did the planting!” Once I grasp his sense of humour, the yawning pit of failure in front of me suddenly fills in and I am myself again.
“Well, if you are willing, that sounds great.” Rachel (third left and below with Marius) joins in:
“You’ve been working alone here, no conversation. At least you don’t have to put up with Alan’s jokes, but it’s working together which counts for everything here.” Of course she’s right, and with her slashing away at the tough vegetation, and Alan, between jokes, digging the holes, I can even use a bit of learnt skill placing, fertilizing and firming in the little trees. I can talk to the others as well. We don’t get many trees planted but it doesn’t matter. The afternoon passes easily.
In the evening Alan and I are the cooks. He is far more skilled than I am, but we make a good team I think: couscous with garlic mushrooms and a mix of veg and seasonings. Beer and wine are produced from somewhere and the atmosphere round the tables is good. After the meal Simon produces a big bottle of whiskey and glasses are passed round. Trying to avoid too much booze I decline but regret it later, returning early to the van and again feeling left out of things.