A story begun in 2001, written up here in 2011, then updated just before Christmas 2017.
You know those benches that you see in public parks, with little plaques on with people’s names and dates on them? Well, I’ve got one. No dates on it, as I am not, of course, as of this current writing, dead. The City Council here calls them ‘Memorial Benches’, and I often used to speculate whether, one day, there’d be one with my name on it? Well, Sarah was obviously listening, and for my birthday in 2001, she bought me one.
And the place it’s in is no ordinary garden. It’s in the walled garden of a formerly grand merchant’s house, called Calderstones. And the formerly grand merchant’s house just over the road was called Quarry Bank. It became a school, the school John Lennon went to. Now John, as you probably know, didn’t like school. And would avoid as many lessons as possible, ‘sagging off’ as we call it round here. And the place he would ‘sag off’ to was the walled garden, my walled garden.
He wrote about it too. In The Beatles ‘I am the walrus’ when he sings:
‘Sitting in an English garden, waiting for the sun
If the sun don’t come you get a tan from standing in the English rain’
He’s talking about the walled garden just over the road from school, where my bench is.
And over the past eleven years, I’ve come and sat on it at all seasons of the year. Often to work. I find if I’m working on a new idea, or designing an event for a sense of place, it’s best if I walk a bit and then work outdoors. And Calderstones Park is ideal for this. It’s about two miles from our house, into the leafy suburbs. And the fact that it’s a walled garden means it’s pretty sheltered most of the time, good for peaceful thinking and working. The only time my peace gets disturbed, in fact, is by the kids from Quarry Bank, now called Calderstones School, when they come in, ‘sagging off’.
Once, I was sitting there, and a couple of women were working their way along the row of other benches, admiring the things people had said on the plaques about their dead relatives and friends. When they got to mine they tutted loudly and one exclaimed ‘I don’t think you should be allowed to have one if you’re alive!’ ‘Oy it’s mine, actually’, I immediately told them. To which they self-righteously, and pretty quickly, strutted off.
And of course, after Sarah was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2007, the bench was sometimes a place of respite for me. All carers need a bit of time for themselves during the years of surgery and treatments. And often I would head for the bench, for an hour of quiet reading. Sometimes we’d both go there for a picnic on sunny days, occasionally accompanied by my beaming and always hungry for life granddaughter, Ellie.
Now this is the point where any gardening fans are probably looking forward to me describing some of the outstanding plants to you. Well, there are tulips, sometimes, quite a lot of bushes, and loads of different looking sorts of trees. And that just about exhausts my gardening knowledge. For me, gardens are places for peaceful contemplation. I’m grateful to the people who’ve put them together and the people who labour in all weathers to care for them. But if you want Latin names and erudite botanical descriptive passages, well head on over to Sarah’s Plot 44 blog. You won’t get any of that from me!
No, I’m good on music, and also on politics. Which brings me to the fact that, after eleven peaceful years, in January of this year the bench entered a period of danger. Over the year up to then, the greenhouse behind the bench had been looking increasingly dilapidated. And in January a ‘Site notice’ informed me it had ‘become unsafe and is to be demolished’. This of course was lazy, corporate-speak for ‘We’ve stopped bothering to maintain it, and now, surprise, surprise, it’s falling down!’ Anyway, the collection of hot house botanicals and cacti it currently housed was to be removed and replaced by a, no doubt low-maintenance, ‘sensory garden’. And so ‘some of the Memorial benches will have to be re-located’. I was further informed that because of this work the garden would be closed for some of the time between January to March.
Well, as it turned out, the garden was completely closed from early January until now, early June. Happening to be in Calderstones on a ‘grasses and verges’ course (yes, really) Sarah was told by a local Ranger that the garden has just re-opened today. And here it is:
And see that bench with its back to us, right at the centre of the new Garden? That’s my bench.
So I’m delighted that I can once again go and sit and read and think and work on my bench. Though of course, the cynic in me – always close to the surface – is slightly concerned that the bench’s central position will make it too popular. That I might often not be able to sit on my own bench?
But hey, life’s full of risks and dangers and I can easily live with that one!
Time then passes and before you know it we’re deep in December 2017. Ellie’s at secondary school and my daughter Clare and her husband Simon have had two more children now. Theo, who’s 8, and his brother Finn, 3. These days I don’t visit my bench much as, truth to tell, I’ve never as much liked the redesigned garden as I did the old one (Though I know others who visit and let me know how the bench is doing). Nor have I taken to the bench’s new position in the central seating area. But life has its ups and downs and it was a quiet joy to go and visit the bench today and find I was the only person in the garden, for the first time in my life. It’s nearly Christmas, so I suppose people are busy with other things?
Well anyway, I sat there for an hour, did some reading and a little work and found, as always, that the bench helps me think.