Digging up stone floors and knocking down outhouse walls may not be everyone’s idea of a relaxing weekend - especially when every brick has to be cleaned with a cold chisel and stacked carefully for future use, but for me it represented not only a great little break from the desk but also a trip down memory lane. Thirty years ago I was doing that kind of thing on a regular basis as I strove to improve and restore a succession of old houses. I wearied of it around the mid-1980s when I went off to university but have retained an appetite for certain manual tasks, especially if they involve spells of demolition punctuated by hearty fried breakfasts.
This one started out modestly enough, but, after three hours wielding a lump hammer and a crow-bar I wasn’t sure that my host had put enough on my plate. Pile it on, I said…
That’s more like it, all cooked and served up by the boss himself, Chainsaw Phil - seen here taking a break as we considered which wall to take out next.
In between bringing down walls, supporting rickety roofs and barrowing the resultant rubbish around to fill a three-foot deep hole in another outhouse floor, we walked down to the Star at Weaverthorpe and enjoyed an evening meal, washed down with a couple of pints from the Wold Top Brewery.
I have to confess that I ended up with a bit of a sore head next morning, having already had a couple of pints in York before the fixture against table-topping Oxford United. What a game that was, in the 70-degree sunshine. York took the lead within 15 seconds of the start, then conceded a penalty, which goalkeeper Mike Ingham saved; scored a second after 15 minutes, conceded an own-goal, then popped in a third to run out comfortable winners (and avenge a 1-3 defeat to the same team in the play-off final at Wembley in 2010).
Going back to my labouring efforts for Phil, I found, yet again, that there’s nothing like a bit of physical endeavour to shift a mental log-jam. I’m still pondering ways to link together the various stories that will make up Work As Playtime. I mean as regards the narrative and the theme, as well as the character of the narrator. For example, entertaining as I think the stories are, I need to find a way to answer the questions I expect a reader to ask, namely, who is this guy, how come he has so many jobs, and what’s an educated fellow like him doing in low-grade jobs as he enters his thirties? Perhaps there’s an irony in the fact that my efforts as a builder’s labourer on Sunday and today have helped me find one or two answers, one of which is that I grew up needing to sort out a lot of issues about who I was and where I came from - and that working under the kind of pressure that a professional career might have involved would have been bad news for my mental health back then. The challenge now will be to find ways of showing that in my narrative through my protagonist’s actions and interactions with other people, rather than through addressing the reader directly.
As ever, I welcome the arrival of September. One, the weather no longer has to pretend that it’s summer. Every fair day feels like a bonus. Two, the publishing industry is about to come back to life after several weeks of inaction. Who knows, maybe my agent will conjure up a deal.