Recently, I have been re-watching the American television series Smallville, as I like factual programmes. It’s based on the life of young Superman, as he grows up in small-town America, with his adoptive parents.
It’s the parents I like best. They’re the ideal mum and dad: kind, but stern where necessary, and with a finely calibrated moral compass.
Chores are something that are an integral part of life in the farming family, with teenage Clark always doing his duty, often working in co-operation with his dad. Similarly, I seem to have adopted a chores attitude to life. I feel bad when I don’t get something done in the garden.
The list of chores or tasks is endless. In the past week, it has included: putting in more fence posts; laying down decorative gravel; bagging up garden bruck for taking to the recycling centre; putting protective bark round the base of vulnerable plants; digging up a piece of ground for a new flower bed; sticking a new bit of roof on the Shed That Is Never Finished.
If it’s raining, there’s indoor work, such as painting all my boring pine furniture blue or yellow or green: makes such a difference and is very cheering. And I’m still blocking up places where the mice might get in.
I’ve noticed also a small change in my attitude to DIY-style tasks or chores, both indoors and out: I just don’t expect everything to go straightforwardly as of right. There are challenges. You need to think, to use your brain to a practical end.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that we probably ought to value practical work more than book-reading. It’s necessary. It gives you a sense of achievement. And it makes you happy. Well, it does when it – eventually – goes right. I should say it’s not an either-or, of course. I shall always love books and, asked to choose between a screwdriver and The Lord of the Rings, would always choose the latter. But it would be best to be both bookish and practical.
The outdoor chores in particular are exhausting some days. Often, when I wake up, I say to myself: ‘You’d better do some exercises and keep fit stuff today or you’ll die right soon, ya daftie.’ But, usually, I find I get enough exercise from chores in the garden and am too tired afterwards to do anything else.
It’s healthy, working in the fresh air – and it is very fresh in winter. I’ve been very happy these past couple of months, working outdoors when it has been mostly quiet. Doubtless, the cacophony of modern horticulture will resume in the village in spring. But, for the moment, I can work in peace, I lift my head from my work and see the mountains and the sea. The birds grow less frightened of me every day.
By teatime, when I take my wellies off, I feel fulfilled. I’ve found a degree of contentment, not quite nirvana – where I imagine there’s less DIY needed – but not far off. I draw the curtains, fire up the flame-effect stove and electric candles, open a bag of salted peanuts or perchance jelly beans, and watch young Superman go about his chores, which sometimes involve saving the world. Now that’s what I call a practical task!