Having spent three to four hours a day for the last week covered in plaster dust and chips of paint, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that I look a mess. I’ve never been a slave to fashion, but occasionally I do try to make an effort. What I’m coming to discover is that the act of trying is becoming increasingly elusive when constantly covered in dirt, mud, or debris.
I’ve taken on a project that can only be described as a labour of love, as it is nowhere on our list of main priorities for this house. In fact, it is not to be found on our extensive itemization of projects to address over the next 5-10 years. This task simply didn’t rate until I started to make it a daily obsession. When we have heating systems to upgrade, flooring to refit, and rooms to renovate, the question as to why I am suddenly focused on chipping off the old paint, plaster and in places, cement which cover the stones in the porch is a good one to ask. I have no answer. All I know is I’ve become driven and recently have had to place restrictions as to how much time I spend hammering stone each day. I am mindful that I have plenty of other things to do and if I do too much in a day, I won’t be able to lift my arms through fatigue.
When our roofer Paul, a kind and thoughtful man of few words, saw me working on my chipping project with a small hammer and chisel, he suggested I use a “channel hammer.” “What in the world is this tool?” I wondered. What it is, is simply brilliant! With a pointed hammer tip on one end and a chisel nose on the other end, I can tap gently or swing with a mighty heft and the rendering covering the rocks flies. I want one of these and have conducted a search. No such thing as a “channel hammer” can I find, so it must be a regional name. The closest I can find is something known as a rock pick, made of carbide steel. A cool compromise to be sure. Yes, very cool.
When I first began this project, using nothing but a simple scraper, I found, when done, I could lightly dust myself down in a jiffy before heading out the door. With this new accessory item (Who needs a hand bag when you could have a channel hammer, I ask you?) I’m covered in dirt and dust in seconds and cleaning up takes so much longer. I’ve had to add a hat and safety glasses to my ensemble. Right out of the pages of Nature rather than Vogue!
I’ve always been on the margins of fashion. Not in the ultra hip, fashion-forward way of urban fashionistas. Nope, I’m right out of the “Did she just roll out of bed?” end of the spectrum. And if you were to see me first thing in the morning when I’m feeding the chickens, walking Sam, uncovering the vegetable bed from its frost protecting fleece and filling the bird feeders, I do look just like that. With my new cowboy-themed pajama legs tucked haphazardly into my wellies, and my upper body layered in a couple of fleeces and possibly a waterproof jacket, hat, gloves and scarf, I head outside to start my day. Hair: not combed. Teeth: not yet brushed. Answer to question above is a definite “Yes”.
I recall as a teenager – and everyone knows that teenagers worry about their looks – that friends would point out the need for my socks to match my top. This was the late 70’s and perhaps the height of fashion concern as the 60’s bell-bottoms gave way to the 80’s shoulder pads, but I was oblivious and merely happy that my socks matched one another. Without intent, I must have tortured my close friends when they presented their deep concern that I did not carry a handbag to which I offered my dumb-struck response, “But isn’t that what the back pocket of my jeans is about?” No doubt, I was a disappointment and possible cause fellow teenage angst.
I suppose I should try a bit harder as you just never know who might stroll up our lane. So, in a nod to vanity, I recently checked out some fashion resources for consideration. Courtesy of Miranda Kerr, the Australian super-model who gained fame as a Victoria’s Secret Angel, I present her fashion golden rules and my considered responses:
1. If you’ve got it flaunt it. And I say, if you don’t have it, don’t.
2. Be a proportion perfecter. I will let you know that my feet are big and my new hiking boots fit really well.
3. Invest in accessories that go the distance. My hat, gloves and scarves are interchangeable and have been for years.
4. Snap up a trophy coat. Okay, I’m still working on this one.
5. Make layered looks your winter style survival. Been there, doin’ that!
Seeing the old render come off in large chunks with the introduction of the channel hammer is satisfying and indeed, motivating. I think of the tedious hours spent by miners or prisoners toiling away at stone all day. But when it is an optional chore with built in coffee and snack breaks, I find I can’t get enough. It’s possible I may want one of these channel hammers more than Imelda Marcos wanted a new pair of shoes.
Our surrounding landscape regularly displays a bold sense of style as Nature spectacularly plays with subtle patterns and hues, and the occasional contrasting splash of colour. Consider the golden tones as the sun rises in the morning to light the granite grey of the tors on top of the hills. Or, the evolving collage of colours in the skies above as pink and orange clouds drift to meet their stormier grey, blue and puffy white colleagues. There is the juxtaposition of a harsh granite landscape erupting from gentle buff-coloured reeds and wild grasses dancing in the wind. Above is an enormous sky extending in all directions without buildings to interrupt the horizon. While under foot, is a composition of fallen leaves in chestnut browns and golden yellows, accented with a shock of acid green. The rocks and tree trunks are camouflaged with an assorted mix of textures and colours from lichen, mosses and fungi, including the amazing Yellow Brain Fungus (also known as Witches Butter) growing on the gorse bushes along our track. It’s bright orange shade is reminiscent of Nacho flavoured Doritos.
Earlier this year in the Times, Stephen Spielberg said, “I have never before, in my long and eclectic career, been gifted with such an abundance of natural beauty as I experienced filming War Horse on Dartmoor.” I suppose he was not referring to my walking past in wet weather gear when he made his observation, but Stephen and I agree that nature is our guide to seeing beauty.
Living in a wet and windy part of the world provides me a sense of relief that I don’t have the overriding concerns which drive an industry where UK women spend, on average, £84,000 on clothing in a lifetime and over 90 hours a year applying make-up. Despite this, some 60% report that they regularly “struggle to find something to wear”. When I go to the hairdresser for a haircut, I am quick to offer my parameters: no bangs (aka fringe), no middle-age-everyone-has-it-celebrity-cut-of-the-day, it must be wash and go and not rely on product, blow-drying, or regular brushing to maintain. With those areas covered, “Have at it!” I say.
It’s not that I lack complete interest; I just accept what I’m up against. You try making a stylish look out of wellies, waterproof coats, and a splattering of mud. Let me be more specific, mud in the shape of paw prints on my coats and jeans (or waterproof trousers). You see, Sam loves his walks but his one area of neglected training on our part is that, at some point during the walk, he’ll suddenly turn on a dime, charge towards me and jump up to say, “Hey, thanks for taking me on this completely wonderful walk where my paws are not only wet and muddy, but they are covered with poop which I wish to share as a means of showing my unending gratitude for loving me so very, very much.”
Roger and I are lucky to be living and working in a place filled with natural beauty that distracts our attention from everyday concerns. It distracts us from worries and stress. It distracts me from wondering “What will someone think of me if they were to see me dressed like this?” But conversely, it also draws our attention. It draws our attention to light playing across the landscape, or to the sound of the river speeding along after a storm; the feel of the breeze when out on a walk or to the birds, with their gift of flight, floating high above on thermals. It leaves us constantly amazed at the size of the sky with its stars at night, or the sense of being swallowed by a low hanging wet cloud as the fog and mist roll in. With all of this, how can I possibly worry about running into someone when I’m wearing my new cowboy pajama’s, wellies, three fleeces, non-matching hat, gloves, scarf and of course, socks, all of which are covered in muddy paw prints from walking Sam in the morning? With Nature as my guide, this feels like fashion freedom!