Harriet clapped her gloved hands together and huffed in the cold of the garage. She switched on the little radiator under the bench and then held her hands to it hoping the warmth would come through more quickly. Usually Harriet would have then headed off to her caretaking job at the Community Centre leaving the garage to warm up for a couple of hours but as new year’s day fell on a Wednesday the centre was closed until the following Monday. It meant that she had a few more days off to spend woodworking earlier in the morning, but it was cold and condensation ran down the windows. While she waited for the garage to warm a little more Harriet headed back into the house to collect her tool bag. It was only a small bag but it held her more precious tools, precious in the sense that she didn’t want them suffering from the condensation and rust from sitting in the cold garage. They were kept warm stored in her bedroom instead. Pride of place in the bottom of the tool bag was a vintage Stanley 5 ½ jack plane wrapped in a leather pouch. The plane wasn’t all that valuable or special in itself, but it was Harriet’s first hand plane, and it was one she spent many hours, cleaning, repairing, tuning, and making it work as well as it ever could. And so it was cherished as would the memory of a first love. Her tutor at college preferred the number 6 fore plane, but Harriet found it a little too heavy and it offered little benefit for the extra weight.
Harriet returned to the garage and set a piece of softwood on the bench and tested to see if it had warped. There was a slight twist, but nothing worth worrying about as planing the saw marks from the face would soon flatten it.
Hand planing was one of those things that Harriet loved, and hated a little, especially when there was so much of it to do. She loved working with a well tuned and honed jack plane to shape, flatten and smooth the timber on her bench, but hated that it hurt her elbows after a few strokes. She had taken to keeping her elbows tucked in and pushing with her body, walking the length of the stroke, to save the ache. It was tendonitis, inflammation of the tendons, also known as tennis elbow, and the early January cold didn’t help. There wasn’t a lot she could do about it except not plane timber, nor use a handsaw as that caused the same problem, but that would make her unhappy. Harriet did have a cheap cordless power plane, but she preferred to save that for when a lot of rough planing was needed. Anything that needed a good surface was always hand planed.
With the start of the new year, Harriet reflected on the last couple of weeks. She had enjoyed Christmas with Adam and Amanda, their family, and her friends, but like the hand planing there was a twinge of pain to it. Harriet hadn’t said anything after promising Amanda that she wouldn’t, but she really felt for Sybil and Amanda. She was a little sad thinking she was likely soon to lose her room in their home, but that was nothing compared to Sybil’s illness. It was bowel cancer, detected too late as Sybil had unknowingly put it down to an excess of foods she liked but which hadn’t agreed with her. Now it had spread and was too late to treat effectively Sybil had decided to simply enjoy what was left of her life instead of being a burden to the health service beyond pain management. Harriet understood and respected that, and hoped she would be as steadfast and brave about it if she was in that position. Sybil had said to Harriet that she should look forward to what she wanted in life and work towards it with determination, but also with consideration for the feelings of those around her, and especially those who loved her. Harriet didn’t need reminding that there were many people who, though their determination to get what they wanted, had forgotten or ignored the consideration of others. But she understood what Sybil was saying.
And now, with the start of a new year, Harriet wanted to work wood, and she set to with the determination Sybil had spoken about, but also decided to consider what she might be doing in the coming months once she was in her own workshop.
In the meantime her furniture was coming along nicely, only softwood, made from the pine ‘four by two’ timber she had to hand. Harriet had been re-sawing the best pieces into thinner planks, gluing them together to make wider boards, and taking care to try and match the grain as close as possible where she could, at least on the faces that would be seen. Harriet was happy with the progress she had made.
I should have got myself a pedometer! She laughed to herself, as she walked up and down the garage workshop pushing her plane.
There was a knock on the garage door. “Harriet? Are you in there? It’s Robbie.”
“Oh! Hi Robbie! Hang on. Let me move some stuff first.” Harriet cleared a little space and pulled open the garage door.
Robbie reached out his hand and Harriet shook it. “Happy new year, Harriet. It’s cold today! Proper January weather.” He said as he rubbed his hands together to warm them up a bit. “I’ve got some shelves for you. They are a little damaged but they are still strong, and good. They’re in the back of the van.”
Harriet followed Robbie around to the back of his van as he opened the doors. Inside were a couple of old shelf units, well made but covered in paint stains and random cup hooks and bent nails that were fixed to the edges. They were tall, laid on their sides, and a bit of blue rope tied them to a lashing point on the wooden lining of the van.
“See!” said Robbie, “They are good shelves, strong, very heavy. I’ll get them out and we can get them into the garage.” He reached in and untied the rope, throwing it to one side, and then laying one of the shelves on its back for Harriet to see.
“Oh they are wonderful!” Harriet was very impressed. “How much do you want for them.”
“Nothing, my friend, I was paid to take them away just after Christmas! I thought of you and you will save me paying at the tip!”
They pulled the shelves out and carried them into the garage and stood them opposite the bench so that Harriet could have a proper look at them.
“They are far too good for the tip, that would have been such a waste! I think these must have originally come from a school or a laboratory, I think! They look like teak, or Iroko, hard to tell until cleaned up.”
“Is that good?” Asked Robbie, “I thought they were oak, given how heavy they are, but I don’t know wood.”
“Better, I think. Really solid and strong, and rot resistant. Were they in a shed or garage? They look well used and abused… But still really good.”
“Oh yes, it was sort of a shed, one of those metal shelters things from the war.” Robbie confirmed “Someone clearing out an old house for selling it.”.
“I didn’t know those were still around! But they would have been great kept on as a shed I guess. And the shelves would have been ideal in one! Thank you so much for them, they’ll be fantastic cleaned up!”
“Will you use them, or fix them up and sell them?” Robbie asked “They look like good for that upcycling!”
“I’ll have to see. Ideally I would like to use them as shelves for my workshop, just because you got them for me. But if they are too rough when I have cleaned them up I can use the timber to make stuff.”
“Ha, you are sentimental, and I appreciate that very much. You can just sell them if it helps, my friend.” And with that they shook hands and Robbie set off back to his work as Harriet closed the garage door again.
Daisy arrived back at Market Theraton Station on the Monday afternoon train. It was quiet, not too many people on the train and even fewer on the platform. She had enjoyed the week off work to spend Christmas with her parents. It was an annual pilgrimage she enjoyed, and never missed. This felt no different as she got off the train with a small red and black rucksack on her back and a leopard spot printed trolley suitcase, although this time she was wearing sensible walking boots and a bright blue Gortex rain coat, and looking considerably less glamorous then her previous visits. Unlike previous years she didn’t carry a handbag. Daisy had quickly abandoned the handbags she owned with her change of career and enjoyed the luxury of looser fitting jeans with pockets that worked, and coats that had pockets in the lining. The weather was mild so Daisy decided to walk home. Her luggage wasn’t too heavy, her family Christmases were never much about presents so the small gifts, mostly book tokens, and some nice seasonally scented moisturiser cream took up very little space.
As Daisy walked home she enjoyed the quieter streets and wondered what she would do tomorrow night for new year’s eve. Previously she would have been at some party or other with the men and women she knew through work, but as she reminisced about last year’s party she recognised that she had already felt out of place, too old, wrong sort of music, couldn’t dance the Floss, fewer men attempted to grab her for a kiss as the bongs of Big Ben rung out. That was a bonus in itself! She smiled as she thought about that.
She had nothing arranged for this year. The recycling team had shifts sorted out and continued their collection throughout the holiday with only minor changes to the rounds. Daisy was wishing she hadn’t booked the days off so she would have had something to do but it was too late to change things now. Steve was going to a party with friends elsewhere, Daisy hadn’t asked where for fear of appearing to solicit an invite, and she wasn’t sure she knew the others well enough yet to feel invited to any of the events they talked about. Ann was visiting family, and Tom and Linda were playing classical music for something formal somewhere. Daisy had learned that they were both musicians, orchestral strings. Linda played cello, while Tom played viola. They still did small events in town, there was a funeral earlier in the autumn, and then various Christmas and church gigs kept them busy outside of their recycling days.
At home Daisy found she had the house to herself, Fran was away with her boyfriend, Ingrid had gone back to Germany for the holidays. For the first time in a long time Daisy found herself both alone and unoccupied. The Library wasn’t open, there was little of interest on the television, friends and people she knew were all away, or occupied with their other friends, family, and parties. Daisy put the laundry on, tidied her room, and the shared lounge, wiped the kitchen surfaces, and emptied the fridge of left over milk and food that would no longer be safe to eat.
There wasn’t a lot to do and Daisy was grateful that both Fran and Ingrid were sensible and did their bit in looking after their home. The agent for the house seemed not to be in much of a rush to replace Jen’s old tenancy, maybe because the rent was still being paid, and neither Fran nor Ingrid had seemed so bothered about it either. It felt nice that way too, the three of them seemed to get on well enough without anyone else sharing with them. For a brief moment Daisy wondered if she should give up the house hunt and just stay in the shared house with Fran and Ingrid. That made her think about what they had suggested about her, and also what she had hinted to her parents. She began to imagine what it would be like meeting someone special and living with him. Daisy had done that once, briefly and it wasn’t pleasant, but she tried wondering about the other men that she had known and what they might have been like to share a house with. Try as she might it was difficult imagining it being fun with any of them, smelly socks, underwear, food left lying around, beard trimmings in the sink, games consoles on the floor, and slightly dodgy selections of DVDs next to the television. Even with it being a generalisation Daisy couldn’t see anything appealing about the idea. And sex wasn’t much to add as a consideration, it was always better on her own.
On the other hand, aside from the few months that Jenny was there, it has been really good fun sharing with Fran and Ingrid. Conversation was easy, stuff got done, there was nothing weird happening, and the house smelled nice. It was even comfortable when they all huddled together to watch a film in the evening. Maybe if her future house was big enough just having a female friend to live with would be OK, maybe.
Daisy had a think about which of her friends she could live with like that, properly living with not just flat sharing, but then would people talk? She remembered the first openly lesbian couple she had known when she was still in her early twenties. They were neighbours moving in to the rental house next door, two young women, obviously very happy together. An older woman helping them move in had introduced the two women as ‘My daughters’ while one of the young women was mouthing over her shoulder ‘I’m not her daughter.’ and winking at Daisy. Daisy only knew them briefly before she moved on, but she always knew they were a couple, and very happy together they were too.
Yes, that is what people would think, Daisy thought, if she lived with another woman. Daisy didn’t really mind nor care about that in itself, she just hadn’t really considered it an option in life, to take it that bit further. Would it be so bad to allow that consideration? After all, if she was honest with herself, she did much prefer the company of women, and she did feel really good when she was close to them.
Daisy didn’t really want to answer to that question just yet, but decided that being on her own in the house also felt really good, and generally slobbing out on the sofa in her pyjamas, reading, and watching DVD films for the remainder of the old year was the thing to do.
But she still pondered anyway…