I promise that this will be the last time (for a while, anyway) that I write about lawn mowers. But anyway.
When I was at university, I read Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the art of motor cycle maintenance – like just about everyone else, then, I guess – and it really has affected my whole life. Whatever I’m doing, however trivial, I do try to do it as well as I possibly can. But this week I have been painting my new (second-hand) ride-on lawn mower. Although working well, it was very rusty, so it’s had two coats of Hammerite paint. This is wonderful stuff that bonds with the rust (as my son said, “The rust must hate that”); but I knew from the first brushful that the final effect was not going to be aesthetically pleasing.
Now, I think I’m quite good at painting – not pictures, although my art ‘O’ level remains one of my proudest achievements (I was written off as an artist at a very early age, by my parents; my brother was the artisitic one). But decorating – well, I have a steady hand and lots of patience, both of which are essential in painting a black-and-white cottage, like mine. So it was disappointing to know that I couldn’t do a good job of the mower. Despite my vision of a mirror-like Ferrari red finish, it would be (and indeed is) blotchy and patchy. Partly this was due to the paint itself; partly the fact that I bought some cheap guaranteed hair-loss brushes, because I didn’t want to ruin my good ones (kept for getting a good edge on the black-and-white bits); and it was bright sunshine (paint gets tacky too quickly) and windy (drips are blown from the brush).
It’s done now, two coats and all, but I didn’t enjoy doing it. And this started me thinking about visualising. You often hear Olympic sportspeople ascribing some of their success to their practice in visualising themselves winning. I’ve always been dubious about this. What about the losers? Did they not visualise too? I do a lot of visualising, or daydreaming you might call it, and I know that however often or how skilfully I visualise, say, winning the slam in the Cheltenham Literature Festival, I still won’t do it – I’ve been up on that big stage for 11 consecutive years now, and not got past the semi-finals.
The clearout has continued, and the big bedroom is now just about finished, and ready for visitors. Hooray! I’m glad nobody was around to see this process; I am deeply ashamed about the number of shoes and socks I possess.
I have done some real work too – some stuff for the Yorkshire project and the North West project; prep for the Cheltenham sleeping and dreaming workshops, and for the workshops I’ll be running in Herefordshire for adult literacy students. I’m beginning to get into the Poetry on Loan work, too. My new slam poem has been cut savagely, so that it’s now only a shade over 3 minutes, rather than the 4mins 30 seconds it was to start with. No work on the novel, though; I need a clear half day to relax into that.
And yesterday was a meeting of the Ledbury Poetry Festival board. This is composed of lovely people who would be looked down in some quarters; all middle-aged, middle-class and white; but they care passionately about poetry and about spreading the enjoyment of poetry to as wide an audience as possible. They know a lot – far more than I do – and put in lots of effort, and all voluntarily. I don’t know if any of them have read Zen and the art of etc., but they behave as if they have. I wish everyone did.