January 2014 was all about walking off the unemployment blues as much as the weather would let me. My penultimate January walk. took me to some of my childhood haunts. Some surprised me by being very different to how I remembered them, others surprised me by being much the same, if a little older. One in particular had me thinking about how weight goes on without us noticing and, more importantly, how it stays there.
28 January 2014
Even before I left my own garden I spotted something to make me smile, a flash of purplish blue caught out of the corner of my eye turned out to be the iris by the front window blooming. Usually the first flowers on the iris are a sign that spring is coming but, with such a strange winter, I’m not sure if that holds true this year. Whatever they foretell, I enjoyed looking at them.
When I set out I had half a plan to visit some woods I used to play in when I was a child then walk in a big loop ending back at the village. The woods are to the east of the Triangle and not too far from my house but, because they’re off the routes I usually walk, I’ve not thought about visiting them for many years, probably not since I was in my early teens. From memory they were deep dark woods, slightly frightening. In the centre there were swings.
Since those far off days a natty marker pole has been erected, announcing the name Deep Dene, although I’m told, back in the 1950’s the woods were known as Bluebell Woods. Whether the woods are one of the little pockets of ancient woodland that remain in isolated patches on this side of the city or not I couldn’t tell, certainly there are oak trees but mostly the wood is tall old pines. Once upon a time this area was part of the grounds of Deep Dene Manor House, now split into luxury flats. The grounds were left to the council by the last owner of the whole property and they’ve certainly been spruced up since I was a child. The entrance now has a fancy new gate, styled to look like tree branches and painted green.
One of the things I hoped to see was interesting fungi and, before I’d even walked through the new green gate I spotted some at the base of a big tree. It certainly wasn’t pretty, in fact it looked to me like a very poorly made loaf that had been badly burnt. The underside looked even more bread like, as if dusted with scorched flour. After a huge amount of Googling the nearest thing I could find to it was Cracked Cap Polypore but I’m not convinced.
Unfortunately the expected fungus fest didn’t really materialise. There were huge pine cones littering the ground where ever I walked. Some attached to quite large branches that had obviously been blown down in the gales. There were old rotting trees everywhere too but very few sporting fungi of any kind. One had some crusty growths on the end but the close up pictures I took turned out badly, possibly due to the poor light, although the squelchy conditions underfoot didn’t help.
In fact the ground was so boggy I couldn’t get near the modern looking climbing apparatus, my feet were sinking into the mud when I tired to cross the grass so I gave up. Somehow the woods didn’t seem nearly as deep and dark as they had when I was young though so I set off along the least boggy of the trails. The trees are tall, but not nearly as tall as I remember, maybe because I’m taller myself now, albeit very, very slightly. There was blue sky visible in all but the very deepest, darkest areas and no bogeymen at all. Before long I’d come out to the second entrance, close to Deep Dene House itself. Those woods have shrunk I swear.
As I was about to leave there was a last little surprise. A tree, right by the entrance had rows of black finger like growths sprouting form all the cracks. When I looked closer some were like miniature stags horns and some were coated in a whitish mould. My first thought was that they were lichen of some kind but, having stumbled upon them while I was trying to identify the bread like bracket fungus it turns out they are xylaria hypoxylon, otherwise known as candlesnuff fungus or staghorn fungus. Amazing what you see when you really look eh?
Unfortunately there were people outside one of the flats that now make up Deep Dene House so I didn’t take a photo. After all I’d probably be quite suspicious of a scruffy looking stranger taking pictures of my house. If I get the chance I will go back another day because it is quite an impressive old building.
When I set out I hadn’t envisioned wandering deep into the woods, probably because of all those childhood memories of how scary they seemed. Leaving the woods at an unexpected place meant I was no longer quite where I’d expected to be so it was time for a quick change of plan. Instead of turning back to the route I’d mapped out I continued up towards the Castle, after all a little hill walking wouldn’t be a bad thing.
By now you may be wondering about the title of this post as there haven’t been any boats or anything about weight loss. Never fear, I’m getting to it. My detour took me along the top of Midanbury Lane and, as I was coming to the top of the hill I saw something I’d long forgotten. In the back garden of one of the houses there is a full sized boat, a catamaran to be exact. This huge vessel has been in that garden for as long as I can remember, probably forty years or more.
The story is that the man who owns the house decided to build himself a boat in the back garden. Whether he actually thought very much about the relative size of the boat as compared to the size of his garden is a mystery. Obviously it took him many years of hard work over weekends and holidays to slowly complete his project. The problem being, once he had, he had no way of getting it out of the garden. Ever since it has remained there, bigger than his house and taking up every single inch of his land. If he has a wife I’m pretty sure she is not impressed.
As I walked on I couldn’t help wondering why the man had built such a huge boat without considering the consequences and why, when he found he couldn’t get it out of the garden, he just left it there for forty years? It didn’t make sense to me. The thing was obviously in the way and totally incongruous in the garden of a house at least half a mile from the river. The thing actually stands out on the satellite maps for heavens sake! The more I thought about it the more it reminded me of the way people gain weight and, despite the way it rules and ruins their lives, why they don’t try to lose it.
You see I know how easy it is to get big, how the weight creeps on little by little so you hardly notice. I also know how easy it is to just accept that being bigger than you’d like is something you just have to live with. Even so, I’ve sometimes wondered how people get to be really, really big, super morbidly obese I think they call it in America. How does that happen without you noticing? Surely there is a point when you’d think, “this has got to stop!”
When the man started to build his boat he did it one tiny piece at a time, in much the same way as people put on weight one little bit at a time. He must have had some kind of a plan at the start but he obviously hadn’t really thought it through or envisioned quite what it was going to turn out like. Every spare moment he must have worked away, lovingly crafting the little pieces, feeling proud of each one. As it got bigger and bigger there may have been a time when he thought, “hmm, this is getting a little out of control,” but it was his dream, he loved making all the bits. He loved the idea of the boat so much he was able to ignore what it was doing to his garden and what the final outcome was going to be.
In much the same way people put on weight. They don’t think of the consequences they just like eating or cooking or chocolate, whatever their particular thing is. The weight goes on really slowly. It’s hardly noticeable. Maybe one day they have to buy bigger clothes and they think, “hmm, this is getting a little out of control,” but they love that chocolate or whatever so they carry on, never really thinking it through. They love what they’re doing so much they manage to ignore what it’s doing to their lives, how it’s making them less and less mobile, more and more unwell. They don’t see the final outcome.
So when the boat was finally built and the day came when the man had to admit that there was no way he could ever get it out of his garden why did he leave it there? Surely he could see it? Wasn’t it just a huge, boat shaped reminded of how short sighted he’d been when he first set out on this boat building venture? Didn’t it just make him look rather silly, especially when people stand in the street looking at it and laughing? Why didn’t he take it apart again?
Much like the way people live with all the problems of super morbid obesity it’s the elephant in the room, everyone can see it but no one mentions it. He works his way round all the problems it causes. If he wants to get the back of his house he just squeezes past and doesn’t think about it because it’s a habit. The boat is slowly disintegrating, the paint is peeling there are rust tracks running down the hull but he doesn’t notice them. If he took it apart he’d have to admit it was there, that he made a terrible mistake. It took a long, long time to build so it would take a long, long time to dismantle. What would he do with all the parts? How would he find the time?
Just like someone who is overweight, whether extremely or just a few stones, doing something about it poses lots of problems, not least accepting there is a problem in the first place. It’s a long old job, the bigger the boat the bigger the task. It takes hard work, planning, sacrifice of something precious, be it the idea of sailing a boat or eating chocolate. So the boat stays in the garden, the extra stones stay put. What a shame because life would be so much easier without them.
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