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The art of a good wall.

Posted in Life & Love, and Relationships

FullSizeRender 8One of the garden walls fell down in McGregor. It’s a great wall – built by hand by local artisans, crafted with what they have available … shale. You see piles of this rock all over the village. It lies in horizontal bands throughout the area – with, mostly, a dry, red sandy soil over it. The kind of ‘terroir’ that produces flinty whites and robust, dry reds. But wine is not what I want to write about. Though this region produces excellent plonk. I won’t go into all the reasons why the wall fell – but disinterest had a lot to do with it.

When these guys build a wall they carefully stack layer upon layer – matching size, heft, thickness and shape, building a solid structure without the use of mud or concrete to bind or anchor. The walls are beautiful. The creator’s craft is evident. They gently serve their purpose which is to delineate and contain. Their lightness on the land negates any sense of division and exclusion. I think it has everything to do with how they look – but also with the spirit in which they are built — slowly with concentration and consideration, by hand, with found stones, from the immediate area.

My gardener didn’t notice the wall had fallen – on either of his two work days at the house while it lay in shards. Nor did he notice the holes spaded through the irrigation pipes which helped cause the fall by flooding the area. He seemed not to see that my beloved banana plants were flattened, that my roses lay crushed. That the mud had won. What he did point out was that he was in charge of the garden and not me. And that, considering that the wall had been fixed (by Rob my neighbour), he was irritated that I had even brought all of this up at all. But then that was unsurprising because “we men get over things” – unlike “you women who keep carrying on about it”.

In just four sentences, someone who had worked with me for 18 months had managed to build a wall of his own. One that was graceless and lacking in charm. One that needed immediate dissembling.

FullSizeRender 4A few minutes later and he was gone, mid-job … taking his men with him. I said he should stay and complete the month, but he had, apparently: “More important things” to do with his time. As I watched him leave I realised I was happy – as hard as I had tried to like him, he had an edge to him that made me increasingly uncomfortable.

I was in Berlin the week after that wall had come down. I remember the sense of heady excitement and relief that suffused the city. How strangers were greeting each other in the cafes and bars. A reunification of spirit.

A few minutes after H had left, my neighbour Rob came through the gate: with him his gardener Jan. “You’ll be wanting a vegetable garden”, said Jan as he passed me. “I’ll start it today.” And I watched as he carefully put a cutting into the ground.

They say good fences make for great neighbours. My wall did me proud.

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  1. This type of wall is called a ‘Dry Stone Wall’ in Northern England and Scotland, and building them is a real art. When my son was at school he had a chum who came to stay who said that his dad was a ‘dry stone waller’ – I did wonder how such a man could afford the not inconsiderable school fees, but it wasn’t until Founder’s Day that I discovered that said father was the Earl of Somewhere, and building dry stone walls was just his hobby! They are beautiful walls and seem to meld into the landscape.

    June 19, 2015
  2. I’m entranced by these old stone walls. They just enhance the environment so much.

    June 19, 2015

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