Tuesday, 6 October 2020

A lovely reminder why I bought my bench.

 Many years ago I read about a photographer who selected a bench looking out over the sea at some resort on the south coast. He decided to interview and photograph anyone who sat on that seat, with their permission of course. It was a fascinating little piece of whimsy.

I have had this in mind for many years. Tucked away somewhere deep inside me. A sharing of experience focusing on a public good - the humble public bench.

Then a few years later, about 2004, I climbed Craig yr Aderyn (Birds' Rock) near Mount Snowdon in North Wales. It is a special place, significant as being one of the few places where cormorants nest inland. 

On my descent I came across a bench over-looking some houses near the bottom of the summit. It was dedicated to "Nick" and he was born in 1962 and had died a few years ago. My name, and my year of birth! It struck me at the time, why do we only make benches for the dead? Why not make a bench to celebrate the living, so you can enjoy knowing people are using your bench and even interact with them.

And then came my 50th birthday and I decided to buy a bench and place it near my Mum's farm next to a public footpath. I added a small brass plaque with the URL of this blog. And some folk have sent in comments over the years.

Over the summer I had reason to visit my Mum for several weeks and I got talking to more folk as I sat on the bench at various times.

Today I saw this article and it reminded me why I did this. 

Covid tales from a south London park bench – photo essay

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Fruit Crumble and Tea

This Easter my girls came to visit their Nanny, Aunt and Cousin at the farm.

We thought with the excellent wrong weather we could have tea and cake at the bench.

We were going to have a cake but then Jubs found some frozen fruit in the freezer - some gooseberries, apple and rhubarb from last summer - so she made a crumble.

And we had a late lunchtime dessert at the bench.

I had scrubbed the bench earlier with water and a brush just to get rid of the bird droppings. I noticed that some of the timbers were developing cracks. After our little meal I went back with a bottle of Linseed Oil and nourished the timbers with the worst splits.

Later this summer I hope to go back and give it a complete re-oiling. It is now 7 years old and needs some TLC.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

In the midst of memorials

If it is true to say: 
"In the midst of life we are in death". 
In parks we are in the midst of memorials

I wanted to mark the 100th anniversary of the Armistice. Rather than go to one of the official services I decided to go to a nearby memorial "The Stairway to Heaven". This memorial is to the 178 people who died in a crowd crush in 1943 during a false air-raid alert. It is a short walk from my flat, along a busy high street, just tucked in the corner of a quiet park, near to the Bethnal Green tube station, where the accident occurred.

I nearly cried as I read the account of a mother trying to make a cage with her arms to protect her young son. She must have failed as his name was on the memorial, aged 2 years, 9 months.

I sat down on a nearby bench. I watched the falling yellow Hornbeam leaves, flights of pigeons scattering through the trees, a tourist photographing a mendicant squirrel, an old man, pausing at the memorial, holding his baseball cap over his heart, and smelt incense from a church parade going to an outdoor memorial service.

And I thought of all the horrendous, painful deaths so many suffer as a consequence of war. The submariners in their steel coffins as the cold waters burst in. Of the tank crews trapped and burning inside their armoured shells of steel. Of the air-crews thrown to the sides of their spinning planes, watching the ground approach.

After a while I decided to walk around the park replacing thoughts of war and death with the sights and smells of the rose gardens and closely clipped lawns of an urban park. I came across a red marble fountain, heavily and ornately sculpted. It was dedicated to two people who had died trying to save others in a fire, in 1904. Further on was a 2004 memorial to two firemen who died in a fire nearby. Along the perimeter path were several benches, each memorialising a loved one.

What is this desire to memorialise our dead? Do we want to mark our losses in public? Do we anchor the emptiness of loss with a solid, hard and permanent object? Why are so many benches dedicated to loss? And I thought of my bench. I bought and sited it for others to use, to sit and ponder and to enjoy.

Would it be better to furnish our parks with memorials to joyful events, to celebrate the happy milestones of life: christenings, or weddings. Should we ask passersby to share in our joy and celebrate life?

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Fifth anniversary: Time for some maintenance

Showing the before and after scrubbing the bench with wire wool.
Contrast between the scrubbed wood
and the yet to be done slats.
The bench has been in place for just over five years now. I've given it a few scrubs with yard brushes and soap and water but this time I decided to do some proper maintenance.

I bought a large packet of coarse wire wool and some linseed oil.

Possessions versus Experiences

It took me about 6 hours to scrub and oil the bench! As I was doing it I had unlovely thoughts about how buying and owning stuff makes us slaves to them. There are more people with similar thoughts here and here.

The inspiration for buying this bench was to enable myself and others to have better experiences, sitting, staring and enjoying the view and having contemplative thoughts.

Maybe I should have just bought a water proof rug and carried it around with me and left a laminated note advising others to do that. After all what did Buddha sit on under his Bodhi Tree?

Starting the oiling of the bench.
Just starting to apply the oil.
Perhaps I should have used a larger brush

The Maintenance

It was a lot harder to scrub than I thought.

Some parts cleaned easily. The back of the upgright panels were covered in a dry green mold that rubbed off quickly in a big cloud of mold. I kept upwind of this.

The rest of the bench - especially the seating slats - seemed to have lichen-like patches of dull green or grey that were very hard to remove. Lots of scrubbing!

And I had forgotten to buy a proper brush, just using a child's water colouring brush, only about 2cm across. So the application of the linseed oil was very accurate, but a little slow.

The finished thing

And here is the cleaned, scrubbed and newly oiled bench.

I am glad I did it now - despite the grouching earlier - I noticed that some of the thicker timbers had developed cracks that were only going to get worse. Also the recesses of the carved lettering was particularly thick with lichen.

Later in the year, when the oil has dried properly I will apply some mold killer to the hidden parts of the bench. I hope that will prevent some of the mold and lichen re-growth.

Newly oiled bench

Monday, 31 July 2017

A quick cuppa before the rain showers

Taking the table, tea tray and the necessary dog for tea on the bench.
Had a cup of tea of the bench today with my daughter and my mother. It's now five years since I unveiled it for my 50th birthday.

It was a lovely day for it, lots of sunshine and clouds and the occasional rain shower. We thought we had timed it well, but a shower came after 15 minutes.

I have realised that I have sited the bench so that it is always in shade except for very late in the evenings or during the winter. This suits me fine. I prefer a shady place to have a little sit down in the summer.

I intend to give the bench a good clean and scrub and then to spruce it up with some linseed oil I bought recently.

The view of the rainshower coming
towards us from the hills north of Alton.

Tea time at the bench.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

The little pleasures

The view towards Ashover Rock, just visible to the left on the horizon.
I've been up at the farm for a nearly a month now.

I am still slightly surprised but very happy to see occasionally people sitting on the bench.

The bench my friends bought for my fiftieth birthday still brings me little presents.

Full evening sunshine after a heavy fresh shower.

The view walking towards the bench from the farm.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

A spring sunset and an old friend

I was talking to a friend on the phone and she told me how her sister, who is a neighbour of ours, does a circular walk that passes my bench. As she passes she likes to sit on it and take in the view. She often remarks to my friend that she's been on Nick's bench.

As we were speaking on the phone I noticed that the late sun was settling on the bench and I mentioned this to my friend. She said well why don't you go and sit there and think of John. John was my best friend and was her son. He died about 10 years ago.

Spring sunset from the bench
So after we finished the phone call - she is about to have her diamond wedding anniversary - I went to sit on the bench and have a little contemplation. It's funny what things I think about when on the bench.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Post Christmas Bench Visit

Time as usual to visit the bench.

This time my daughters were able to pop in to see their Derbyshire side of the family.

A lovely sunny day to sit and stare.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Easter tea time on the bench.

Tea on the bench around Easter time is becoming a bit of a family tradition. And to mark it we do like to bring out our cups, saucers and a pot of tea on a tray - cakes and biscuits are optional.

After tea I took the camera out and took some photos of some ivy leaves backlit in the fading Spring sun.

I found several bones at the base of the Holly tree besides the stone wall. When I checked I found two weasel skulls and numerous rib and leg bones.

I wonder what would have killed and eaten a weasel? A fox? An owl?

Funny to think of my little piece of human civility amidst Nature, red in tooth and claw.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

A evening's sitting

I had a few minutes sitting on the bench this evening.

It was cool, but in the early evening Spring sunshine I managed about 20 minutes of sitting time.

I was listening to all the bird life. The first Chiff Chaffs stuttering from the tops of Oak trees and setting up their territories. Squabbling Jackdaws, twittering Goldfinches, Song Thrushes in full song and one bold Robin who flew down to grass in front of the bench.

A couple of dog walkers walked past and said hello.

I got up after they had left and after the local farmer Roger had put on his noisy machine I think he uses when he is milking his herd - his farm is over 500 yards away, but the racket disturbed my contemplative mood. So I got up and took a photo of the bench with my hat on it, and my shadow.

I like having my own bench.

I hope others like sitting on it too.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

The first cleaning

Yesterday I visited Chesterfield so I could go on the Crooked Spire tower tour. I decided to catch the 51 bus, which meant I had to walk past my bench to get to Ashover Road.

As I passed by the bench I noticed it was looking a bit grubby, bits of moss or algae growing on the seat and back slats, and drops of bird poo on the bench's arms. There were some peculiar rusty red patches on the vertical slats, possibly lichen. I had intended to to stop and sit on the bench and have a contemplative moment; I didn't fancy sitting down.

It was a lovely sunny day. Earlier I had heard the cry of a buzzard and as I looked towards Alton I could several buzzards circling over a wood. I eventually managed to count five individuals. I guess this was a family of buzzards which had been breeding in the woods nearby. They were very vocal, constantly screeching to each other even though they never lost sight of the others. Then two Goldfinches flew over in their bouncy flight with that jangling flight-song they have.

All was well with the world. A lovely spot to stop, even if I didn't get to sit down on the bench.

Today, I got a bucket, filled it with warm water and with a simple plastic scrubbing brush scrubbed off the green algae or moss, bringing back a nice warm brown colour to the bench. This is the first time I have cleaned it in the two years since I unveiled it.

I hope passerbys are more tempted to sit on my bench now I have cleaned it.

Friday, 4 July 2014

A new perspective from the bench

View along the road past the bench at sunsetAt sunset last night, I was walking towards the bench to have a little sit down and a meditative ponder, and I noticed this wonderful view of the road that leads past the bench.

Just goes to show. You should never get into a routine of looking, be on the look out for different angles, new perspectives and new scenes. And carry a camera.

Friday, 2 May 2014

An Easter Tea Party - the difference one year can make

This Easter we were able to take our tea on the bench in lovely sunny weather, with the daffodils and tulips in bloom, the early tree buds bursting into green and the Blackthorn blossom scattered like discarded white plastic bags across the hedgerows.

And last year we had to dig out a snow drift so the car could get up the drive.

The bench is beginning to look weathered. No longer a golden hue and a distinct whitening to it. I think this summer I will go and give it a good clean and apply some teak oil, to give it a new sheen.

Friday, 31 May 2013

Quick early summer visit

I had a lovely late evening stroll and sit on my bench after a wedding in Thurgoland. It was a flying visit, up from London the day before and then back to London that evening.

It is a grand place to sit and stare.

Mi-Mi and Lu Lu came to find me and call me to catch my train.

MiMi and Lulu on the bench

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Bench in the evening sun, with snow

I think the bench is worth visiting on an evening just to catch the wonderful golden glow.

And the snow sets it off nicely too.