“That’s where I want my fridges to go” says Jo, pointing to the metre and a half high mound of volcanic rock, old concrete, rubble and compacted earth that forms the floor of her new shed.
“So we need to level it out”. She hands me a pickaxe, a pair of goggles and some gloves and wanders off to get a shovel.
This is Los Aceviños, high up in the mountains on the neighbouring island of La Gomera. It’s Saturday and I’m helping Jo to clear the floor of her new shed.
When I say ‘shed’, it’s not the sort of neat, wooden-slatted structure with chintz curtains and a doll’s house front door that you see in garden centres or on 70’s UK sitcoms where the husband retreats with a bottle of sherry to escape his wife’s nagging. No, this is four uprights constructed of odd bits of old planks rudely nailed together and wedged up against the cliff face by more bits of wood stuck into crevices in the rock and shored by stones. There are no sides and the roof is an old, discoloured piece of corrugated plastic. In anybody else’s garden, this would be known as an eyesore; in Los Aceviños it’s Jo’s new shed.
I swing the pickaxe and bring it down on the rock face, dislodging big boulders, rubble and earth. Pretty soon I’ve got a system going; flat stones which could be used in a future path-laying project in a pile to my right; big rocks for removal in the wheelbarrow, rubble in the bucket on the left and soil (ish) in the bucket with the handles. Each time the barrow fills to the point beyond which I won’t be able to move it, I puff and grunt my way along the path and stop by the horse chestnut tree. Then, with as much precision as I can muster, I throw each rock down either side of the tree to land behind the compost box and return to start again.
Two backbreaking hours later and I appear to have made not a jot of difference. The fridges aren’t going to be moving anywhere in a hurry.
At 3 pm we down tools, crack a beer and watch the match. During the course of the afternoon as the tank re-heats we take it in turns to shower in the hot trickle of water in the bohemian bathroom where the wind whistles through the open eaves.
From the end of the terrace we watch Mount Teide burnished crimson as the sun goes down and we pull our collars up around our necks in the cool mountain air. The hot winds of calima have finished now and the autumn is moving in as quickly as the clouds that fill the valley so that you can no longer see beyond the palm tree where the washing line is strung. Darkness begins to fall and the birds noisily settle down, bidding their ‘good-nights’ across the valley.
We open a bottle of cava and decide to watch a couple of episodes of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 7’ before cooking. Tomorrow I’ll head back to Tenerife laden with apples, pears, figs, hazelnuts and lemons which we picked this morning.
It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it.