Last weekend, I found myself at a grubby reclamation yard. Not in a revelatory, momentous, personal kind of way. I simply mean I was there. In person. At the reclamation yard.
This is important because I was there with my wife and not my children, who are beautiful, all-encompassing creatures who fill my days with joy and nonsense. When I am with them, they have my full attention.
This is also important.
We went to the reclamation yard because we wanted to buy a wood burner on the cheap and we’d dropped the boys off at my parents, so we could get stuff done. It’s a strange place, the reclamation yard, three portacabins jigsawed together beneath a corrugated roof that looks like it could go at any minute. It is cold, damp and full of curiosities.
We quickly found the wood burners. We stood by the wood burners. We talked about the wood burners. We had questions about the wood burners. My wife left to find the man. It is almost always a man.
While I waited, I looked around at shelves and shelves of tat and treasures. In that brief, solitary moment, all I saw was stories. Stories, stories everywhere. Stories and questions.
That piano, with its broken-teeth keys and filthy lid. Where did it come from? Who did it belong to? Why did they stop playing?
I took out my phone, swiped up to access the camera, took a picture.
I left my position by the wood burners and started walking. My mind wandered with me.
I found doors. Dozens of doors. Doors that must have opened and closed, opened and closed, opened and closed, thousands and thousands of times.
Who did that one belong to? The blue door. The blue door on its own amongst the other, more plain-looking doors. Whose door was that? Was blue their favourite colour? Maybe they hated that door. Perhaps they’d wanted to paint it red, but someone else wanted it blue. Was there an argument? A fist fight?
I kept going, noticed a group of chairs, none of which matched.
One chair had a name on it.
Who was Harry Redshaw and why was he so special? Maybe he was chairman of his local bowls club and when he retired, they put his name on a chair. Or did he die in-post? Was his wife so struck with grief that one night, six months after his death and under a thin moon and thinner clouds, she walked to the bowls club, found the chair with his name on it and sat for a while, whispered sweet nothings to the stars?
I continued. Kept my head up. Kept looking and finding.
A collection of curios. Odds and ends. Objects and memories.
Charles and Diana.
Who would own a tray like this? My auntie. She might have owned a tray like this. Would she have had it on display? Probably. Though not in her best room. No, she’d have put it on the drawers at the bottom of the stairs. By the family photos. Near the front door. I miss my auntie.
I do miss my auntie.
By now, I’d walked full circle, passed every nook and cranny at the reclamation yard. It took no more than five minutes.
In that time, I remembered everything I’ve ever known about writing. That will and wanting is never enough. Stories can’t be forced. They must be found. Found and reclaimed.
Thirty seconds later, my wife returned. She didn’t trust the man. He wanted way too much. We didn’t buy a wood burner.