IN THE WALDEN ZONE

walden_FotoSketcherHow was your Christmas?

I had plans for mine. More precisely, I had A Plan, which was to go low-tech and spend as much time as possible in my Walden Zone.

I don’t know if you’ve heard of a Walden Zone, but it’s an area in a house which contains no digital gee-whizzery –  no laptops, no tablets, no mobile ‘phones – no communication devices at all. It derives its name from Thoreau’s Walden (you know, the one about different drummers and quiet desperation in a cabin in the woods) and in my case it’s upstairs in my north-west facing ‘studio’ where I do all my arty-crafty stuff when I’m not fully occupied with the tedious business of eating, cleaning and the finding and getting of food and money. Life being what it is, I spend most of my time engaged in eating etc and never set foot in the studio from one week’s end to the next.

So that was The Plan. On December the 23rd I would bid my friends in the on-line world farewell, switch everything – including the television – off and revert to the Stone Age sketching and painting during the day and in the evenings reading, indulging my passion for jigsaw puzzles or finally finishing the two jumpers, crocheted shawl and fireside rug that have been stuffed in the bottom cupboard ever since I moved here. I would only emerge briefly from my self-imposed exile to play convivial host to a couple of old friends and their in-laws who were coming for lunch on the 27th.

At about 6.00pm on the 23rd, after having shut down my computer, I decided to take one last look at what the world was doing by watching the evening news on the television. I reached for the TV remote, which usually lives on the coffee table by the sofa. It wasn’t there. I checked the other places that it sometimes wanders off to: by the TV, on the bookcase, on my desk, on the wooden chest by the side of the sofa, on the arms of the sofa, behind the cushions on the sofa, under the dogs, down back of the sofa, in the kitchen, on the telephone table, under the sofa, in the loo … I even looked in the dogs’ beds because the Old Lady Dog has a habit of stealing anything that smells of me and carrying it off to her bed to sleep with – which is cute but inconvenient. Nothing.

I sat down and tried to remember when I’d last had the thing in my hands, and remembered that it was at lunchtime, when I watched one of those programmes where people buy stuff at car boot sales for ridiculous prices and then take it personally when an auctioneer can’t give it away.

I retraced my steps since lunch and those steps took me to some unlikely places. I checked the washing machine, the refrigerator, the deep freeze, the garage, the deep freeze and washing machine again, the bird food tubs in the lean-to, the polytunnel, my car, the summerhouse, under the roof, the refrigerator again, the kitchen rubbish bin, the wastepaper basket under the desk …

By this time it was mid-evening and I was hot, bad-tempered and tired with a nagging headache – which wasn’t the idea at all. I was supposed to be having a wonderful, restful, stress-free time without flashing lights, humming monitors or the blue glare of a computer screen, nibbling on the little treats I’d bought myself, sipping a glass or two of something nice and just generally doing sod all with a clear conscience, preferably involving a book.

Eventually I simply admitted defeat and decided to have another quick look in the morning; after all, it HAD to be somewhere. I hadn’t been anywhere to lose it. The rubbish wasn’t being collected until Christmas Eve, so it hadn’t been accidentally thrown out. I was sure to come across it at some point – and anyway, I wasn’t going to NEED it for a week, so why worry?

Only the human brain doesn’t work like that, does it? It likes things to be right. It likes everything in its universe to be where it should be and it DOESN’T like nasty little unsolved mysteries and unscratched itches.  So the next morning I came straight downstairs in my dressing down and started turning the bloody place upside down. I hauled all of the cushions out of the sofa – which is actually a bed settee – and shone a torch into its private little places. I turfed out every drawer in the place. I emptied all of the bins out onto a sheet of plastic and rummaged through the contents, batting the dogs back as they kept diving in trying to get at bits of rotting nastiness. I took all of the cushions out of all of the armchairs. I looked in the washing machine, freezer and refrigerator again. I looked in the car again. I felt under the car seats. I looked in my knitting bag and sewing box. I searched through all the kitchen cabinets.  I looked behind the freezer. I looked behind the washing machine. I even looked in the oven. I went up into the roof and looked in boxes that I knew I hadn’t been anywhere near. I looked in places I was certain it couldn’t be simply because I’d looked in all the possible places it could be.

Finally, I had to admit to myself that somehow, and I would probably never know how, the damned thing had completely vanished from the house, and the only solution was to order a new one. Which is why, on Christmas Eve, when I should have been in the depths of my retreat from the world, I was on the internet ordering a universal remote which, I was promised, could be programmed to control 95% of all known TVs: because I knew that if I didn’t, I would never settle down to my wonderful low-technology holiday

Christmas Day was lovely – apart from the fact that I forgot to turn the oven on – and also couldn’t resist the temptation to look through all the cabinets again and check right at the back of the refrigerator, just in case. Boxing Day was lovely too – and I think I could be forgiven for searching through all my coat pockets and under the accumulated junk in the back of the car. My friends came the following day, and that was lovely as well except, possibly, the bit where I spotted something dark and shiny under an armchair, and lunged at it with an excited squeak – much to the startlement of my friends’ in-laws – only to emerge with a box of crochet hooks.

The new remote control arrived the week after Christmas and of course I had to make sure it worked properly, didn’t I? So I had a perfectly good reason for watching the whole of the Sound of Music. I was simply checking that everything was as it should be. It took me three hours because I was being thorough, not because I was singing The Lonely Goatherd at the top of my voice, or ogling the gorgeousness that is Christopher Plummer – because that would be shallow.

On the 2nd of January, having only partially achieved a week of blissful peace and quiet, I decided that – Twelfth Night be damned –  I’d had quite enough of Christmas, thank you, and started taking down the the decorations.

As always, the dogs helped. The boxes for the decorations were in the cupboard under the stairs, along with all the stuff I’d hurriedly chucked out of sight just before Christmas in readiness for my visitors on the 27th: spare dog blankets, a pair of boots that usually live under the coffee table (because I’m such a slob), piles of gardening magazines, bills I really ought to pay sometime … that sort of thing. The Old Lady Dog immediately shoved her head into one of my boots, as is her wont.

Having dragged the boxes into the sitting room, I went back to shut the cupboard door, and shooed the hound away from the boot – which is when I spotted something dark and shiny at the bottom of it. Long, dark and shiny with buttons on it.

It must have dropped into the boot from the coffee table before I tidied up.

Which, as my mother would doubtless have told me, is what what you get for being a slob.

(The illustration is Thoreau’s cabin in the woods, from the frontispiece of my copy of ‘Walden’.)

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