Wednesday 11 May 2016

A hut story

A coda to the Hutters' Rally, May 10th, Kirkcaldy.

I talked all day about huts.

In the evening I set off westwards to my own ramshackle hut with sun in my eyes all the way.
The cuckoo welcomed me and the pipistrelle echoed that. I fetched water from the standpipe and the tawny owl sang my lullaby.
I rose early: greylag geese were my alarm. I washed in cold water and put on my old blue gansey, the one with holes. I drank tea and ate bread with the first wild sorrel here; I shared the crusts with field mice. A curlew told me of rain coming, so I said a farewell to those who had welcomed me and set off, further west, to the island.

Tuesday 1 September 2015

The tyranny of time

It's been wet most of this summer, with little time for work on the hut. The list of unfinished things begins to sound like Lady Murasaki's list of unpleasant things:

sauna not built
porch at front not built
back porch not built
sections of the brick path not relaid
window sill not replaced
old ceiling still in place
unfinished kitchen panels
floor boards by new hearth not in place.

On the other hand, it's been a fine year for mushrooms, with jars full of dried ceps, six litres of chanterelle vodka and two large jars of pickled mixed mushrooms.

First day of autumn today and a lot of wood to be sawn and stacked before winter. My list might get longer before next summer.

Wednesday 20 March 2013

tables turned here

In 1759 Edward Willes visited Lord Kenmare’s hermitage on Innisfallen, a small island in Lough Leane, Killarney. Much might be said about the poverty of the monks who founded a monastery there, where over time the great work Annals of Innisfallen was written. After nearly 1000 years there, the monks were dispossessed by Elizabeth 1st of England.
Edward Willes wrote: “The hermitage did not admit room for more than one servant to wait inside so the side board was out of Doers and the wine served to us through the windows . . . My Lord proposes building a room or two in the old Abbey style to retire to and spend a day when he pleases”.

axioms (propositions assumed without proof for the sake of studying the consequences that follow from them)
not: sentences (varying periods of time spent in prison)

on huts (though not directly the unfinished hut at Carbeth)

The history of hutting is predicated on two factors: simplicity and poverty.

Poverty, not of imagination, but of financial resources.
Poverty, not of resourcefulness, but of access to land.

Simplicity of necessity but not of design.
Simplicity of aesthetics; of thrift and scale.


Huts have always been the poor person’s necessity: a need for shelter.
Huts have always been the rich person’s play house: a need for simplicity absent in the lives of those who have inherited or acquired wealth.


Huts are a source of tension between the poor (who need them) and the rich (who covet them).


The history of hutting is littered with aristocrats playing peasant, with artists playing both.


A hut is neither a retreat nor an attack (both militaristic terms) but symbiotic and organic.

Monday 17 December 2012

Demented / work

"What a strange, demented feeling it gives me when I realise I have spent whole days before this inkstone, with nothing better to do, jotting down at random whatever nonsensical thoughts that have entered my head."
(Kenko, from Tsurezuregusa / The Book of Idleness )

Before I left, I made sure the hut roof was fixed for Morven's couple of months coming and going while I'm away. I went further than I had intended (don't we always in such things?) and fixed all the gulleys where roofs meet at angles, not with bitumen felt but with tin. It was old tin sheets stored here (not by me, nor by the priest who had this hut once); small: maybe 18 inches by 2 feet. Overlapped, they are better than slate. I sat on the roof and snipped each one individually to shape and bent it with a straightedge into its position before using roofing nails. Nail heads tarred. The plates I'm certain came from a long gone shipyard on the Clyde at Clydebank. Now at their work again of keeping water out.

Tuesday 9 October 2012


The hut is a place of solitude set among trees: birch mostly, but maples too, as well as ash and oak.
The equinoctial gales, quiet at the moment, have blown the early autumn leaves under the door. The first of these, as ever, are the small postage stamp birch leaves.
I sweep them through the open stable door of the kitchen, out where they belong, in the curl of wind and pulldown of earthworm.
My broomstick is a fine ashplant I rescued from a Glasgow University skip many years ago, along with two iron tipped bamboo javelins. One of those became a curtain pole in a Maryhill flat. The broom handle, painted for some reason in gold, serves still, a dozen years later.
Things come to rest here.
The gold of the handle is faded by use as the lit birch leaves I sweep.
There is no wisdom offered here from the maple or the birch.
As my friend Barry Graham has said: when we are open to wisdom, leaving ourselves behind, we see it’s there all the time.
It might arrive at a place like this, ringed by trees.
Wisdom fleeing like birch leaves in autumn gales and settling.
Wisdom might be found while sweeping.

Thursday 31 May 2012

An oak tree for David Keefe / Manjusvara 1953 - 2011

Two short poems and a set of instructions.

spitting rain
drinking Assam


among broom blossoms


The oak sapling is potted up. It can be planted any time: in an open space, unshaded. It will need plenty of room; one day it will be eighty feet tall and fifty feet round, snarled, stag-horned.

I pocketed the acorn six years ago in Sunart, stratified it over that first winter, then put it out in spring. It germinated. I remember the pleasure of the first two leaves. It grew on at Carbeth inside the cage I made to protect one of the apple trees from deer.

With the oak tree, which I’ve marked with a red ribbon for collection, I’ve left chick wire. Cut five stakes – it’s a better number than four – at least three times longer than the height of the oak sapling. Surround the sapling with these stakes, driven into the ground one third their length. At the centre dig a hole twice as wide and twice as deep as the little oak tree's roots. At its bottom, if you have some, put a little well-rotted manure or compost. Cover this with earth from the hole. Tap the sapling from its pot, tease out its roots and spread them out over the replaced earth. Cover them with more earth, taking care to leave the level of earth around the sapling’s trunk where it was in the pot. Heel carefully around the stem; enough to firm the soil around the roots without compacting it. Water plentifully; this will help settle roots and give a good start. Do not stake the oak itself. It is wild and knows better how to cope with wind than we do.

String the chick wire around your stakes and secure, leaving no gaps anywhere for a hungry deer’s nose or teeth. Ensure that a deer cannot reach over your chick wire. If you are troubled by rabbits, a little home-made trunk collar should be enough. Easily made from a plastic milk bottle. It should not deter growth. Just enough to stop rabbits eating the bark.

In its first spring in its new home: perhaps a top dressing of blood and bonemeal.

Bow to the tree; wish it well. Watch it grow.

The oak came and went from Carbeth. I remember the last time we went from the hut, me driving through Maryhill, listening to you and Larry, speaking loudly because of your failing hearing: Three men in a car; you both shouted at me in unison: you just went through a red light. So I did. So I did. Memories grow fond and slowly, like trees.

Tuesday 10 April 2012

The Lean-to Glasshouse

I think it was in 2005 or thenabout that Rokpa House, a Buddhist Centre in Glasgow was having its windows replaced. Rokpa House is an early Victorian town house with high ceilings and tall windows. At that time there were perspex secondary glazing panels, which were unwieldy and difficult to open and close. When the fully double glazed windows were fitted, I took the old panels to the hut at Carbeth. I knew they would be useful.

Last year, another house was being refurbished, this time in Helensburgh: a Georgian house, again with high ceilings and tall windows. The secondary glazing – and it was glass – was being removed, together with a glass panelled door.

Thus, after only seven years, I had the basis for that long planned glasshouse. The Helensburgh panels, eight feet by two feet will fit against the gable end of the hut; the door will be, well the door (although transported safely the twenty miles from Helensburgh to the hut in a rattling hired transit van unscathed, on unloading, the west wind took the door and stove in the single glass panel – it needs to be replaced); the Rokpa perspex panels will form the lean-to roof.

The framing timbers are all worked out, there will be plenty of reclaimed wood for the shelving: tomatoes and peppers, maybe a grapevine – the delights of planning a crop free from the grazing of deer is to be savoured.
Hard against the hut gable end in a whisky half-barrel, oak, but now disintegrating with age, someone, many years ago planted a then probably exotic Lawson’s cypress. Now overgrown and threadbare, I had pruned it to thicken some years ago, but that didn’t really work. Though it did provide me with some fine “grotches” as one of Thurber’s characters calls them (“by and by we go hunt grotches in the woods”, he says, much to Thurber’s bafflement): I know he meant forking branches that will hold up a clothesline, or make a thumbstick.

So the old cypress will come down for the glasshouse. It stood for perhaps fifty years and is in the wrong place, shading the hut kitchen window. In this over-temperate climate, we need all the light we can get.

But not yet. Though everything is in place for the glasshouse, this year for the first time, a blackbird has built her nest in the cypress, balanced in a grotch and looking pretty unstable to me, but nevertheless a nest has been built. She sits (or is there a pair?) on the eggs. Until they are hatched, and the chicks fledged, I can do nothing. With two weeks or so for hatching, a further two weeks or so for fledging and maybe three broods a year, the nest should be finally empty some fine day in late July. Maybe August.

The glasshouse would be very useful now, but the blackbird’s eggs and chicks outside the hut-kitchen window at eye level are rare and precious things, cheering me on while brewing the morning Assam in a way that even the imagined growth of tomatoes would never achieve.