house of happy

Life adventures in prose and verse. Explorations of places, people and words. Stories and fun.

Monday, 9 February 2015

History and the River Hut

Here's the thing: a twerp makes a random, self-aggrandizing statement - and chips a crumb of history away. It's not world history, or future-altering (I hope); but it is deeply personal and vivid - which is exactly where, for each of us, history matters and hurts.

So here I am, setting off at long last to record a moment from the building of our home in Portugal -because I find myself unable to go through the day until I've put that crumb of history back in its place.

In 2009 our boy Nikita (aka 'Cheeta', aged 14) decided to build himself a hut by the river. The river - well, words fail me, although the eye sees clearly, the skin remembers - and I emerge from whirlpools of emotion with a small, spent, pathetic 'aaah'.


The river, our secret oasis on lazy summer afternoons; there we escaped after long, dusty work - to cool down, swim, row, dream - ensconced in a dark-buzzing wildness.


We found citadels of fungi and nurseries of spindly bay trees. Blue dragonflies landed on our knees and a haunting gold haze lingered on the mossy ruins of our watermills.


The river was magic and magic demanded a wizard and the wizard needed a hut.

River hut with stone mills and sunshine

Cheeta cleared a patch of jungle - dragged away the dead wood, scraped off the fungi, cut back the bay saplings, stringed bay leaves on a thread and left it in the sun to dry. He entrusted a tree with the job of corner post for his river hut.

He built a skeleton of branches and a gnarled wooden ring-beam for the roof. He sneaked off with the chainsaw and chopped a few tree trunks into equal slices, a pile of rounded 'bricks' to stud his walls.


The villagers still remember how the little 'Ingles' spent his summer holidays. They would emerge from their siesta and see him carry wheelbarrows of sand - or lime, or straw, or red clay - down the narrow path to the river. A dusty, dark head, no T-shirt: nut-brown shoulders straining to keep all that weight from hurtling down, knobbly knees knocking and skidding about.

He fetched river water and made his earth mixes - then crouched all afternoon next to the warm flank of his hut, and filled and mended, and plastered and smoothed his walls. He made a window from a rickety wooden frame he'd found rotting near the garage.

At times Cheeta found strange creatures wallowing in the clay pit

He covered the roof with sticks and straw. He searched the main house building site and spirited away scraps of plastic and cork, to insulate and waterproof. On top of it all he laid an old carpet he had found in the recycling bins of a nearby town.

Wondering "what's next?" - exhausted and driven. He never stopped.

A river fairy was always on call for inspections, testing and constructive feedback...

One evening he took a sleeping bag, a candle and a can of sardines, declared his river hut finished and made it his home. The river sang all night and he said he'd never slept better anywhere, ever, ever.  He dragged friends and cousins along to the river hut and they made little fires, burnt sausages, melted marshmallows and chatted all night. Riots of birds, impetuous river and sunshine woke them up the next day and they staggered to the main house, tousled and bleary, hungry as haddocks.

"Bring-a-cousin-to-work" day...

When summer ended, school started and cousins went home, Cheeta stopped going to his river hut.

A homeless youth from the village lived there for a couple of months - until winter drove him away.  He left behind a squalid pile of plastic bags and greasy cans, burnt leaves and twigs, a ruined scrap of blanket, crusty socks. Cheeta looked sadly at the mess, wrinkled his nose at the pervading pong and spent his weekend cleaning up. He was the kindest about it - of us all.

And now I hear that this unsavoury 'guest' returned with a tale of how he - single-handed, humble, thankless - had built the Ingleses' river hut.

What about Nikita? Hey. Wait. No.

How does memory work, embroider, misfire? What prompts people to revisit the past, hijack and re-interpret facts, re-cast themselves as heroes? Shout some self-serving fabrication from the roofs and call it history?

This blog is my own shout from the roofs. The pictures say it all, really - no need for words. But the pictures cannot tell how clear every moment of that summer, how full my heart is, how proud-without-end of the young boy with the ember-eyes, the nut-brown shoulders and the calloused hands - who built himself a river hut...


2 Comments:

At 11 February 2015 at 14:02 , Blogger Suraiya Khalid said...

Really enjoyed reading this and the pictures are heavenly!!!

 
At 13 February 2015 at 02:09 , Anonymous Canuck in Bali said...

Wow, what a wonderful read! You really have a knack for words! Loved it :)

 

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