Sandy's Garden ... Distance

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We experienced a rather unsettling phenomenon last Saturday.

We had been visiting Ailsa’s cousin, whose home enjoys utterly splendid views across the River Tay towards Dundee, with the Tay Bridge … the proper Tay Bridge, sometimes erroneously referred to as the ‘Tay Rail Bridge’ … framing one side of the view.

I never tire of that wonderful view, reflecting on the words of the nineteenth-century French poet, novelist, and dramatist Victor Hugo: “One sees qualities at a distance and defects at close range.” How true that is of the riverside aspect of Dundee, very impressive from the opposite side of the Tay but somewhat less-than-perfect when viewed at close hand!

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The day had been cloudy and overcast, but as the afternoon wore on and the time to return home approached, the sun emerged, brightening the scene and causing us to wish we could stay longer.

Falkirk Herald gardening guru Sandy SimpsonFalkirk Herald gardening guru Sandy Simpson
Falkirk Herald gardening guru Sandy Simpson

But, we thought, we shall enjoy the homeward journey with the evening sunshine enhancing the green and gold colours of the Fife countryside. ’Twas not to be. We were scarce five miles from the river bank before we were again under a gloom of low cloud, its dreary drabness subduing the agricultural colours and throwing a greyish cast over everything round about.

Yet, looking towards the west, we could see the edge of the cloud sheet, blue sky tinged with pinkish-gold in a promise of more attractive surroundings just a few miles further along our journey.

But the promise receded mile-for-mile as we drove towards it! Like a rainbow, it proved impossible to get closer, the gorgeous summer evening colours always out of reach, tantalising and tormenting and always unattainable.

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And so our homeward journey was done under constant cloud cover, our immediate environs shrouded in ever-present greyness while we could always see a summer evening sky in the distance. The dream-like inability to lessen the distance between ourselves and our vision was both frustrating and rather unsettling.

It also brought to the forefront of my mind an experience earlier this summer. “One sees qualities at a distance and defects at close range,” proved to be true with regard to the wooden ranch-style fencing which delineates the boundaries of our garden.

There’s rather a lot of it; and it looks much the better for some attention from time to time. Well, from a distance the paintwork looked hunky-dory: but closer inspection revealed that … as appeared at first … some fairly minor patch-painting was required to attend to a few trivial defects.

The even closer scrutiny required in preparing the ‘small’ patches in need of remediation disclosed that the supposedly-minor areas were much more numerous and much larger than had initially seemed to be the case.

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A few hours’ work was rapidly turning into several days’ work; and, as anyone who has painted a garden fence can confirm, that is the only context in which the word ‘rapidly’ can be justified when ‘paint’ and ‘garden fence’ coincide.

Garden fences have a remarkable ability to expand; one paints for a couple of hours and then, with arm and shoulder muscles iring and with back pain developing, one looks up, seeking the satisfaction of seeing a significant part of the task successfully accomplished. But the far end of the stretch of fence being worked on seems to be farther distant than it was when painting began!

One’s intellect insists that this cannot be true; it must be an illusion. But it is a compelling illusion, one of which Derren Brown would be proud! It is frustrating, unsettling and disheartening. The only good news is that the disappointingly-small area of the fence which has just been painted is looking, from this distance, much the better for the labour-intensive attention it has enjoyed. But hold on a minute; let’s take a closer look.

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