I am of the generation where we ‘backed’ our books at the start of each new school year.  Dog-eared and a bit tattered from use the year before (in fact, use over multiple years), a growing pile would be distributed by the teacher in September, leaning like the Tower of Pisa, in preparation for ten months of learning ahead. We’d be instructed to take them home and ‘get your mammy to back them.’  Eventually, you’d be old enough to back them yourself.  So began an expedition: to crawl into the roof space and rummage behind a box with granny’s fox stole, wrapped a green St Michael’s bag so the moths didn’t get at it; or into the spidery darkness of the hot-press where odd socks had fallen off the tank to stiffen and become lost in a corner of dust and webs; or to the back of the broom cupboard to search the huddle of ancient bottles of sherry used to lace mice pies and empty jars for next year’s jam. From one of these hidey-holes, leftover rolls of wallpaper would be recovered; never thrown out in case a patch was needed behind a radiator or under a leaky window or the chair on casters that, try as you might, always scrapes the wall.  Even if you weren’t from the sort of family that patched their wallpaper, you did, of course, keep the remnants of the roll to make covers for the weans’* text books.  There was always some woodchip wallpaper in our house; dreadful stuff, though hardwearing for covering books, and, once pasted to the walls, it was not for moving.  And who remembers Anaglypta?  A heavy embossed textured paper in repeating patterns, sometimes just a swirl, generally in plain white or cream, designed to literally paper over the cracks; it was heavy and could (partly) disguise an uneven wall beneath.  Once hung, Anaglypta was there for the long haul, and, if you were mad enough to paint over it, it was stuck fast.  Then, for years, wallpaper fell out with fashion and families painted their rooms magnolia, then warm terracotta colours, and then (don’t get me started) grey. I suppose the weans didn’t have books that needed backing anymore, granny’s beady eyed fox was smuggled out to a charity shop, it was finally agreed that sherry didn’t keep forever, and a war on spiders was declared.

Why this meditation on wallpaper?  Because I was sowing grass seed yesterday, that’s why. E. had dug up the old fruit bushes growing at the top of the vegetable plot.  Gooseberries, raspberries, black and redcurrant bushes, long since past their best, had all been uprooted.  I dug and raked and pulled up roots of resolute weeds, I flattened and evened, and then I sowed some grass-seed.  It felt like the gardening equivalent of papering over – I was wallpapering the ground. I felt sad for the changing landscape of the garden, but reminded myself it was simply change – the inevitability of change, of making space for something new to take shape.  Wallpaper hasmade a comeback, but, as far as I know, kids don’t back their books anymore. Our fruit bushes are a thing of the past, but by next summer there will be an extra swathe of grass, and before long we’ll forget they were ever there.  Who knows, some time in the future, someone might plant young fruit bushes there as the cycle of changes rolls on.

‘Sow A Seed Each Day’ by C.P. Sharma

Yesterday I sowed a seed

I saw it sprout today

Tomorrow it will grow into

Plant and tree

For fruit and shade day after


I mayn’t enjoy

Its fruit and shade

But it will make

A green arcade

For generations to come


Let us sow a seed each day

It will be a forest one day

God’s grace will rain from above

Fruit laden boughs will bow down low


Sow good Karmic seed each day

For generations a spiritual bouquet


*weans– Ulster-Scots dialect, youngsters, children

2 thoughts on “Change

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