Are we tree bands? by Deborah Jenkins
The place smelled of damp earth and flowers. It was what-I-call a proper old fashioned garden centre with rows and rows of plants, saplings and garden equipment. No cafe. No indoor section with shelves of jam and china. No dvds. A garden centre with just garden things. Fancy that...
I wandered around vaguely looking for the things I'd been told to buy. The tree section? Pest control? I couldn't find them anywhere and this garden centre, though lovely, seemed completely empty. I moseyed between shrubs and garden sheds smelling of paint and sun ripened wood. This place went on forever! Finally I stumbled across two hefty ladies lifting concrete slabs onto a trolley already laden with items. Someone was buying the place up. I cleared my throat and they eyed me coldly.
"Excuse me. Do you happen to know... where the till is?" I shrugged my shoulders in a hapless fashion. One of them stood upright and pushed a mass of hair out of her eyes. She wore army boots and had tools sticking out of her dungarees. I felt out of place in my jacket and heels.
"Over there!" she said, pointing to a tiny dot on the far horizon beyond an entire continent of perennials.
"Thank you!" I replied with what my daughter calls 'aggressive friendliness'. She glared.
It still took me another five minutes to find the till, cunningly hidden between Bird-care and Grits and Gravels. There was no one there. I looked for a bell, waited, looked for a bell again, waited a bit more. Did they actually want to sell anything in this place?
Finally the two women appeared with their trolley. Wheeling it alongside, the one who had spoken to me went behind the till and laid her arms on the counter.
"Can I help you?" she said.
"Oh, sorry! (Why am I apologising?) I didn't know you worked here! Yes please, I'm looking for tree bands. I'm told I need them for my plum trees..." Her face was all cool derision. I shrugged. "That's all I know," I confessed, feeling incompetent, city-like and uninitiated in the ways of fruit growing country-dwellers. (Note to self: to be taken seriously in these parts, buy dungarees and read gardening books.)
"They're 99p each," she said, reaching out and grabbing two tubes of shiny black plastic stuff from the display area next to the till.
"Oh, that's good. Won't break the bank then!" I snorted inappropriately. Nothing.
I paid and left as quickly as I could.
It's true I know nothing about fruit trees, but I want to learn. And it would have been lovely to have had a conversation about them with Dungaree-lady. I could have asked her questions that she might have been able to answer. But, possibly without meaning to, she'd made me feel small, ridiculous even.
Had I ever done this to anyone, out loud or in my head? Probably. Naivety, however genuine, is genuinely irritating unless it's our own. Had I been impatient or dismissive of other less experienced writers or would-be writers? (Not that I'm very experienced, but I do know a bit about certain types of writing, particularly in the educational field). I thought of an old colleague who announced she was planning to top up her income by writing a book. As far as I knew, this person had little experience of writing and didn't seem to realise that it was unlikely any one would take her seriously. I remember feeling irritated when I could have been supportive. The trick is, I suppose, to be helpful without being patronising, to empower people not lessen them.
May I challenge us to encourage someone on their writing journey this week? It doesn't matter how far we are along the road, we all need encouragement, support, advice. It might mean liking an acw status or commenting positively on someone's success. It might mean sympathising about a rejection or telling someone to stick at it, we love their writing. Or it might be taking the time to give someone a piece of advice (in a non-patronising way). Or writing a review. Something small can make a big difference.
Fruit trees and writing have this in common - they take a while to bloom. Tree bands stop the insects crawling up the trees and spoiling the fruit. Failure, rejection, discouragement - all these things threaten at some time to crawl all over us as writers. Are we prepared to help halt the grot and be tree bands for each other?
Click on the link to see the novella on amazon
Deborah Jenkins is a primary school teacher and freelance writer who has written articles, text books, devotional notes and short stories. She also writes regularly for the TES. She has completed a novella, The Evenness of Things, available as an Amazon e-book and is currently working on a full length novel. Deborah loves hats, trees and small children. After years overseas with her family, who are now grown up, she lives in East Sussex with her husband, a Baptist minister, and a cat called Oliver.