I am outside, trying to separate a 25 metre set of Christmas lights (“warm white,” I’ll have you know. I’m keeping it classy) from the house.
It all starts simply enough. I know how they’re attached. All seems straightforward. I was there when they were assembled, after all, one torrid night in early December in the pouring rain. I was hanging out of an upstairs window like a sequinned Kate Moss at a mid-noughties party, and my brother was downstairs playing the handyman (something that, to my eternal disappointment, I’ve never quite mastered) winding bits of wire around a drainpipe. It all looked so easy then.
Just over a month later and I am standing outside in the cold winter gloom on a kitchen chair I have moved outside for the purpose, reaching up as high as I can to unravel the wires from the drainpipe. The plug is stuck in the guttering and I have no hope of reaching it. I’m hanging out of the upstairs window again, this time wondering how I’m going to reach that plug. I can hardly leave a bunch of electrical equipment dangling off the porch in all weathers, can I?
And then the solution hits me. Piglet’s stick collection, honed over years of woodland walks, dragging fallen tree branches home along unwilling pavements; trying to stop a small child from pretending he’s a Ninja Turtle improbably armed with a huge stick and swishing it around like a weapon. My neighbours-who mostly drive vans and have stepladders hanging around their houses- are probably watching and laughing from their windows now, but I have a mighty stick collection, and nothing is more useful for removing Christmas lights from guttering than a giant twig. It’s what people used in the olden days, I’m sure. Sticks had ALL THE USES. Lighting fires, chasing away baddies, building huts, and removing wire-based electrical appendages from the front of buildings.
It’s February and Piglet and I are ambling home from school on a windy Friday afternoon. I am still wracked with guilt about waking up the previous night amid a whirling tempest I had not seen coming. Wind howling through the open bathroom window and hammering on the doors, and I in my bed unable able to face going outside at 2am to chase the recycling bins I had left outside earlier that evening when all was calm and still, and which I knew in my heart were now flying around the street, depositing their contents across the neighbours’ gardens. My father, a keen geographer, used to say that there were people in the Caribbean who could tell when a hurricane was coming from the beat of the waves, and yet I couldn’t even foresee this particular bout of wild weather with all the trappings of modern technology represented in my smartphone.
“I’m taking that home!” Piglet suddenly yells, and my eye falls on what can only be described as a piece of tree lying at the roadside, a relic of the previous night’s storm. I have visions of Piglet and I dragging the enormous branch behind us like prehistoric Druids hauling a Stonehenge bluestone. Do other parents have children who covet bits of branch, I wonder, as my mind flashes back to a summer day in the park some two and a half years earlier, when I had to wrestle sticks bigger than Piglet out of his tiny hands before a fierce-looking dog did.
And then I remember, sticks have their uses. Sticks were the first technology. Whoever discovered fire long ago in the mists of time probably had a stick collection to help them do it. Sticks were probably at the root of our evolution onto two legs, and lord knows they are good for taking down the Christmas lights. Who needs a stepladder when you can use a stick?
I glance again at the piece of tree on the road. “I think we’ll leave that one here,” I say to Piglet. He nods in agreement.
“If you try and carry that home, it will die you,” he warns me sagely.
Maybe he’s finally outgrowing his stick collecting days. Strangely, I think I might miss it. How am I going to get the Christmas lights down next year?