All these weeks in and there is still something crops up to generate a renewed sense of gratitude for what had fallen into the taken for granted category.
The benefits of the benches are proving to be beyond measure. At beyond two metre measure, but in close enough proximity to allow conversation at a comfortable decibel level not to disturb the neighbours, these two garden benches have more than compensated for the effort to maintain their wooden slats and traditional green wrought iron ends. They are the same but different; one was already in situ as part of the property more than thirty years ago and weighs a ton, the other, half its age and being half its weight, is easily moved. Both have had their wood replaced over the years and probably fewer dressings with preservative than they deserved, but they have served their purpose well. Teamed up with a cheap D.I.Y. store bistro table and a few pots of geraniums, this area was once awarded three stars by a self-designated Festival Sitooterie Reviewer who happened to be in residence that year.
Throughout the early weeks of lockdown lovely weather, one end of one was occupied as a make the best of the sunshine space, but since another household, outdoors at the prescribed social distance has been allowed, the benches and a couple of odd garden chairs have come into their own. Real live rear ends have been cushioned and parked for the couple of hours in the afternoon sunshine they catch before shade and a chill in the air bring the visits to an end. What a pleasure to be able to share the space, especially with those who have to depend on a walk in the park to keep up the vitamin D levels.
There was enough sunshine last week to allow me the pleasure of sitting on other garden benches, in sitooteries warranting a higher star rating than mine, and catching up with friends not met in the real world for what seemed and truly was ages.
I imagine that most folk have a favourite bench they appreciate on a regular walk or visit to a beauty spot. There is one at the top of my list, thoughtfully made for me to mark a long ago significant birthday, which affords a view to the distance, the opportunity to acknowledge the foreverness of the mountains and the drama of the changing sky. A valuable meditative escape to mindfulness in the moment, until the midges attack or I am bitten by a cleg.
Often a bench is gifted by a family for use by the public, as a memorial to someone who would have had the desire to share the pleasure of the place. The little brass plaque gives the person sitting a bit of the history and a seat on which to enjoy a sandwich or spend some time people watching. Some of us will have developed the habit of wiping a communal bench with a tissue to remove any crumbs the pigeons or seagulls have overlooked, or just to satisfy herself – well you never know who or what … Changed days, when the need for a tissue has become a necessity for a disinfectant wipe promising to kill 99% of all known germs.
There was one bench my Granny was always willing to sit on at my childlike insistence, on the highest road overlooking the town. The Big Hooses on one side only and an uninterrupted view, a wee sittie doon on the seat provided an exercise in spotting familiar landmarks, naming of all the parallel roads below, and identification of the toy town villages on the far eastern edge of the bay. It was likely she was ready to rest anyway, because having reached that spot, we were only half way to where we were going but had tackled the steepest stretch of the road, and my Granny would be saying she was “fair peched oot”. With that I can now identify, and each time I have to hike up my steep hill, I wonder if someone from one of the big hooses will bequeath a bench to be placed half way up, not to share pleasure in the view, but in recognition of our shared gratitude that walking up from the bus stop hasn’t killed us yet, but may do soon!
I had a vague awareness of some schools providing Buddy Benches in the playground but had not heard until recently, of an initiative begun in Zimbabwe more than ten years ago and now, following extensive research into its measurable efficacy and presentation at a recent World Economic Forum, is being adopted by a number of much better resourced countries. Recognising that the needs for mental health support in his country were and are likely to remain unmet, Dr. Dixon Chimbanda introduced the idea of Friendship Benches, now more widely known as Grandma Benches. He provided basic training in problem solving therapy, C.B.T. at a primary care level, to a team of grannies who engage, on benches, within their communities, with people who suffer from depression, or as it is known in Shona, kufungisisa – thinking too much.
There is no suggestion that a chat with your granny is an adequate substitute for professional, evidence based therapeutic intervention when it is required, but there is already evidence to show the benefits to both, of joint activities between the very young and very old. Might there be an untapped resource in the Granny Generation who could provide the time to listen to or just sit on a bench with those young people we know will have immeasurable amounts of concern and anxiety rooted in recent and current events? Grannies would have to adhere to the rule of nae clipin’. There need be no reporting back unless in cases of real grave concern, if that’s the deal. Just sitting together, the bench length apart if distance is required, and providing the opportunity to talk and “get yer worries aff yer chest” as my Granny did for me. There should be no actual requirement to be a granny, because many who are not would be excellent at it and have more than enough listening skills to offer. Just wondering.
The idea sparked from a very brief programme trailer on Radio 4 which triggered enough interest to find out more. What else was there to do but Google Grandma Benches? Somewhat naively, I was surprised to find links and images to weights, gym equipment and several newspaper articles relating to octogenarian women lifting much more than their muscular body weights, in stances that would shame a teenager working out to develop an enviable six pack.
My benchmark for fitness levels is likely to remain my ability to reach home after making it up the hill, with or without a bench on which to re-establish adequate oxygen levels. We set our own benchmarks for many aspects of our lives, either to aim for as personal goals or to be satisfied we have achieved the level to which we aspired. The media encourages us to take the measurement of one country’s pandemic outcomes as a benchmark for comparison with our own, and voice concerns that we are falling behind, but take some weird misplaced comfort that we are not as bad as another. At least this far down the line, the statistics are now becoming more meaningful as the data on which they are based can be accorded some crediblity. Time will tell if we learn from what the analyses reveal.
In the meantime, we can only hope for a lot more sunny days, and must just wait for the gradual easing of the restrictions so that we can get back in the game. Until then, there is nothing else for it.
On the bench!