The Devil’s in the Detail

Over the past few weekends I’ve been mildly entertained by a neighbour’s attempts to cut down a tree in his garden. The tree was probably deserving of the treatment; it was a straggly old conifer that had overstayed its welcome but the whole felling procedure – and believe me, the production was worthy of Cecil B de Mille – got me thinking about familiar landmarks and how I can use them in my writing to add some individuality as well as colour, texture and even humour. They don’t need to be large or dramatic, in fact, for our purposes, small is definitely beautiful. It’s all in the detail. Here’s a selection of sights that are familiar to me and probably surround us all in some shape or other:

  • The green plastic bag that’s been stuck in that tree since forever.
  • The skeleton of the bicycle, no wheels, that’s been chained to the railings outside your office building through two summers and one winter.
  • The warped and greasy sign in the barber’s window, advertising anti-macassar oil. Anti-macassar oil hasn’t been used since before the war. The First World War.
  • The rusty supermarket trolley stuck in the bushes on the roundabout.
  • A plate of pigs’ trotters in the butcher’s window.
  • The petrol pump on the abandoned garage lot showing pre-decimal prices.
  • A single child’s mitten stuck on top of a fence post and petrified almost to stone.
  • The old man in the window of the care home you pass each morning on your way to school, sitting in the sunshine like a dusty houseplant.

The removal of the tree has changed my physical view of the landscape; I can see things I hadn’t noticed before. Not sure that I like this development yet, but it’s given me a different perspective on my immediate surroundings, and that can only be a good thing.


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