When Dylan moved to residential care I claimed his room for my study. In the process of transferring Dylan’s things to my old room a rack of unwanted shelves ended up in the backyard. I positioned them against a wall and decorated them with pot plants: calabroacha, geraniums, nemesia, campanula, mint and chives. They were cheery if wobbly; I jammed a bag of compost against the base to stabilise them. ‘Look at your old shelves’, I said to Dylan as we used the gennel entrance to the house one weekend. ‘Don’t they look nice.’
They did look nice. During stormy weather this week, however, there was a terrific crash one evening. ‘What was that?’ my daughter asked. I spent a while checking guttering and squinting at the roof before I realised it had been the shelves falling: what a mess, I thought to myself. The shelves have been lying face down in the yard since, waiting for time and light enough for me to tidy up.
Today was the perfect opportunity I decided; I was working at home and needed a break from my desk. As I picked out broken pots, swept and replanted, I realised how vulnerable to the wind the shelves had been. And then I remembered the bird box. I had bought it from Garden Creations, the social enterprise shop attached to the residential home where Dylan now lives, at the end of last summer. The products sold in the shop are made by the young people at the care home and a nearby National Autistic Society school; my bird house had, apparently, been made by someone at the school.
The reason I remembered the bird box while clearing up today was that after I’d bought it I’d realised there was no obvious way to fasten it to a wall; after puzzling the problem for a while I had decided the only solution was to stand it on a flat roof at the back of the house. The box survived last week’s gale but it might not be so lucky next time. As I reached the bird box down today I enjoyed re-discovering its imperfections; its joints, for example, are slightly out of alignment. I showed it to my daughter, explaining where I had bought the box and why it wasn’t, therefore, a technically perfect piece. Rather than focus on the imperfection, I told her, I preferred to celebrate the achievement the box represents for the young person who made it. This has even more resonance for me now that Dylan has embarked on his own woodwork project at the home.
The afternoon that I bought my bird box from the care home shop I had struggled to decide between a blue one and another in purple and green. The purple and green box was more skilfully made but both had idiosyncracies. ‘What is this hook for?’ I’d asked the Horticultural Coordinator, pointing to an insert on the purple and green box. ‘I’ve no idea’, he replied smiling; ‘ the young man who made the box added it ‘.
When he started working with adults with autism, the Coordinator told me, he had to let go of some of his beliefs and expectations about outcomes; the product was less important than the process. If he intervened to make corrections to a piece, he pointed out, it would no longer be the work of the person he was supporting. He had learned to stand back he told me, in order to encourage ownership of projects and freedom of expression. As a result, I told my daughter as I temporarily relocated the bird house, I had chosen the blue box that day.