Last time on The Hole: My cousin dug a big fuck-off hole.
This time on The Hole: My cousin keeps digging a big fuck-off hole.
30th September 2013, 16:00
“Shall we do some work then?” asks the tinny voice emanating from the depths of The Hole. At that, my cousin picks up his hardhat, grabs a pickaxe and plunges it into the dirt.
For the next two hours, we work methodically, my cousin loosening the rocky substrate before shovelling it into the bucket. At the sound of my name, I lean over the precipice, grab the rope and begin raising the load to the surface.
Coupled with the Cyprus Hill album blasting from my cousin’s smartphone, I envisage us boring a tunnel under the Mexican border. First we dig it. Then we smuggle kilos of banging chico to be sold on to the Americlaps.
It’s back-breaking work, but nothing worth having ever came easy. Pretty soon, my left hand is blistered and swollen. This isn’t supposed to happen to a writer. Copywriting can be dull and repetitive, but it’s easy on the skin. Tunneling to America, not so much.
Upon first descending into The Hole, I’d been greeted by a dead mouse, a swarm of flies and a stench of doom. After raising the rodent to the surface, my cousin had opined “Hopefully now the mouse has gone those things will fuck off.”
One hour into the dig however and the flies are worse than ever. The dull, rhythmic thud of the pickaxe halts and I hear an exclamation. “Jesus, there’s a live toad down here! He’s massive. He musta been living off the flies in here.”
The Hole is too deep for creatures to climb out; I can only assume they keep falling in and remain trapped until the mining crew show up to rescue them. I raise the bucket slowly. This time, instead of rubble, it contains an amphibian.
The toad looks rustled. I unceremoniously tip him out and he hobbles off into the bushes.
“I found a couple of shrews down there once, but one of them had tried to eat the other,” my cousin remarks casually.
With the toad gone, work continues for a while; my cousin excavating while I raise the bucket, feeding the knotted rope between my chapped hands. Every so often, at the sound of an approaching car, I’m forced to duck behind the makeshift screen my cousin has erected between the garden fence and the neighbour’s drive. How do you explain something like The Hole to your next door neighbour? Answer: you don’t.
An hour into the dig and a head appears at the bottom of the mine shaft. My cousin gazes up, squinting his eyes in the diminishing light.
“I think there might be something else dead down here,” he says.
“Can you see it or smell it?”
“Smell it,” comes the reply.
Jesus Christ. We’ve created an animal catcher. There’s an entire ecosystem thriving down there.
30th September 2013, 17:30
After an hour and a half in The Hole, my cousin surfaces for air and we take a drive to the local shop. Tunneling is hungry work.
“My parents are away for two weeks,” he tells the cashier in the village store.
“And are you behaving yourselves?” asks the middle-aged woman.
We glance at each other, my cousin covered in soil, and me, covered in soil, before nodding in unison. “Uh-huh”.
Back in the car, my cousin cracks into the ice lollies he’s bought. They’re called Nobbly Bobbly. “You know how you buy some kids’ sweets and they’re never as nice as you think they’re gonna be? Well these are actually quite good,” he explains.
Munching Nobbly Bobbly. We are officially nine.
The original hole
As it so happens, nine was my age when I last dug a hole. My brother and I decided to dig a hole to our best friend’s garden. It was to begin directly under our bike shed, pass beneath our mid-terraced council house, continue under a 20-metre expanse of grass, pass beneath his parents’ house and finally exit in his back garden.
The plan was foiled, a couple of feet into the dig, when my dad went to put our bikes in the shed and his foot fell through the hole in the wooden floor. I remember it well. It was a Saturday and we’d been busted after getting home from Honey I Shrunk The Kids at the cinema.
Two decades on, and I find myself digging a hole once again.
I’m digging because I’ve been asked to dig by my cousin. Family are meant to stick together, no matter how much you may disapprove of their harebrained schemes. Deep down though – like, 20 feet down – I’m digging because the nine-year-old in me wants to. It wants to make amends for the tunnel I started but never finished.
We get older but we never grow up.
I still don’t know why we’re digging a hole and I don’t really wanna know. Perhaps we’re moving dirt for the same reason people scale mountains and fist arseholes: because it’s there.
Why a hole?
“You could dig for years,” he muses. “You could dig a whole network. I mean, why not?”
Earlier, I’d suggested using tunnel supports to shore up the roof. A few well-placed poles might just prevent total collapse and possible death, but my cousin hadn’t been interested.
“It’s OK, we’ll dig it quite narrow,” he proffered. “It should be OK.”
> Should be.
20 feet above The Hole is the garden shed. 10 feet to the side is the house. If the tunnel collapses, it’s taking the lot like a vengeful ex-wife – the home and the garden. In the best-case scenario, no one dies and I get to write a funny blog. The worst case…well, that’s something I don’t wanna think about.
Why did I come here?
Technically I’m the responsible adult here. The bucket stops with me and, as the senior partner, so does the buck. So why is it so hard to stop this thing in its tracks?
I have clients bugging me for overdue work, a neglected girlfriend back home and child support arrears, yet I’m immersed in the mission. Nothing comes between a man and his hole.
Tuesday 1st October 11:30
In the grey light of the next morning, however, I have a moment of doubt. Perhaps it would be better if The Hole were abandoned. The night before, my cousin had joked about its completion date being 2025. “Do you think we can realistically get this done?” he’d pondered. It was an open-ended question, and one I didn’t have the answer to.
Come Tuesday morning, that word – realistically – is popping up again, this time in regards to money I’m owed by clients.
“realistically are you going to get paid?” asks my girlfriend on chat. “because that’s really what it’s about. not writing blogs about your cousin’s hole at the bottom of the garden.”
“some stories are too good not to tell,” I counter. “have you seen the fucking pics?”
“yeah it’s mental,” she types, “and i’m worried about your safety.”
The previous evening, one of my mates had Skyped similar concerns.
wow, it’s a little – erm – creepy,” she began.
Before I can resume work, my girlfriend pops up on chat once again. She’s read part one of The Hole and is unhappy. By chance, Ravi also appears on chat at the same time. Before I know it, I’m being chastised in stereo:
Despite the sage advice of my nearest and dearest, the dig is back on. It’s a bright day, and what’s more, there are no dead animals at the base of The Hole this morning. It’s a sign.
“Let’s see if we can get some better lighting,” says my cousin, descending the ladder. The torch batteries are recharged and so is he. The Hole (part II) is on.
My hand is badly blistered from the previous day’s exertions and my back hurts like a bitch, yet I’m feeling good. I have £7 to my name and I’m digging a hole. A motherfucking hole.
How many grown men get to say that?
Next stop: China
After an hour or so, my cousin comes up for air. “It’s pretty smelly down there cos of all the flies that are still there,” he concedes.
You know what would make an illegal mine even safer? That’s right – fire!
I descend the ladder, carefully carrying a metal pail. It’s stuffed with newspaper. When I get to the bottom, I pause while my eyes adjust to the gloom. My cousin has done a sterling job. Our small man cave has now expanded into a fairly spacious man cave. There’s even room to stand up.
Before our subterranean house can be called a home, however, there’s still one matter to attend to: the flies, which have been hatching on the roof of the cave.
Within seconds, the newspaper is alight and burning merrily. Pulling my t-shirt over my face, I swiftly ascend the ladder. From the mouth of the mine shaft, I watch the smoke billow out.
Tuesday 1st October 14:10
While the fire cleanses the lair, we head indoors for a breather.
“When we go back out, do you wanna dig for a bit?” asks my cousin.
“Sure,” I reply, like the yes man that I am.
“If the smoke’s still bad I’ve maybe got a dust mask,” he adds. My cousin disappears and returns a moment later clutching something in his right hand.
“I couldn’t find it, but maybe just put this around your face”.
It’s a tea towel.
Fuck it, I shrug. This isn’t a fashion show after all – it’s a serious architectural dig. I dampen the tea towel with cold water, tie it around my mouth and return to The Hole.
Down at ground zero, things aren’t looking so good. The fire is out but The Hole is still thick with smoke. Digging and breathing 20 feet below the surface is not an option. Back to the house we go.
While I’ve been pulling Zapatista poses in the mirror, my girlfriend has been texting me pictures of Durex vibrating rings as a reminder of all the fun I could be having if I wasn’t digging a hole.
I glance at my phone. It’s three o’clock. In 90 minutes, the Megabus that will return me to Edinburgh departs. I’m muddy, I’m sweaty, I’m smoky and I haven’t showered in three days. It’s probably time to go home.
I reluctantly say my goodbyes to the smoking crater we’ve carved into the garden. We’ve dug some shit, we’ve burned some shit and we’ve killed some shit. Best of all, neither of us has wound up trapped under 20 feet of soil and shed.
There’s always next week though; after all, my cousin’s parents aren’t back for another ten days. What if I was to return at the weekend and do it all over again?
My cousin drives me into town, where I catch the regional bus to the station where the Megabus awaits. As I am soon to discover, however, I can dig a hole to China but I can’t catch a Megabus. Oh well. At least I can count on my kind, understanding girlfriend not to throw a fit…
Things we’ve learned today:
> Digging holes is stupid
> Missing buses is stupid
> Stupid boys are stupid
> Stupid stupid is stupid