April 17, 2024

Tim Dowling: hammocks are many things – ‘relaxing’ is not one of them | Life and style

Two years ago my wife bought me a hammock for my birthday. It came with a steel stand that had to be put together, but this turned out to be a straightforward bit of assembly. Once it was up I imagined myself lying in the hammock all summer, taking work calls in a pretend desk voice.

But in those days the pandemic was still under way. All three of my sons lived at home, and in reality whenever I left the hammock for a few moments I would return to find one of them lying in it, sipping iced coffee with earbuds in.

“Don’t you have a job?” I would say.

“I’m at my job,” he would say, pointing to the Zoom meeting taking place on his phone.

Over the course of this summer I got down to just one remaining son at home, but there was little in the way of hammock weather. I spent most of August in my office shed watching the hammock drip in the rain, waiting for a break in the clouds that never came.

Finally, a stretch of hot weather arrives. After a morning of sunshine, I go out and touch the hammock: it’s dry. That afternoon I return with a pillow, a coffee and some reading I need to do, although my plan doesn’t really include reading. Within minutes of finishing the coffee, I am asleep.

I wake to a dull but insistent noise, like someone plucking the strings of a muted guitar. When I look over the edge of the hammock, I hear it again. When I return to my original position, I hear it again. When I keep still, there is silence.

I climb out and discover the cause immediately: the threads of the hammock slowly giving way beneath me. There is a two-inch split in the fabric at its lowest-hanging point.

Outrageous, I think: this hammock is barely two years old. And there are only about five days of summer left. I walk to my office, sit down at my computer and type “replacement hammock” into the search bar.

There are many websites dedicated to hammocks, but none of those offering replacement hammocks sell the kind of stand mine came with. There do not appear to be standard sizes, and a like-for-like doesn’t seem to exist.

As I switch back and forth between sites I hear a sharp rip, followed by a thud. When I lean outside I see the middle one lying on the ground beneath the cleanly split hammock. Most of his iced coffee is in his hair.

“Well, well, well,” I say.

“Ow,” he says. “What the hell.”

“Get up and help me measure what’s left of it,” I say.

My wife doesn’t want to talk about hammocks over dinner, but for the time being I have no other topic.

“There are long hammocks and short hammocks,” I say. “Single hammocks and double hammocks, and hammocks with and without spreader bars.”

“It’s September,” she says.

“Hence the urgency,” I say. “I found only two perfect matches – one is 60 quid, one 79.”

“Seventy nine quid?” she says. “I paid 50, including the stand.”

“We already have a stand,” I say. “And two hammocks exist that fit it.”

“What do they look like?” she says.

“Rainbow stripes or Bayern Munich logo,” I say. “Your choice.”

“I’m not having either of those in my garden,” she says.

Throughout the next day, pictures of hammocks float down the sides of every website I visit. My wife sends me a link for the £50 hammock-and-stand combo, but I will not contemplate it. Anyway, I know from experience that £50 hammocks only have a two-year lifespan.

That afternoon, out of the corner of my eye, I spy an ad for a £69 hammock in a tasteful beige which is only 6cm longer than my old hammock. In a weak moment, I click “Buy”. Almost immediately a light rain begins to fall.

But two days later when my hammock arrives, the sun is out.

“It doesn’t look like the old one,” my wife says.

“That’s because it’s a different design,” I say. “A superior one.”

But the extra 6cm makes quite a difference once it’s hooked on to the stand. When I get in the hammock closes over me, leaving me hanging curled up like someone caught in a hunter’s trap.

“You look ridiculous,” my wife says.

“I’m very comfortable,” I say.

I lie there reading the hammock’s instruction manual, which mentions the average 10-15% increase in hammock length the new owner might expect over the first days of use. Eventually I drift off, swaying lightly in the breeze, until I am woken by the sound of my ass scraping the ground.

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