We stood on a hill in South London, as cold and wet as an eskimo’s lavatory. The lettings officer drew an imaginary line with her arm across a patch of sodden wasteland.
“This is half a plot,” she informed us, “more or less.”
She carried about her an air of disappointment, as if showing prospective plot-leasers around a soggy allotment on a miserable Sunday afternoon was somehow not what she’d expected from life. Clearly hating us all for our doggedness and enthusiasm, she did her best to dampen expectations.
“We get a lot of slugs. Foxes will eat your brassicas.” She paused, as if to lend extra weight to the killer blow. “There are cats.”
The subtext was clear. “You think this is bad?” she seemed to imply. “Just wait till you’re chasing feral animals away from your sprouts with a pump-action water gun in sub-zero temperatures come November. Abandon hope and leave now, then I might catch the second half of the rugby.”
The defiant silence that followed knocked the stuffing out of her.
“We’ve waited five years for this,” it seemed to say. “You think we’re going to be put off by a bit of rain and some foxes? We’re gardeners. We sit up all night in the rain just for the pleasure of cutting a slug in half with a Stanley knife. Think again.”
In my case, of course, this veil of hardiness was a mere pretence. The Flame-Haired Temptress is the green-fingery one in our household. My contribution, thus far, has been in the under-rated departments of Moral Support, Appreciative Noises and Occasional Vegetable Eating.
She had made it clear, however, that from now on this wouldn’t be enough.
“If we get this allotment, I’m going to need some help.”
My tone was airier than a David Gower cover drive.
“Of course, of course. Just tell me what to do.”
There floated into my head at that moment a little saying I’m fond of flinging at orchestras whom I perceive to have the memory span of goldfish:
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it – George Santayana.
And now I was transported back five years, to the time we thought we’d lay a patio at the old place.
“Let’s do it ourselves – dig out the area, level it, lay the flagstones. Shouldn’t be too hard.”
Sometimes it’s as if I haven’t learned anything from the nearly forty-seven years I’ve spent on this planet.
Never was this more starkly demonstrated than by what happened next on the blasted South London hill.
I realised that my estimation of our son’s enthusiasm for tramping round what amounted to a muddy field in the driving sleet (when he could have been doing something really fun like, say, beating himself repeatedly round the head and neck with a length of barbed wire) was somewhat optimistic.
“Shall we go back to the car?”
“Thought you’d never ask.”
We slithered our way back, and once ensconced in the car, I turned on the heaters and radio. We whiled away the next hour playing two happy games of iPhone Scrabble (I won both – kid’s got no tactical nous).
Anyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of car battery technology will be able to guess the result.
The man at Green Flag was, under the circumstances, quite nice. He only laughed for five minutes.
And if marital harmony was preserved, it was only thanks to the F-HT’s state of euphoria on signing the lease of a soggy rectangle of real estate on a windswept hill in South London.
Gardeners are strange that way.