Earth to Earth – November 2002

3rd November

 Dear Mum,

I thought someone was stealing the garden last night…

 It started when I had to go to the bathroom, stumbled out onto the pitch dark landing and coughed sharply. Instantaneously there was a bright flash. I coughed again. Another flash… And so, concluding that my post-cold hacking must be causing some interesting neural northern lights – occipital borealis? – I proceeded with my quest.

Then, on my way back to bed, another flash; and coughless this time… Less sleepy than on my outward journey, I was able to locate the source of the now frequent flashes as the landing window, where it overlooks the back. Torches! Thieves! Stealing the garden! Never!

So I hurtled quietly down the stairs, pushed on my sandals, flung an old coat round my shoulders and soundlessly eased the back door off the latch… Flinging it open, I expected to confront the robber green handed with my planters, but no, just another flash…

It illuminated a short, dark, hunched form on my left before plunging me back into blackness, but I felt the movement in the air before the thud and the crash, which explain why I screamed, but not very loudly. For it’s hard to scream when your mouth is full of wet bamboo, which is possibly why Giant Pandas are such quiet animals… that and their monochrome lives…

But anyway, poor Tigger, she must have been more startled than I was, hunting slugs from her perch on the bench when the door flew open… so it wasn’t her fault that she dived for cover, knocking over a fine specimen of Phyllostachys vivax ‘Aureocaulis’ as she landed. A tongue twister in more ways than one, the old bamboo keeled over just as I inhaled ready to yell… and I will long be thankful that the stems are quite soft before they’ve been harvested…

In the limited sky visible from the back, stars chuckled and the eucalyptus applauded the floorshow in an uneasy breeze, but the flashing continued… and seemed to be coming from the sky… So gathering an unwilling Tigger under one arm and my dignity under the other, I proceeded to the turn at the top of the garden, spitting the last of the foliage from my mouth.

Somewhere, in the six metre traverse that is our yard, the thought of aliens must have crossed my mind, for as I started the suddenly very long walk down the garden path, I placed Tigger on the ground. You see cats aplenty in the lost and found columns, but few were ‘last seen being abducted’. Besides she’s dull enough without having bug-eyed creatures in grey carrying out major investigative ops in search of a brain cell.

Step by cautious step I advanced; a sensory garden is one thing, but a gauntlet of floppy, wet herbs brushing against your bare legs in the dark is entirely another. And then, as I reached the top of the steps gazing seaward, there came a rumble so faint that I ‘felt’ more than heard it. My robber was Thor, and all that was stolen was sleep.

I’ve heard you talk about lightning over the sea before – admittedly usually in the context of getting in under the table – and will always be grateful that you didn’t pass your terror of thunder on to me. I know too that you had an excuse for your fear; being born at the height of one of the most violent thunder storm Fishguard has seen, with rain so torrential that your dad-to-be had to carry the midwife over the flooded road to get her into the house…

But mum, if you could have just seen the beauty of this… I’m sure you would have transcended your baptism of fire. No audible sound, no crashes, just the odd, deep vibration that touched your soul, and pyrotechnics that lifted it in the same moment.

Distant clouds were instantly shocked into stark visibility as waves of light sailed along the horizon. Sudden lakes of quicksilver flowed then ebbed, mirrored by sea without end. All around me the star-lit landscape strobed from stark positive to eerie negative; I stood mesmerised.

For me, it was all over in flashes, although I realised later that I must have stood with the night for a good half hour before reverently turning my feet for bed. But I still should have remembered…

You know Tigger’s endearing (but pro-creationist theory) habit of staying exactly where she is put? Come rain, sleet or snow? Well I’d obviously deposited her just by the Bay tree, for one of my feet found her tail as I walked back to the house…

 

I staggered back into the eerie embrace of the eucalyptus, whilst she scored a point for Darwinism by leaping into the outdoor toilet, wailing like a banshee and crashing into your old trolley. This in turn toppled onto the white cat’s food dishes, sending them spinning out into the back where they smashed to smithereens.

It was, then, around four thirty when your son-in-law opened the back door to find me, surrounded by shards of china, cradling the cat (in Welsh of course). I could see from the way his mouth moved that he couldn’t quite find the words for the question he needed to ask, so I smiled reassuringly at him.

After all, it’s a shock when you’re woken by flying saucers…

 With all my love to you… And Tigger’s too.

 

18th November

The course of Scottish history could have been changed irrevocably had Robert the Bruce been a gardener with badgers instead of a troglodyte web-watcher.

I too was an optimist when it all started. I had planned; sheets of jewelled crocus in spring, followed by waving flags of dainty fritillaria gemming the lawn, and then, come late summer, triumphant towers of lilies in the borders, floating their heady scent on every breeze… I had researched; species crocus are best for naturalising. And I had prepared; one of those clever little bulb-planting gismos, some sharp sand for the crocus holes and plenty of good compost to get the lilies off to a flying start.

 

The easy bit was strewing the bulbs casually hither, casually thither, to ensure a ‘natural’ look. Slightly more difficult was finding them again in the long grass. And the gismo soon got dumped in favour of a spade and trowel. Like so many ‘labour saving’ devices, its promise deceived; the challenge of both sward and October-wet clay was too much for both it and my wrist But three back-breaking hours, a couple of hundred crocus, sixty fritillaria and twenty one lilies later it was done. All I had to do was sit back and wait for next year…

There’s a great sense of satisfaction in inspecting work recently completed, isn’t there? A sense of virtue born out of hard labour; contentment at a job done properly. And so it was in a positive, if creaking, mood that I ventured to the quarry the next day.

The lawn looked like the Somme. Every area where I had lifted, planted and carefully replaced turf was now marked by a ghastly, muddy crater. Just here and there lay the occasional crocus or fritillary bulb – cast aside like tiny morsels a gourmand has been forced to leave on the side of his plate – but otherwise they had disappeared completely.

The borders meanwhile had been excavated with similar determination, but here the lily corms were all still visible. Well not exactly ‘here’. That would be too easy. Here there and everywhere is rather more accurate. And so I stood reminding myself how really, really lucky I am to have badgers.

Still, all was not lost. The lilies at least could be reburied… but which ones where? I’d planted, you see, in seven groups of three-of-a-kind, fairly carefully bearing in mind the hues of herbaceous neighbours-to-be. And whilst I’m sure mummy lilies can tell their offspring apart, I didn’t have a clue.

Detective work was hopeless, for sufficient midnight revelling had gone on to erase all trundle trails. All I could rely on then was proximity of corm to crater, in the vain hope that your average brock doesn’t have to push a lily very far to discover it’s not to its taste. And so they were planted again, with a vague awareness that at least I would have an interesting excuse for the odd lemon amongst oranges when they bloomed.  ‘I call it my St Clement’s group,’ I planned to say with acid superiority.

That was three weeks ago.

Since then, the badger boys have developed new games. I go down to the quarry now not to find lily corms in the borders, but to consider the lilies of the field – or of the lawn at least. If I knew no better and was less averse to anthropomorphism, I’d swear they’d signed up for some minor mammal league, and were using the corms for dribbling practice.

And by now, it’s personal. I’m starting to truly understand where the verb ‘to badger’ comes from. But I’m NOT giving in. ONE night, one night, they’ll revert to digging in the lawn for earthworms… at some point the lily-ball season has to stop…

And until then, as they dig up, so I’ll replant – although I have to say the corms are starting to look so bedraggled that perhaps re-inter would be more accurate. It’s a frenzied hokey-cokey; I put what’s left of them in, they dig what’s left of them out, in, out, in, out, shake them all about… Gone is the compost, the precision and the care. I kick them in now and firm with my boot, hoping against hope that THIS frustrated stomp will be the one to change the course of recent history.

And I’ve long stopped worrying about what colour they’ll finally bloom. In fact if they ever finally bloom I’ll contact the pope and ask him to put me on the waiting list for potential beatification. Besides, there’s always the option of gilding the lily…

Would Bruce’s spider have persevered if badgers had come and wrecked its web each evening? And without the spider’s inspiration would Bruce have come back to triumph at Bannockburn? I seem to remember that at the time he was being sorely tempted by thoughts of retiring to a little French gite… And who could blame him? On the one hand, the warm scent of lavender and the comfort of continental sunshine. On the other hand, an uncertain future doing cold muddy battle with powerful foes…

 I stare out at the wet gloom and wonder if there are badgers in France…

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