Tuesday, June 17, 2014


Grump Day happened when everything in the garden seemed to have gone berserk – by growth, untidiness, weediness or expiration – and needed attention, urgently.

I am a random gardener. That is, I get a sudden desire to attack something that catches my eye and lay about me with tremendous enthusiasm until the job’s done and/or I run out of steam. The rest of the time weeds flourish in every crack and crevice, shrubs toss their heads and wriggle their toes, and that evil grapevine from next door resumes sending out its grabby tendrils, knowing that I won’t notice.

AJ wasn’t a natural gardener and could ignore the small signs. He left the designing and finessing to me, and confined himself to the proper man’s job of mowing the lawn. Occasionally he was roped in to shift barrow-loads of earth or bricks from one place to another, but on the whole he considered the garden to be something to look at, to appreciate, rather than to labour in.

AJ had two images of the ideal life in his mind, at opposite ends of the spectrum. One, when he was in austerity mode, was the white-washed monk's cell with a tiny window high up in the wall, a single truckle bed, a shelf with a few selected books, a decent cd player and loads of music – Handel of course, and perhaps Palestrina and Gregorian chants. The other was the luxury apartment in a city building overlooking a large park tended by an army of city council employees for his personal enjoyment. I clearly didn’t feature in the monkish scenario – and I’m not too sure about the luxury one either – but we all have our dreams.

Here in the real world of suburbia, however, gardening has to be done if one is to live in some kind of comfort and order, and AJ was nothing if not orderly. Which brings me to Grump Day. This happened about once a year, usually towards the end of summer, when things tend to get out of hand. A steely look would appear in AJ’s eye as he gazed out into the garden. He saw something not quite right. It displeased him.  And he set about doing something about it.

Inevitably we both ended up spending the entire day slaving like navvies, hot and bothered, sore, blistered and really, really grumpy, but not stopping until we had cleared, pruned, clipped and subdued everything we could see.  And then, with luck, Grump Day was over for another year.


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