Always Look on the Bright Side…

Outside it’s grey, wet and gloomy. Forty-sixty millimetres of rain have been forecast for the Fens, but thank heavens the worst seems to have passed north of us. Let’s hope they don’t have too many floods in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, where they say the worst will fall later today. Here the garden is almost completely over-run with weeds – and huge ones. Yesterday I was pulling out sow thistles that were as tall as me. Even the dandelions are the size of small dogs. And as for the slugs: I’ll swear blind our Jack Russell  bitch, Jane, was nearly eaten by a large black one yesterday.  Meanwhile a pair of swallows that are nesting in the small veranda at the front of the house were feeding their new brood of three youngsters every thirty seconds or so. I heard a distinct beaky click as one caught a large fly about ten feed above my head. What a flying display! The new season potatoes (I grow a variety Foremost) are fabulous, but already they’re being mined-into by slugs; still, I refuse to use commercial slug pellets, as I don’t want to kill the birds and hedgehogs that feed on them.

But to look on the bright side, shrubs and trees are growing like crazy, and the pond’s almost full. Before the current batch of rain started, I managed to grab a quick snap of a rose bed near the kitchen window. I know there are a few weeds there, but I think the soft pink of a nineteenth century French rose named Mme Isaac Pereire, combined with a semi-wild blue geranium looks wonderful, and very English. And I can assure you the scent of roses on the air as you pass by is fabulous. That’s the main reason we like old roses: they smell. Yes, they do need more maintenance: more pruning, dead-heading, especially after heavy rain, and regular feeding and mulching, but even so, they’re worth it. I find most modern Hybrid Tea roses brash, ugly and scentless. Like so much of our modern surroundings, they’re graceless and sterile, but low maintenance.  And that’s all that seems to matter these days: low maintenance.


The Bourbon Rose Mme Isaac Pereire. This fabulous rose strikes readily from winter hardwood cuttings; it was bred in France in 1878. My bible for old roses is still Peter Beales, Classic Roses (Collins Harvill, London, 1985)

I ask you: What’s wrong with doing maintenance? What’s the problem with ordinary, routine tasks, like weeding a flower bed, or painting the Forth Bridge, for that matter?  That’s when I do most of my thinking. That’s when I plan the next chapter in my current book, or sketch-out a blog.  But isn’t it odd: everyone was delighted when it was recently announced that the Forth Bridge won’t have to be continuously painted. But is that necessarily all to the good? I think economists, accountants and other people who’d like to rationalise everything we do, should be forced to listen to Tom Stoppard’s play Albert’s Bridge.  I’d put that superb piece on the curriculum of their final examinations. Then they’d learn that routing work is also about philosophy, poetry and humour; in fact, it’s about life.  It’s a sort of Zen mirror on life. I’d also force them to dress up as Disney or Loony Tunes cartoon characters at least once a year, and for a full twenty-four hours…  Actually, that’s not a bad idea: maybe we should insist that other pillars of the Establishment should be forced to be silly, too; maybe judges, priests, barristers, prison governors and senior policemen. But not politicians: they’re too canny – they’d take it seriously.

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