Monday 19 May 2008

The Constant Gardener

I sometimes have co-ordination problems. I like being challenged to overcome it though, especially in work. I have good stamina. And a sense of humour!

I can do multi-tasking for instance - OK, kind of. Years ago, before kids, it was essential. I worked in the front office of a busy hotel and if you couldn't do three things at once and smile as well, you'd have queues of irate people building up - in person and on the phone... I learned fast.

Yet, yet, the memory of disappearing slowly head first/bottom up into the safe while multi-tasking there, lingers to this day. Well, I was taking a phone call, paging someone, paying wages and having an urgent silent lip-reading conversation with the barman at the time... and of course it is always good to see people really laugh out loud isn't it! Takes the tension out of a crisis I find.

Still, that was a long time ago. Now I continue to work happily as a trainee landscape gardener, learning new practical skills. In some cases like a duck to water and in others slowly - when I find it's like learning to work the clutch in a car, downright confusing! I try hard, I do!

Take last week, I'm bouncing along in the gardening van, wedged in with the rest of the team, after several hours spent learning grass strimming. I say learning... I haven't really mastered it yet in fact. At all. They are very very careful with power tools and spend a lot of time explaining to me how to use them safely. I'm really very fortunate with this work experience - I expected to be left alone a lot with the boring easy tasks, but it's nothing like that.

I sit still quietly imagining the evening news:

"A reckless woman with horticultural pretensions was arrested on a busy road junction in South Croydon this morning. Armed with a petrol-driven strimmer and blinded by protective glasses Merry Weather took out most of a young tree, distressed a lawn and was engaged in damaging a small ornamental fence when apprehended - police described her as flushed with embarrassment and dogged in her determination to finish the job properly..."

"You're thinking about the tree aren't you? Forget it, really, it was nothing!" they insist. And then they swear a bit and grin. One of them is a woman, small but exceedingly strong and very funny. If she was as tall as me she'd be invincible! I relax then amid grimy gloves and jackets, scented with rotting grass, feeling - relieved!

It was a question of co-ordination. A strimmer, I feel, is basically a small helicopter, upside down on the end of a stick. And it's incredibly noisy.

Before I set off with it I had spent a lot of time checking around me that no one was nearby, and nor were my feet...

"Tilt 5 degrees to the left and remember, the rotation is anti-clockwise" they told me. Sure, I can do that, copying exactly I set off. A quarter of a mile later my right forearm was actually bulging with effort. I've never seen it do that before. So I changed hands and was completely bewildered. Which way now 5 degrees? Huh? Cautiously I set off again, in a different direction, on smaller sections of lawn edging where I produced two effects - bald earth to the left and severely quiffed grass to the right. I felt a tap on the shoulder. Another demo ensued.

"Watch out for the long grass, you can get pulled in." said the head gardener and went off round the corner. Luckily. Because moments later I'd taken out a sturdy sapling and was making inroads on cutting down its tree! Wow! Thank God it's a communal garden, attached to a block of flats and not someone's private paradise. I can imagine the wrath of my auntie Margery whose garden is perfect. Reeling I moved on, blushing.

I showed him later and he frowned a bit and then said "that's all right, stop worrying!".

Later in the day, we pull up outside a private garden with an auntie Margery kind of owner... "don't worry we don't strim in small gardens". He detaches the head and refits a hedge trimmer. Oh No! I shuffle my feet anxiously, looking at her manicured shrubs, with fear. "You just need more practise" he says kindly, but hands me the hoe instead - Phew!

Ah well, I'll get it eventually. Even if I've to practise at home and remove my own lawn in the process! It's a beautiful time of year to be outdoors, the new blooms are perfect, so many different shades. My favourites now are the cool blue campanula, in springy drooping clumps and the rock roses with their fragile brilliant petals. Gorgeous.

Sunday 4 May 2008

Work Experience

Life as a trainee gardener is suiting me very well. Often rain-soaked, nails gone to pot, sudden outbreaks of ivy rash, concrete dust and woodchips inside my bra - what the heck, I love it! I'm happy as anything.

Last week I dismantled fourteen sturdy fence panels on my own with a mallet and carried the whole lot out to a skip. It took a little time to get the hang of demolition, but soon the mallet and I were inseparable partners. Every whack a winner. After a while I heard the head gardener chuckling - Die! Die! behind me. I grinned back. Next day he asked after my shoulders. Having a little trouble going forwards actually I said, still where's that mallet?

The owner of the house came out while I was dancing in the skip, compressing the panels. Why are you doing this? he said. He wasn't talking about the dance thing - because I like it, because I can, I said. What I can't do is stay at home thinking about the shopping and the school run anymore. And I don't want to be another colleague locked behind a desk behaving well. I want to be outside, working hard and seeing results. I want every day to be a little bit different...

I could have gone on about the smell of the soil, the damp grass, the quietness, the green shoots, the birdsong, the hum of the world; but that would have made me sound utterly crazy. And it was risky enough to be declaiming like this from inside a skip... But here's the beauty of it, I have nothing to prove, no need to defend myself. I'm just happy being me, doing what I do.

Following a strange exchange with another blogger, Mr Pineapples, comment moderation is on for the time being. It's a shame. Although everyone has a right to express an opinion, I'm not up for abuse. I may be Nice but I'm not Stupid... This is my place. Enough said -

Happy Spring!