I WAS doing some weeding on Saturday, and thinking, “You know, if you actually wanted to grow weeds successfully in bulk, you couldn’t design a more effective weed farm than a pathway of flat cobbles, placed next to a soil border, next to a grass lawn.” And I stabbed one of the little sods with the wallpaper scraper I employ for such tasks.
I don’t particularly enjoy gardening, and know nothing about it, but the weeds on the path were becoming quite insistent. Had I left them two more days, I would have had to use a machete to take the bins out. Another couple of days and there would have been a petition, possibly criminal proceedings.
Eventually, I warmed to my task. A life spent tapping words into a computer under artificial lighting can sap the soul after a while. But there I was, working with Nature and bending it to my will.
I felt like a proper writer engaging with the world, like Ernest Hemingway, William Wordsworth, Alan Titchmarsh. What did it matter that I’d been out there over an hour and I’d only managed to clear eight rows of cobbles? I was Lady Chatterley’s Mellors, without the animal sexual magnetism or shed.
Then it all went horribly wrong.
I heard a rapping on the door of next-door- but-one and nosily looked up. There was a man in a suit and glasses, with a clipboard, the unholy trinity. Nobody answered, so he marched back up the path and into next door’s front garden. I laid down my wallpaper scraper and listened.
“Hello, I’m doing some market research into how people are dealing with the economic downturn,” he said.
“Gah!” I thought. There is absolutely no way I’ll get away with pretending there is nobody in. My lack of absence was advertised by my presence. I was, literally, there.
I was going to have to find an excuse to avoid having to stand there and answer questions about how much I am spending on tins of cling peaches now, as opposed to in 2007.
Perhaps I could pretend to be the gardener? I was wearing jeans, and not my best ones, either. But he might ask me a gardening question and my carefully crafted fiction would collapse.
I decided I would resort to sarcasm. I would tell him I was busy. If he asked when would be a convenient time to return, I would say: “Any time I am not here.” That would see him off, the appalling time thief.
Over the fence, I heard my neighbour give him understandable short shrift. I watched him walk up next door’s path, and waited. He swung open the gate. I looked down. He was going to have to announce his presence, I wasn’t going to look as if I were expecting him. I heard his footsteps at the top of my path. And then nothing. I looked up. He was gone.
Then I heard another knock. At my other next-door neighbour’s house. He’d missed me out! No, wait, I thought. Maybe he’s not doing every house. But then he moved on to the other next-door-but-one, and then the next one. He did EVERY house in the road apart from mine.
I was astounded. How dare he? Did he look at me and think, “Well, it’s quite clear how they are dealing with the economic downturn. Extremely badly, if the state of their gardener is anything to go by. Look at his scruffy jeans. And . . . is that . . . is that a wallpaper scraper? He hasn’t even got a proper tool?”
I continued with my weeding, in a state of disbelief, wondering what was wrong with me.
Twenty minutes later, after I had cleared another row of cobbles, I saw him walking again down the street. He approached my path. “That’s more like it,” I thought.
“Hello,” he said. And carried on walking down the street. I have never been more insulted in my life, and I have been given more opportunity than most to court insult, with my glasses, clothes, inability to play football, etc.
And the weeds are back.