Sunday, 16 March 2014


I am sat in the garden, sipping a drink, watching my seventy year old mother rip trees up by the root. There's a huge silver birch in the corner that she says is the result of a bird crapping seeds.
'A lot of the plants and flowers come because of the birds crapping seeds,' she says.
I nod and continue to do absolutely nothing whilst she wrestles with a particularly gnarly looking weed.
Anything that woman touches grows beyond all expectations. My siblings and I are a testament to that. She's only five foot. We all tower over her. It's not that she has green fingers. It's that she's a witch. I'm convinced of it.
She never learned anything about gardening and she doesn't come from a family of gardeners but I see her tear bits off plants ('They are called “cuttings” darlinkk.' She rolls her eyes.) and shove them in a pot and in the blinking of an eye there's a flourishing thing.
When she was a carer she looked after an old man who had been a well known botanist. He had spent a large portion of his life travelling the world in search of rare or undiscovered orchids. He had two in his room that he had never managed to get to bloom outside of their habitat. He gave them to mum and asked her if she'd like to have a go. She brought them home with four pages of densely written notes suggesting optimum temperatures, how to drip feed them water and where to place them. Mum shoved them in a pot, poured a cup of water over them and left them on the window sill. A few days later a white and a purple orchid stood to terrified attention under her appraising glare. Witch.
I remind her of the story and she pulls off her rubber gloves, sits down and lights a cigarette.
'His name was Wilde,' she says. 'I have a newspaper article about him somewhere under the bed.'
She thinks for a moment and I can feel myself itching to pick up a notebook and pen.
Daniel Kitson said he once watched a boy in the park running in to the sun and thought the moment so perfect and beautiful he couldn't wait to tell his audience when on stage that night. His next thought was that he was a monster. What kind of person has barely experienced a moment before filing it under anecdote? Writer's, that's who.
'He was a lovely man,' she says. 'He really, really loved his wife. She was so beautiful. She came to the home before him. She'd had a stroke. He came to visit every day. He would be there when she woke up and he wouldn't leave until she was peacefully asleep.'
She's a natural storyteller. She sets the scene and I am already picturing it, wondering how they met, how long they were together.
'She had a balcony that lead out to the communal garden. There was a little hillock outside. I found him out there one day on his hands and knees digging the whole thing up. “You'll get in trouble,” I told him. He smiled. “I pay enough.” He planted the whole thing with the most incredible flowers for her. She would sit and look at it for hours. One night I was in the kitchen and he came in, it was quite late, and he said “She's sleeping peacefully.” He sat at the table and I made him some tea and a sandwich. On my way past her room I stuck my head in to check on her. She had passed away. I went back to the kitchen to find him staring at his cup. I sat down beside him and held his hand. “She is sleeping very peacefully ins't she,” I said. He nodded, smiled. He came to live with us after that. And on the night he died his daughter came in to the kitchen and said “He's sleeping peacefully.” And I thought; Bloody hell. I told her, I said; “That's exactly what your father said when your mother died. She nodded, smiled.'
I sit in the sun thinking about Mr Wilde whilst mum disappears inside. She returns twenty minutes later with her hair on end.
'I've been to hell and back under that bed!' She says.
She's tiny and I have this image of her climbing under the bed and entering a whole other dark world, like Dante's inferno, but with a head torch on. I start giggling.
'I had things balanced on my head and I got stuck and I still didn't find the article about him. But I found this.'
She hands me a newspaper clipping. There's a photo of me on stage aged sixteen wearing a St Trinian's school girl uniform and brandishing a crutch in an amateur production of 'Daisy pulls It Off!' at The Bishopstoke Players. I read the review delighted to see that my friend, Lucy, and I stole the show as Sybil Burlington (snob and rake) and Trixie Martin (mad cap and poet of the upper fourth). Lucy played the villain of the piece, haughty and humorously dry. And I played the overly keen, bumbling and terribly posh jolly hockey sticks character. I think about how Lucy and I interact more than twenty years later and realise that when we're messing about we pretty much still play those characters. An example would be a conversation we had a few weeks ago when I was terribly hungover after a works party and had the horrors about my behaviour.
Lucy: Well how bad was it?
Me: I was very drunk. Staggering about the place. Fell asleep stood up.
Lucy: Oh darling, that's nothing. I've done worse. Without leaving the house.
Me: But -
Lucy: Have an ice lolly, you'll feel better.
Me: I dare say you're right.
I think about Lucy and how much she has made me laugh over the years. Not least because of her horrific singing voice. I swear one verse of I Could Have Danced All Night sung at volume by Lucy could drag even the most determined depressive out of a slump. 
The people I love most in my life have one thing in common; they are all singularly hilarious.
In the film As Good As It Gets, Jack Nicholson states that 'People who use metaphors should shampoo my crotch'. I know what he means but can't help myself. 
My mum plants cuttings and over the years trees grow in their place. The seeds of my friendships have done much the same. Water for one, laughter for the other. Everything good flourishes doesn't it.