As a child my parents were occasionally like a composite of the characters in the sit-com “The Good Life”. Like Margot and Jerry Ledbetter, they were a teaming mass of petty snobbery but also like Tom and Barbara Good, they were quite self-sufficient. We were dragged along on a regular basis to their allotment garden and forced to help out. In between we’d be roped in to help tend flowerbeds or the fruit trees in our suburban home or water and clean the many potted plants and herbs indoors.
I would receive unwanted gifts to sweeten the pill: a bright blue children’s wheelbarrow and a various miniature garden tools. For me, a Dutch hoe will always be something you push between your potatoes rather than a woman in a bikini in a window in Amsterdam. I recall happily the joy of being given my own patch of soil to grow vegetables in and watching little shoots of life poking through but this was counterbalanced by the horror of being a picky eater with parents who had a seemingly never ending supply of fresh vegetables.
Mud was never a thing I relished, being a pernickety child who liked to dress in tweeds and velvets like a mini aristocrat. I hated being outdoors and whiling away hours that could have been spent indoors hunched over a book reading about Milly-Molly Mandy or Narnia. I’d petulantly pace around collecting insects in matchboxes then putting them back unharmed later or kicking moodily at old tree stumps whilst thinking about the good-looking music teacher who played a guitar. I still recall the repetitive boredom of picking green beans or shelling peas, followed by the even worse indignity of having to eat them.
I longed for parents who bought their vegetables ready washed from Marks and Spencer. Actually, I longed for parents who didn’t buy vegetable at all unless they were pre-cut into crinkle cut chips.
The irony is that my parents taught me some valuable skills: patience and the ability to tend and grow things. I’m now a demon gardener and totally love nature. I’m also a vegetarian who eats at least 10 of my 5 a day. The ironic bit comes in also when you realise that in my London flat I haven’t got a sod of soil to my name. In times of stress I drift off and imagine myself in a soothing suburban garden full of flowers and fruit trees (an unlikely prospect, given London house prices). I picture myself in a cast iron Victorian conservatory spraying greenfly with a copper implement.
Even in my fantasies I draw the line at growing vegetables, though. There’s a huge supermarket round the corner. Some childhood experiences put you off things for life.
Chris is a theatre and book obsessed Midlander who escaped to London. He’s usually to be found slumped in a seat in a darkened auditorium.
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