I’m settling in. I’m starting to find my way around. I’m so glad I moved here I think to myself but there’s no time to dwell on that now. There’s a half-naked man in my garden.
“How long is it since you last had a young chap stripped to the waist in your untamed jungle?” asks Rose, my septuagenarian, gloriously outspoken actress neighbour as she peers over the fence at the shirtless form of a man in his late twenties who is busy trimming back my clematis.
“Wherever did you find him?” she asks
“In the local paper” I reply
“Really? They are branching out. Of course, I never needed to resort to such things,” She says, giving me a pitying look “because I get a lot of attention…. but these are different times I suppose.”
“Rose, his name is Harry and he’s a gardener. I’ve hired him to mow the lawn and tidy up the… ”
“Oooh, I see.” She gives the naked torso another considering look “If only I were twenty years younger.”
Twenty? Really? I think but I say nothing.
The phone rings. Its Niles, features editor at one of the magazines I freelance for.
“I need 1200 words by Monday on anything outdoorsy as long as it’s not weddings. We’re up to our necks in copy on silk taffeta and doves and now Miranda says she’s developing an allergy to Mothers of The Bride and you know how she gets.”
I do. Miranda, editor-in-chief, is not known for her patience. Nor her charm. And most definitely not for her appreciation of what is considered decent remuneration for freelancers.
“Usual rates” says Niles and rings off before I have a chance to protest.
I look out the window where Harry is now clipping away at a rhododendron. Outdoorsy. Now there’s an idea.
At six o’clock the following evening I’m perched on an upturned bucket in a strip of allotments on the outskirts of a neighbouring village, hoping I can cobble together 1200 words. 1200 interesting words. It’s the bi-monthly gathering for gardening enthusiasts and tonight’s meeting is all about spring vegetables. I’m learning a lot. Not just about the threats of frost and pests and the pros and cons of cut-and-come-again salads but also about the seriousness with which these people undertake their hobby. And I like that about them. They’re passionate. And hospitable, I think, as a flask of milky tea is passed around.
A heated exchange then breaks out about a condition called bolting. It means running prematurely to seed apparently and is most likely to affect leafy crops, like lettuce and spinach and fennel when they experience stress and are close to maturity. Prematurely running to seed? Like us all (Ok maybe not to Rose) and so I couldn’t help but sympathise. With the lettuce and the spinach and the fennel I mean. I’m offered more tea by a big guy in an Aran-knit sweater who, somewhere in his forties, looks quietly attractive in a calmly capable way. At least I think he’s attractive but as it’s nearly dark by now I can’t be sure. I hadn’t planned to attend the next meeting because the article would be done but maybe I will I think. I’ll get there a little early and I’ll wear my… I force myself to concentrate on the matter in hand. Bolting. Could this be a metaphor I wonder? I consider my recent move from London. Had I bolted? There had most certainly been stress. I take another sip of tea and, as someone hands me a basket of courgette and sweet potato muffins (vegetables – they get everywhere,) the article begins to take shape in my mind.
Niles phones the following day. “Copy filed”
“And Miranda happy?” I ask
“Well she gave a grunt and so your guess is as good as mine.”
“I used to support them” says Rose when I tell her about my evening at the allotments. “I’d buy bedding plants and jam at their fetes… that kind of thing. I’ve still got several unopened pots of rhubarb and beetroot jam if you’d like one?”
I shake my head remembering the muffins.
“But then,” she continues “Some years ago, I was playing Lady M. around the time of their annual Flower and Produce show and so naturally I expected to be asked to open it. Local celebrity and all that”
She tries to look modest and fails “All right, minor celebrity. But at least I was local. However, they went for that irritating children’s TV presenter. You know the one… wears those ghastly red framed spectacles. Anyway, she’d played Dandini the previous Christmas and…”
I look blank
“In Cinderella! They’d picked a Principle Boy over Shakespeare’s most fascinating female character! Obviously had their heads in the compost heap for too long….”
That afternoon my thoughts stray to Aran-Knit Sweater Guy when somewhere from the back of my mind comes an echo of Rose’s comment from the other day about an untamed jungle. Hhhmm, I think. There’s a beautician on the High Street. I make a mental note to book an appointment.
TO BE CONTINUED.