Back in a day, Joan and I had a small pre-press business. We used to write, design and prepare for the printer all manner of promotional material, annual reports, prospectuses, information leaflets and the like, mostly as the business evolved, for the not-for-profit sector , or corporate ‘social responsibility’ departments.
We can reasonably claim one of the better grass lawns for a mile or so, quite possibly this side of Queens. This isn’t an achievement I normally trumpet, for, by any standards it’s small and understandably of very little interest to most. I mean when I meet someone at a party, I don’t say, ’Well today I mowed the lawn and did all the edges including all four sides of the fifteen sandstone stepping-stones which traverse it, so now it looks like the most luxurious, deep-piled smooth green fitted-carpet conceivable made of grass, a sight to behold, the like of which you will not find for miles around’ Continue reading “Green piece”
On the ball
The heatwave gave me many excuses to retreat to the shade, windows open front and back for a cooling breeze, whence to follow the ATP Masters tennis on TV. It was too hot to move but I went to Monte Carlo, Madrid, Rome, Paris, Queens, Wimbledon, Toronto, Cincinnati and will soon be at The US Open. I’ve seen ‘em all courtesy of Eurosport and Sky. Not all of all of them of course; just bits of all of them. Mostly I pick matches with top players, particularly against young pretenders and, of course any Brit hopeful, like Kyle Edmund, or Joanna Konta, and even Heather Watson, who, in case you’ve forgotten if you knew, is a former Wimbledon mixed doubles champion.
I took two ice-pack cooler wine sleeves from the freezer, and desperately pulled them up over my wrists like cuffs to prevent passing out in the heat. They say it’s going to be worse tomorrow, but I’ve been working on my technique for cooling the blood at the wrist pulse-point, so I should survive. The blood circulates the whole body in about two minutes, I understand, and the wrists, where the veins are near the surface are ideal spots to apply coolant for a quick drop in blood temperature, as everybody knows. What I quickly discovered was: an ice-pack’s too achingly cold and running water not cold enough, but an open can of, say, Kronnenburg 1667, straight out the fridge, is, ahem fortunately, just goldilox.
Those, who regard cryptic cruciverbalists as time-wasting clever-cloggs, have a point. Learning the language and conventions of crosswordland’s not exactly a doddle, requires a decent vocabulary, quite wide general knowledge, and, unless you’re a virtuoso, time to spare; and you won’t get anywhere without cunning, self-confidence and determination.
I must’ve been asked my name and date-of-birth at least half a dozen times, and got it right in all cases. Even the trick questions, thrown in here and there, like “What’s your middle name?” and “Why are you here?” I could answer without hesitation. Hey, I thought, it’s a bit premature for dementia tests; I’m here for an eye op.
Funfairs were never my idea of fun. I’ve not been to one for years, but when the children were young, Joan and I were dragged off to our local park where, from time to time, a fair pitched up.
The evening sun has slipped beneath the highest foliage of the cherry tree. The leaves of climbing roses and clematises are back-lit by the siding light and their brilliant green set off against the darker hues of close-cropped lawn beyond, now shadowed. Here, on sunny weekend afternoons, dimple-bummed grandchildren run shrieking through the water-sprayer, but now all’s quiet, the air is still and warm, laden with the sultry fragrance of honeysuckle and jasmine; time and place for a glass of wine, and to savour the garden glory of high summer. Savour it we must, for at the rate which I pass time, it’ll be over far too soon.
So what are the spectacularities of which this glory’s made? We live in an area of blocks of terraced houses, but we’re lucky to have a back-garden about the size of a tennis court, maybe longer. We’re surrounded on all sides by neighbouring houses, so a priority for the back garden, previously pretty open to prying eyes as well as rather jungley, was privacy. We wanted an oasis where, when your raised your eyes, your view was not the dismal prospect of other people’s taste in net curtains, but something therapeutic.
At the front it’s privet for privacy; sizeable hedges which, when I used to cut them, were so perfect, though I say it myself, passers-by would stop, stare and often comment approvingly. At the back, at the bottom, it’s what we call ‘the shed’, which runs nearly the full width. When the children were young, it housed a games room with ping-pong, the site of many exciting battles. Now it’s our attic. In a separate smaller part, horticultural pharmaceuticals and tools, equipment, brooms, ladders, hammers, screwdrivers, saws, mole-wrenches and unfinished cans of paint are stored. It has that wonderful, authentic garden shed smell. What is it? Slowly evaporating white spirit with a hint of petrol and chainsaw oil, maybe.
In front of the shed on the left there’s a large clump of bamboo, and a profuse, bright red flowered rambler, which climbs 5 metres to the top of an old tree stump. I’ve seen it on Google Earth, so that makes it visible from space.
The long sides are brick walls, above which rise trellises, now largely hidden in the tangles of various climbers. Across the lawn close to the old cherry, whose fruits in June normally hang like grapes, and are so scrumptious it’s not possible to eat enough, we come to the big ones: the two pergolas. One spans the width of the garden, a colonnade four metres high. On it there’re trellises of roses, clematises and two enormous and spectacular Chinese jasmines. The other runs at right angles back to the side of the conservatory. Along this swarms a late flowering rambler, and up a post, a clematis.
This picture taken from the top of the house gives you some idea of the geography.
You can see the two pergolas, the one across the garden edging a terrace with implanted shrubs, and beyond, the lawn and the hardwood dais in its corner. At the top of the picture, above the group sitting on the dais, you can just make out the reddish tinge of the blooming climber (Chevy Chase, visible from space) and behind it the glazed pitch of the shed. Just beyond the main pergola are the top branches of the old cherry, behind which the sun slips at close of play.
When we sit or stand on the deck, we don’t see the backs of the adjacent houses, nor their net curtains, for these pergolas are cunningly placed to block their view. We look up to the massive pink profusion of rose bloom-swags that hang from the second pergola on the left. ‘Blushing Lucy’ is its name and Mills & Boon its tenor, yet its display is so outrageous, its hyper-romanticism is forborne. In front, the huge Chinese jasmines, with their myriad star blooms, drench the air with perfume as well as exclude the sight of top floors of houses backing onto the wall at the bottom .
This is what we see when we sip our wine of an evening and look up.
You’ll agree: it beats net curtains; certainly glory enough for us. What you can’t see see are the affairs of the clematises. Blue Jackman nods deferentially to the blousy pink Comtesse de Bouchard but his entanglement with the late-flowering Duchess of Albany will soon be exposed, while on other posts, magenta Niobe is inextricably involved with the purple President. Nearly all the credit for the planting goes to our good friend, and professional adviser, Alison Wear.
One year we were persuaded by a local councillor to enter the borough’s Best Back Garden Competition. It gives me pleasure to remember that we won. Other years we opened the garden to the public via the National Garden Scheme, but stopped when we found the money raised was barely worth the effort. The garden, though, has never been so assiduously groomed as then. It was even featured in an issue of Amateur Gardening. This is what it looked like an hour before the public was first admitted.
Paradeisos is ancient Greek for an enclosed garden. There are so many, many gardens finer than ours, and it’s by no means Eden, but when we sit and sip of a summer evening, we forget the greenfly, the box tree moth, the ants, the vine-weevils, the slugs, snails, squirrels and foxes, not to mention the weeds, the graft and the back-ache, and think that here we have, however fleetingly, a little paradise gained; the collision of the Cartesian and the botanical. The beauty (and the curse) of it is: we do practically everything ourselves. Purrrr, purrrr.
Whether or not we stand on the shoulders of giants, it’s on our own feet. Not often do I review my feet. When, for the first time in many moons I seriously consider them, I am pleasantly surprised. Apart from a minor, and apparently congenital, skin problem, progressively collapsing arches, a somewhat rustic cut of the toe-nails and a couple of dormant corns, all is well.
Apparently, it was all of three quarters of a century, including every single one of its many, many momentous moments, before I learnt to clean my teeth properly. That’s according to the raven-headed hygienista from Spain who came to work at my dentist’s. This feisty young woman was, as you might expect, a bit of hygiene-Nazi, who took, I suspect, some not entirely innocent pleasure in bullying old fools like me into better ways.
At my first appointment, before she did the power-jet thang between the molars (that’s the one that nearly makes you gag because the water suction extractor, hooked over the corner of your mouth, is never in quite the right place), she announced I must learn to clean my teeth properly. Make an appointment and bring your toothbrush, paste, floss, and interdental brushes, if any. It’s free, so why not? A fortnight later, I poled up with the kit and gave la hispañola a demo. She became more conciliatory, seeing, to her ill-concealed surprise, that I wasn’t irredeemably clueless.
Normal adults are supposed to have 32 teeth, 16 in each jaw. I’ve only got 25. Now, with just this number you’d suppose that when I smiled you’d be confronted with an erratic array of pegs worthy of a nineteenth century Macedonian goatherd in his declining years, but you’d be wrong.
You know how many ears, noses, throats, not to say toes you have, at least I hope you do; but do you know how many teeth? I’ve only twelve top teeth. I’m short of a rear molar and pre-molar on both sides. The mandible also lacks its third molars and one lateral incisor. I’ve a dental plaster cast with a fixed grin, that shows all this. Orthodontics, when I was a boy, account for some of the missing, and lack of space, when I was older, the rear molar extractions.
Prima facie you’d think that a mouth too small for a full set of teeth could claim the advantage of restricting the amount you’d eat, a sort of oral equivalent to the gastric band, but if that was so, I’d have a sylphic silhouette. Nevertheless, consider this: the 2 minutes brushing your teeth, the longest interval bookending the waking day, recommended by professionals, must be based on the full complement of 32 gnashers, tearers and grinders. Well, I’ve only just over three quarters of that, surely entitling me to a pro rata discount on that dental eternity. So now it’s 1 minute, 40 secs, and a clear conscience.
Anyway, the señorita’s critique put me right. I begin with the floss. I use the “Glide” floss picks from the oligopolistic Oral B, which are perfect for poking around in even the most inaccessible interstices. My inquisitress approved. Now we have the interdental brushes. These she insisted must be the tightest fit possible. Have you come across Tepes? (Pronounced, I believe, wigwam.) She gave me a sample of grey, purple, green and yellow sizes, massive to tiny. Well, I’ve flirted, if that’s the word, with interdental brushes before, and now I use them frequently enough to wish the supporting wire didn’t get bent and go rusty after only two or three uses.
Preliminaries over, it’s time for the brush, electric Oral B, and paste, Colegate Total Something Or Other. The bead of paste on the brush head and we’re off; but, starting at the back, I’d hardly progressed from mandibular molar 2 to 1, when, readily exasperated, Iberia intervened. No, no, no, no, no. I’m supposed to rock the vibrating brush around each tooth four to six times so that, at the extremity of each rock, the bristles penetrate the gaps. Various brachial contortions, too elaborate to elaborate, and only perfected through daily practice, are needed to clean around the outside then inside of both rows. The exercise is polished off with a run down the grinding surfaces of pre-molars and molars top and bottom.
Don’t neglect to brush your tongue by means of rows of straight strokes from back to front, so the whole surface’s groomed. And by the way, the dentist has prescribed you this toothpaste, which seems to be more or less neat fluoride and costs only £12 per tube, which you should always use, and remember: after you’ve spat out, you must under no circumstances rinse your mouth.
I think: I’d rather risk the occasional filling.
One cause of the most noisome halitosis is said to be chronic consumption of Champagne. The same would probably be true of Prosecco. Pip, pip, Pop, pop.