You're always so involved in and committed to other people. Not like in the back garden where you can emulate the heir to the throne and talk to your plants and nobody really cares - least of all the plants. But back to the front garden. There you are down on your hands and knees pulling ivy off the trunks of the hedge when you suddenly come nose to nose with a passing dog or worse still with one leg raised it does the unspeakable.
If you attempt to sweep the path with an oversize broom a curious mobile child in a push chair will call out: "What's that man doing, Mummy?" Mummy will say in her best motherly manner: "He's sweeping the path to make it all nice and clean." I defy anyone not to respond and then do a few more exaggerated movements of the broom to make the point. There are those too who'll put you right: "You'll never get rid of chives that way. You need a special preparation." Do you thank the adviser, ignore him or do what I do and wanly smile as if to admit your stupidity?
The other challenge to your peace of mind is the sound of a car drawing up, the window being pulled down and your attention sought to direct someone. Now this happens to me a lot. I have that approachable sort of face and I clearly garden in a sympathetic manner. The trouble is that I have no sense of direction and in truth although I've lived in the same house for the best part of a quarter of a century, I still haven't quite cracked the sequence of roads off the road I live in. So it's either a case of pretending to be the jobbing gardener or having a stab and giving a rough idea of how to get to Ravenscourt Lane or wherever. It can of course lead to problems. Take the other morning.
I was hard at work tackling ivy again - the plant I mean not the young woman who lives opposite - this time I was actually on the pavement so in a manner of speaking I was rather exposed - when I heard a car draw up and an electric window purring itself open. Clearly this was serious business. A woman's voice rang out. "I say!", it said. The tone suggested a very superior upbringing, a person not used to being challenged and a style indicating that I was a rather inferior individual who ought to snap to it. I didn't. So the "I say!" rang out even more imperiously this time and loudly. Eventually I turned round to see a reincarnation of two characters in a TV serial called Richard and Hyacinth Bouquet. Hyacinth is a snob and likes her name to be pronounced the French way and hates being called: "Mrs Bucket". Richard, the very long-suffering husband in the TV show, was driving and on the side next to the kerb and was being leaned over by Hyacinth in a large hat and she naturally was doing the "I saying" bit. As Richard tried to keep his balance and his nose out of Hyacinth's hat, which was literally blooming, and pretending that he was nothing to do with this overbearing woman, she cleared her throat and explained why I was needed. "I have to get to a bank very urgently" she pronounced, waving a large handbag at me and I understand that there is a bank in Cavendish St. Be so kind as to direct my husband' Now I knew Cavendish St like the back of my hand and I could picture the bank as if it was right in front of me but I just couldn't think of the best way to get there by car. Richard's beseeching looks brought out the best in me and I gave him fairly good directions. He thanked me kindly and I smiled looking in the car for a reaction from Hyacinth but she had settled back with her blooming hat and I was dismissed.
As I strolled back to the garden checking with myself whether in fact I'd given the right direction, I noticed a brown purse lying in the grass. As I examined it, I noticed there were several £50 notes inside and there was a name and address showing in the flap: Mrs Hermione Sidebotham, 24, Cherrytree Lane, Beaconsfield. It had to be hers - Hyacinth's Hermione's and I conjectured on how she would pronounce that wonderful surname. I looked up in a vain attempt to attract their attention but they had long since gone. I returned the money to the house for safekeeping and resumed the gardening. For a full 20 minutes there were no distractions. I'd reached that stage in gardening when it all seems worthwhile and I stepped back to admire my handiwork. It was then I became aware of a flashing blue light. A police car stopped behind another car outside the garden and in that other car sat the celebrated Mr and Mrs Sidebotham. I guessed what she had been up to and turning to the house I went to retrieve the purse to cries from Mrs S of: "Stop him, officer!" I opened the door with the words: "Ah Mrs Sidebotham, I believe. I think you must have dropped your purse". Jaws dropped. Mrs S clearly didn't know how to eat humble pie - she hid in her hat and it was Richard who did the apologising.
So should you be passing number 96 in future, don't stop and ask that chap doing the gardening with a nervous twitch - he could seriously mislead you with the best of intentions of course.
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