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The enemy in my kitchen

  • 10 October 2014

Michael arrives on the dot of seven. He prides himself on punctuality, among other things, though he will patiently explain if necessary that he’s not obsessive about it – he just sees it as common courtesy.

He’s come to prune some thick foliage overshadowing our back lawn, limbs that are higher up than I am prepared to venture these days, and to tidy up with his whipper-snipper and pull out weeds and other intruders among the vegetables and shrubs.

As usual, I feel self-conscious about this. As a sedentary worker professionally, I have always prided myself on my capacity to do some heavy labouring in my spare time – from rural fencing, ploughing, building sheds and shearing pens in the past to, these days, more genteel gardening, digging and cultivation. But a serious back injury put a stop to most of that and now, like the Ancient Mariner buttonholing the Wedding Guest to explain himself, I feel obliged to tell people like Michael that I would normally be doing these jobs myself if it weren’t for … Ah vanity, vanity, all is vanity.

Michael doesn’t mind though. He is no youth, mid to late forties, but hard as nails and seemingly neither surprised nor deterred by even the most daunting tasks. Fortunately, however, to be callous about it, he has also had back trouble and so is understanding rather than judgemental or, worse, scornful.

As we make the mandatory tour of the tasks ahead, he looks up at the sky, where an early morning blush is giving way to scudding wispy clouds, and sniffs the air.

‘Smells good,’ he says. ‘Looks like spring might be making a move at last.’

‘I reckon so.’ I wave an arm at the fig tree with its famously gender-concealing leaves in full, bright green panoply.

‘Funny how we dwell on spring,’ Michael says, ‘in a way we don’t with other seasons. It’s about renewal, I suppose, things getting started again – more so in the northern hemisphere, of course. You’ll be wanting to get rid of this.’ He stabs a battered Blundstone at a spreading outbreak of onion weed and bridal creeper.

‘I read just the other day,’ he says, ‘that a lot of people in London after World War II wondered if spring would ever come again. Years of bombs and destruction and some really freezing winters made them think that the seasons had been thrown out of kilter. Want me