Sunday 12 July 2009

I’m not sure we’re technically allowed to do the garden outside our rented house but, nonetheless, today we created a vegetable patch. I believe this is what the kids—albeit the middle-aged Guardian-reading kids—call ‘guerrilla gardening’.

I’m aiming to reinforce (or possibly create) a carefully-pitched image as a slightly badass hippy, which is clearly the only rational position on a great many issues—yes, yes, tanks, guns and violence are evil, but as a badass hippy, I’m happy to concede that there’s a certain macho chic to them which will forever make 24, the Bourne trilogy and Die Hard mindlessly brilliant.

We had decided to turn a patch of barren, weed-ridden ground into a bountiful latter-day Garden of Eden using some seeds we found. We are growing red and green lettuce, a slightly spicy smorgasbord of assorted greens known as ‘Oriental leaf mix’, some carrots and some spring onions (according to some hippy voodoo gardening advice, the overwhelming stench of the spring onions will ward off the scourge of carrot fly; since I am a badass hippy, I think I’ll take the little bastards out with an air rifle—it’s organic, don’t you know (largely because it’s totally ineffective)).

The first stage of the exciting transformation was to till the earth. As an occasional (rather than constant) gardener, the only implement I had to hand for this was a trowel. The trowel is the pen-knife of gardening tools, in that it is compact and can be turned to many tasks; it replaces a spade, fork, hoe and, at a push, a rake, without the burden of being especially effective at any of these surrogate functions. In particular, the short handle necessitates bending and kneeling aplenty, turning even the simplest of garden tasks into something approximately as hard as cleaning the Aegean stables with a chamois leather and a half-empty box of dishwasher tablets.

Herculean labour though an hour or so scraping about and pulling up small weeds whilst the afternoon Sun beat upon my bare back was, I established a connection with nature which was both strangely strong and unexpectedly enjoyable. There’s something about soil. It’s so brown, lumpy and unremarkable—but its very dullness stems from an ubiquity that even American cultural imperialism can only American dream about. Imagine finding a Starbucks in Tokyo and not seething with rage, or blanking it out in a mind-dulling cynical nihilism, but instead failing to notice entirely—that’s your reaction to soil. Globalisation? Soil has been there, done that—the whole Earth is made, for the top few metres at least, of earth. More than that, soil is made of plants, animals and people so long dead that they’ve turned to dirt—grab a handful, and let the millennia run incomprehensibly through your fingers. One day, you’ll just be soil. It’s weirdly reassuring to imagine a time in the future when you will be something so mundane and meaningless. Maybe it’s a reminder that you already are. You’re just a bag of molecules, imbued with the magical spark of consciousness. Make the most of it.

Further wonder comes form the fact that, as I carefully dribble a flow of seeds into a small rut in the earth, it is this brown detritus which they will slurp up and, defying local entropy, refine into delicious leafy salad via an inevitable miracle of molecular biology. What’s more, if our horticulture comes to fruition (well, vegition), my hope is that we will, one day, be self-sufficient in lettuce. I love the feebleness of this achievement: being self-sufficient in possibly the most useless of leafy salad vegetables is up there with being able to tie one of your own shoes, or completing the binary Sudoku.

That said, we can fuck food miles—our salad will accrue approximately one food metre because our kitchen garden is just under our kitchen window, next to the table where we eat. The carbon footprint is about twenty human footsteps, necessary only due to the slightly inconvenient position of the back door.

It was barely hours after I had constructed my small but perfectly formed vegetable garden, with a slightly twee sense of pride at my suburban stewardship, that I spotted a cat pooing in it. I normally quite like cats, cute, affectionate and low-maintenance as they are, with slight reservations due to my occasional (as opposed to constant) feline-induced sneezing—but this time, I wanted to strangle the furry little cunt. I was quite taken aback by my own angry reaction to this defacing of my piece of Little England, especially since the offender was but a shitting automaton who knew not what he was doing, rather than a compus mentis chav (admittedly an oxymoron) at least dimly aware of their transgression (shitting in a garden, even to a chav, is crossing some kind of line). ‘Cats like digging,’ mewed my weak-stomached feline apologist vegetarian girlfriend. My badass hippie alter-ego was getting out the air rifle—‘It’s organic!’ he retorts, loading pellets into the chamber as she protests. ‘Think of it as long-term fertiliser: in fifty years’ time, his little decomposed tabby skellington will be entropy-defying its way into a new generation of vegetables, for evil vegetarians, like you, to eat! Mmm, reconstituted dead cat molecules. In fact, screw this, let’s cut out the bacterial middlemen and stew him up right now with those Fair Trade carrots we bought yesterday, the digging, shitting little bastard.’

I settled for rapping sharply on the kitchen window. Our local moggy is quite a nervous little thing, and perhaps a few stern seeings off will see him off permanently. I did say I was only slightly badass.


  1. Like any applied philosophy, vegetarianism should have limits. Extreme prejudice against cats should certainly be permitted.

    Don’t forget to take your lettuce for regular walks and feed it every day, or whatever your Rural Life for Dummies book told you to do.

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