I am on gardening duties, following the Nearly-Beloved’s instructions.
Or to be more precise, I am not.
‘I said dead-head not destroy! Into a pile not spread round the lawn. And why have you dug up those bulbs I plantedlast week?’
Before long I’m banished to the wasteland behind the apple tree to deal with the nettles and brambles as punishment.
You see, the Nearly-Beloved’s idea of a great garden is a neatly manicured lawn, fringed by a choreography of colourful foliage and flowers in a weed-free area. I, on the other hand, am a fan of overgrown wilderness mixed with a hint of anarchy and a splash of eccentricity. But marriage – that union of two different sides – involves compromise. And, over the years, the Garden Gestapo has taken over, chaining up my free spirit by banishing my bird boxes and silencing my wind-chimes.
I dig on until the spade hits a memory from the past – of care-free times, young children and laughter.
‘Look at this,’ I exclaim in delight, ‘that stone frog the kids used to play with. It’s lost all its colour but still got its sweet smile. Ah – happy times.’
The Nearly-Beloved does not have the same recall.
‘Bloody garden ornaments littering my lawn! Throw it away.’
But the bin seems too final for such a faithful friend. Waiting until the Joy-killer’s gaze is distracted I find Little Frog a safe hiding spot at the side of the shed.
Continuing to dig, I realise that I’ve stumbled across a safe haven for ornamental undesirables. For there, cowering behind the brambles is Timid Mole and not far away – a chipped, moss-covered shadow of her former self – lies White Cat. And, oh my goodness, could that earless lump lying on its side, once have been our proud Lady Siamese?
Checking that all is clear, I stage another rescue, before returning innocently to my digging.
‘You’ve not come across any more of those atrocities, have you?’
I smile the smile of the oppressed who’ve suddenly been thrown a life-line.
‘No, that was the only one…’
But I know now that more rebels will seek sanctuary and before long Bouncy Bunny, who’s sacrificed his tail to the struggle, hops out of hiding and leads me to the greatest find of all – Old Brock. War-damaged, his hero stripes are no longer recognisable, but he’s all in one piece and ready to lead his battalion again.
And over the next few days, I tend to their wounds, washing off the mud and sanding them down. But how can I restore them to their former glory? It’s not safe to go out and buy paint – that would arouse too much suspicion. Instead, I make do with underground materials salvaged from the cellar. A tin of white gloss, a pot of black enamel and some long-discarded bottles of child’s poster-paint help repair the damage.
‘Sorry – it’s the best I could do,’ I apologise to Lady Siamese, whose fur is now more purple than grey and whose eyes are not the blue she was once famed for. But Little Frog is charming in green, with black spots cunningly disguising his chipped skin. White Cat and Bouncy Bunny, it has to be confessed, are a little too shiny, and Timid Mole’s features are impossible to distinguish. But Old Brock is a triumph – a call to arms!
And so, under cover of darkness, the animals take up position once more in the garden. Lady Siamese disappears under the holly bush. White Cat and Bouncy Bunny patrol behind the shed. Little Frog stands guard, unnoticed beneath the ferns, whilst Timid Mole and Old Brock are ninja shadows between the tree trunks.
Yes, they may have to wait and bide their time patiently. But it’s only a matter of when not if. For they are ready, cute and therefore unstoppable, to stage a coup when the grandchildren of the future arrive to rescue them.