Friday, February 29, 2008


I dislike adverbs.

They are almost as bad as plastic flower pots.

Both have occasional uses - but, mostly, not.

I’m starting a campaign against them - adverbs, that is.

This is its inauguration.

I’m inviting you to send

over-adverbial poems to me:-

If they are no longer than six lines - and aren’t very good - I may publish them.
(To publish good ones would be counter-productive.)

Here’s an example. (Ming wrote it in my honour. He’s doing English as a foreign language at night-school.)

Quickly, she lifted her feet.
Swiftly, she ran the race.
Neatly, she packed her adverbs
And sent them into space.

(Except, it needs to be worse than that!)

I look forward to hearing from my allies!


When I came down to breakfast this morning, Ming had dismantled his spaceship and spread

its parts across the living room floor.

Lucy arrived - all flustered because she’d opened a letter delivered to her by mistake.

It was another bill from Manchester.

She was impressed. If Ming was prepared to spend £5,000 per book about geraniums, he must be a real expert.

Then she noticed the springs and coils and nuts and bolts and motion distributors (and things) arranged in groups around the carpet.

“What . . . ?”

I looked as startled as I could; and replied quietly.

“Didn’t I tell you? Ming is working at the M.O.D.? . . . Um . . . Shall we go to the kitchen?”

* * * * *

Ming went up to the Junior School but still couldn’t explain why he doesn’t know the names of our children.

“It’s because we don’t have any!” I said. (Not only was I exasperated - I was frightened.)

Sometimes, it crosses my mind that he may not really be a Martian - simply ‘mad’.

_ _ _ _ _

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For Tomorrow

Thursday, February 28, 2008


It’s raining - and the shed’s leaking. (Our ‘Rambling Rector Rose’ thorns have gouged into its roof.)

I’ve cut the box bushes. By autumn, the sideways branches will meet. Then, they will be a hedge.

Mrs Rustbridger asked what the clematis is called.

“Clematis armandii.”

She was suspicious because it’s an evergreen.

“There’s no such thing as an evergreen clematis.”

(Why would I deceive her?)

I looked at it - at the way it has draped itself over the wall, at the clusters of pinky-browny buds which are already opening into white-star-flowers. I thought of the bikers from over the road who climbed on the wall last autumn and broke it and knocked it out of shape - which means I’ll have to cut it back when the flowers are gone and there won’t be so many next year.

I looked at Mrs Rustbridger.

“Yes there is.”

* * * * *

Ming’s brought his space-ship into the house. He’s worried it’ll rust in the shed.

I’m disconcerted because he’s put two nonexistent children on the school waiting list. When I answered the phone and someone in the school office asked for their names and dates of birth, I didn’t know what to say.

Ming says he’ll go back tomorrow and explain.

P.S. The hollyhock is doing fine.

P.P.S. So is the lemon balm.

_ _ _ _ _

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Cats think they understand gardening.

They don’t.

But because they think they do, they join in. This isn’t helpful.

Ming doesn’t understand gardening either but he likes to potter around in the sunshine, seeing what he can find.

Yesterday afternoon, he found two willow herb seedlings and wanted to bring them onto the kitchen windowsill so he could tend them - ‘because they are red’.

See what I mean?

‘Pottering in the sunshine’ isn’t popular on Mars - so he’s making the most of it here.

The blackcurrant bush was left un-pruned last summer, submerged, as it was, beneath a dome
of convolvulus.

I’ve cut away the dead wood and trimmed back the branches (the ones which touched the wall or were beginning to overhang the path).


Lucy is our next door neighbour in one direction. Mrs Rustbridger lives next door to us on the other side.

Lucy thinks she knows everything.

Mrs Rustbridger’s speciality is to think we know nothing.

Mrs Rustbridger says (frequently) that I should have destroyed the convolvulus and pruned the blackcurrant bush at the right time. She doesn’t understand. There were only ten currants on the bush and white-trumpet flowers are dazzlingly pretty on a hot summer’s day.

We’re ignoring the letter from the Manchester bookseller as assiduously as we are ignoring Mrs Rustbridger’s advice.


While I was cutting along the edges with Ming’s spade, I found a pair of small slippers, placed neatly next to each other beside the garden bench.

Ming said they probably belong to our children.

But, we don’t have any children! We only got married last week!
_ _ _ _ _

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Yesterday's letter was from the lady in Manchester. She says we bought a book on Algerian Geraniums (as well as immigration papers) and haven’t paid her for it. £5,000. Some book!

Worse, she says we’ve joined a ‘Book Club’ and have to buy something about geraniums twice a year from now on . . . or . . . else!

Ming says not to worry. He’s got a job. We’ll pay.

(On an M.O.D. floor sweeper’s wage?)

"She can't report us for having forged papers. The police will ask her how she knows," says Ming.

(Trying to be reassuring.)

"Don't Martian criminals write anonymous letters?"

He looked surprised.

“There aren't any post boxes on Mars" he said "and stamps wouldn’t stick.”

I went and planted the lemon balm in the garden.

There was a light drizzle - and the shed's leaking.

_ _ _ _ _

Monday, February 25, 2008


Four nasturtium seeds have germinated.

A letter from Manchester has arrived, addressed to Ming.

Three came up yesterday; one over-night.

Now I’m waiting for the parsley.

Ming’s got a job with the Ministry of Defence.

Parsley takes longer to germinate than Romanesques and nasturtiums.

He’s not a scientist; he’s a cleaner.

So the letter from Manchester sits on the kitchen table, unopened.

I’m going to plant one of the lemon balm clumps in the garden. See how it does.

I’m not sure about capital letters. I keep changing between Romanesques and romanesques.

I haven’t told Ming about Lucy and the geraniums but I looked them up on the internet. Totally confused. I would have liked to invite Lucy round for coffee this morning. It would take my mind off the letter from Manchester. But I don’t want to talk about geraniums. Perhaps that’s what I’ll tell her - that the point of research is to look into things no-one else understands. Of course, she’ll then say she does understand - but if I mugg up on the Latin names, that should throw her! (Mugg up - mug up - mugg up - mug up.)

Geranium Malviflorum (That’s the Algerian one.)
Geranium Kanahitobanawa (Doesn’t sound very Latin, does it?)
Geranium Maculatum (That’s the wild cranesbill.)
Pelargonium Exstipulatum (I’ll have to practise saying that one.)
Pelargonium Glutinous

(That one can save till last. It sounds revolting. Lucy won’t be interested after that. If I change Exstipulatum to Exspitulatum, that should clinch it.)

The evergreen clematis in our garden is coming into flower.

_ _ _ _ _

For earlier posts, click here, or on the blue barrow at the top of the sidebar.

For Tomorrow

Sunday, February 24, 2008


There is a small olive tree in our garden - with ten olives on it.

Throughout the winter, they stayed green. The topmost ones are now almost black and the ones on the lower branches are a beautiful, slowly darkening, reddy-brown.

I’m proud of my ten olives. They are very small, with hardly any flesh. But olive trees are special. They symbolise peace and nourishment and can live for a thousand years.

Ming says they don’t have olive trees on Mars.

A clump of lemon balm has over-wintered on the windowsill above our kitchen sink.

Balm grows knee high. This is a bonsai version - but not for much longer.

I’ve given it space!

As soon as I’d eased it from its cramped, three inch pot and disentangled its roots, it seemed to draw in a deep, deep breath.

Then, when I’d split it in three and planted it newly in five inch pots, the poor, scentless thing let out this same breath in a long, long sigh of relief; satisfaction; and joyful liberation.

It perked up straight away and has started to grow.

Its newly divided self is, of course, in clay pots.

I hate plastic pots. Absolutely hate them. They are featureless, characterless and immutable.

Clay pots change colour through the years. They grow white patches and green patches and bits chip off the top.

Plastic pots are practical. The earth in them doesn’t dry out.

Clay pots have to be tended.

I love clay pots.

All my plants live in clay pots until they are ready to go in the garden. (Except if I run out of them - then I use plastic ones instead.)

Ming keeps saying how much he would like to introduce me to his parents - but Mars is so far away and my need for oxygen and a temperate climate would probably make the journey hazardous - so I’m not committing myself just yet.

_ _ _ _ _

Saturday, February 23, 2008


When I got in yesterday, Ming was sitting in the kitchen talking to a selection of Jerusalem artichoke tubers which he’d arranged neatly in rows of three on the table - like a little army.

They won’t speak,” he complained.

“Why would they?”

“Syllabubs on Mars are usually quite chatty. Nice little fellows.” He smiled wanly; reminiscingly.


“On earth,” I said, “syllabubs are a kind of pudding. These are artichokes. Not that puddings talk either,” I added (wondering whether this really was the kind of thing one needs to explain).

He stood up and went to the window.

“I suppose the good thing about these Syllabubs,” he said, “is that they won’t burrow under the fence and grow up on someone else’s allotment. It can work out expensive at times. That’s why you have to talk to them . . . make them want to stay.”

I went and took another look at his immigration papers. The lady in Manchester has given him a birthday; January. Ages yet.

I’ll tell him about the Geraniums tomorrow.

P.S. Five Broccoli seedlings have come up. (When I put the nasturtiums in the airing cupboard, I forgot to mention the Broccoli.)

(They're 'Romanesques'.)

_ _ _ _ _

Friday, February 22, 2008


The sky is overcast and the wind has got up. Seems chilly to me.

Good. I need the grass to stop growing. Roots are spreading through the gravel but I haven’t an edger and Ming has gone off with the spade.

He’s rented an allotment so he can grow Jerusalem Artichokes.

At the council offices, he had to fill in a form and give his address but they didn’t ask for a photo.


Another leaf has died on the hollyhock. Once again, a new one has grown in the middle. This, I suppose, is life.

Lucy-next-door invited me for a cup of coffee. (A posh new blend she bought in Southampton.)

“I’m thinking of growing these,” she said, handing me a seed catalogue open at a page with some very pretty blue flowers on it. “Algerian Geraniums.”


(We put the blackbird in the compost.)

_ _ _ _ _

For earlier posts, click here, or on the blue barrow at the top of the sidebar.

For Tomorrow

Thursday, February 21, 2008


When we got up this morning, the blackbird was dead on the path - its neck torn open and its guts spilling onto the path in little strings.

Ming has folded his space-ship into a 1950’s suitcase. It’s in the shed.

Will it survive if spiders lay eggs in the engine? That’s what’s bothering me.

But Ming is blithe. He’s not, he says, planning to go anywhere!

But I don’t think Lucy from next door believed my story about his Algerian grandparents being Calvinists - not really.

What if she alerts the police?

On ‘Gardener’s Question Time’ they said there won’t be so many aphids this year. (They didn’t mention Martians!)

Leaf buds on the honeysuckle are starting to break open - a very light, bright, heart-inspiring green - and the flowers on the clematis are beginning to unfurl.

(I’m glad to report that the hollyhock still hasn’t been slug-attacked.)

_ _ _ _ _

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


This morning, I found an upturned snail in the garden.

A blackbird was singing in the Bay Tree; high up and out of cat-reach.

I felt glad for the bird; sorry for the snail.

I brought the shell into the kitchen to show Ming.

By the time he came to see it, the snail had upped and walked and was hanging upside down under the table.

It turns out they have millions of snails on Mars - how could I have known that?

I took it back to the garden and put it, not on the path, but in a broken flower pot.

I think it will be happier there.

_ _ _ _ _

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Hollyhock Report: when I watered the hollyhock this morning, steam rose from the earth. I held my nerve. The water was no warmer than breath but the ground is cold.

One of the tatty leaves on its outer edge died overnight but a new, freshly green one, has grown in the middle.

My next door neighbour, Lucy, asked Ming what he would do for his birthday.

He didn't know what she was talking about.

Later, I told her this.

Many years ago, two missionaries from the Western Isles were passing through Algeria on their way to Chad. When they grew thirsty (this was in 1855) they asked Ming's grandparents (who happened to be there at the time) for a glass of water. Within the hour, they (the missionaries) had converted the whole village to Calvinism. Parties were banned and people learnt Gaelic instead. So he's never had a birthday. Nor does he celebrate Christmas.

Lucy was unconvinced - but it'll do for now.

This morning, I planted four Nasturtium seeds in clay pots. They are germinating in the airing cupboard.

Come summer, they will remind Ming of his home planet; orange flowers for Mars, green leaves for the people who live there.

_ _ _ _ _

Monday, February 18, 2008


The hollyhock has survived the night. Not a slug bite in sight - and there wasn't a frost.

Marrying a Martian presented a few administrative difficulties - the most immediate being that there was no proof even that he existed.

I was recommended to a lady in Manchester - where I am not known. She works in a back-street-bookshop. As soon as I came in, she took her place behind the counter and agreed to fix an identity for him straight away.

I'd expected someone young and shifty. Instead, she was late-middle-aged, and wore a green tweed suit with a rather beautiful necklace made from very tiny, very highly polished, wooden beads.

She asked where Ming was from.

"Algeria." (It was the first country that came into my head.)

I told her we hardly knew each other but he wanted to marry someone in England so he could study plants like geraniums - which I don't think they have there. (That would explain why I didn't know where he was born or be able to say how old he is.)

She looked a bit puzzled though when I handed over his photo.

"Isn't Algeria a hot country?"

"I think so."

"Bit pale, isn't he?"

(We'd over-done the make-up a bit; trying to cover the faintly greenish tinge to his skin.)

I suggested he might be a Goth.

"Are there many Goths in Algeria?"

This time, I could answer truly - I really didn't know.

Luckily, it was a black and white photo so I didn't have to explain the extra-terrestrial nature of his hair.

I found some old marigold seeds in a shoe-box this morning, mixed them with compost and scattered them around the garden a bit. If they germinate, that's good. If the birds eat them first - well, that's good too.

And I've pulled aside the buttercup and cinquefoil leaves that protected the box cuttings in the winter - not that I specially noticed there was one this year!

_ _ _ _ _