Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


Anyone lost a fire hydrant?

It was just a slightly complicated garden if you were visiting, but if you had to work on it, it was a jungle. I was working on it, first time in years.

"Mow the lawn," was the brief, but that was just shorthand for tidy the garden after forty years of neglect. And 'lawn' was a metaphor, albeit a possibly unintended one, unless she was being ironic. Language is difficult.

The canopies of some of trees were just about down to the ground so it was hard to get the mower underneath let alone myself, being six feet tall. I kind of laid flat and pushed it under like one of those roller trolleys mechanics use to slide under cars. Other sections of lawn were dotted with various rampant ground cover plantings that had wandered from the areas intended to be covered. I went around these and erred on the side of mowing as much of them back as possible.

Half an hour of lawnmower gymnastics and the air was thick with dirt. There hadn't been a lot of grass at many points.

The next stage was to do a bit of tidying. This meant I had to enter undergrowth, where daylight barely entered. It's amazing what undergrowth will hide. The ground in here was not even. Broken crocks; dirt-encrusted clay figures that looked like they came from someone's year seven art classes; a couple of Buddha figures, still smiling despite the humiliation of being covered in dirt and laying on their faces; old tennis balls with no colour left; some empty wire hanging baskets that were almost rusted away. Two maidenhair ferns, hanging grimly onto life, were not much more than compacted balls of roots and earth. Each sat on ancient 1970s plastic and tubular steel chairs. The plastic was half gone and the tubular legs were rusted through and when I moved them, they collapsed slowly, like shot gangsters in a B-grade movie. I threw the maidenhair ferns into a corner and took the chairs back out into the daylight, where the remaining plastic spontaneously turned to dust. That got me three feet further into the jungle, where it was even darker. In the gloom, beneath trailing vines and the foliage of several different varieties of shrub or tree, I found a road sign. A road sign? How did that get there? Then, in the corner, a fire hydrant. Yes, a fire hydrant. Someone in that family had been a serial civil infrastructure thief. I felt like an archaeologist, or a detective.

Two hours had elapsed. I moved to another corner of the garden. A very large clump of untidy jasmine was growing on the ground, as if in some botanical experiment to discover what jasmine does if you don't train it on something. Here's what happens: it sends fronds out, both above and below ground, and trains itself. If a fence or a tree is a hundred metres away, it will find it. I started reeling in fronds, or whatever they are called, with my bare hands. I must have dragged in several kilometres of the stuff. A lot of it was white, which meant it had travelled underground. The longest one would easily have travelled through the rear property, gone under Hoffman's Road, and reached Niddrie, possibly even St Bernard's College. When I had most of it back in its home State, I cut its parent plant off at the roots, rolled it up, and put it behind the shed for disposal later. It looked like one of those cable reels they string telephone lines under oceans with.

Then I rested. I was half done.

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