I wonder if there’s a cut-off point for becoming interested in something? Like, say, gardening. Yesterday I dug the little three-metre strip that runs along the left-hand side of our driveway. It wasn’t easy. There are Things that have their roots in there that go down until they touch the upper floors of hell. Then there’s the hedge that overshadows the strip and that needs brutal mutilation if it’s to be kept from leaning over the little strip and blotting out every last bit of light. Finally there’s the earth in the strip: it’s mainly dust and bits of old plastic, as far as I can establish. Certainly that’s what comes up when I dig and lever clear with my fork. (When I was young we called it a grape, and it was used for cleaning out the byre once every six months or so. Now it’s a fork.)
So I dug and twisted my fork and levered plastic bits and twisted hell-roots and mouldy earth-bits onto the driveway, saying “Holy shit!” and “Oh my God!” and “My back really hurts…” until at last the strip was, well, actually, it was gone. Or the earth from it was mainly gone. All I had now was a three-metre strip of nothing, because my trusty fork had levered the entire contents onto the driveway.
So I went to the local garden centre and got two biggish bags of Multi-Purpose Compost, but the woman at the cash desk told me they’d cost £6.99 and if I got the same amount in one big bag, it’d cost only £3.99. Flushed by my exertions and this amazing bargain, I hurried home and emptied the big bag of Multi-Purpose Compost into the little three-metre strip, then levelled it off with my fork. It looked wonderful. Like something from a gardening catalogue.
I came in and had a shower and cracked a tin of Guinness Extra Stout and thought about Rock Hudson in The Big Country, where he puts his fist in the soil and lifts a handful of it towards the sky and shouts “The good earth!” while the music soared. Maybe I could become like that. Work on, transform my entire garden. Get the hedge straight and neat, use the chain-saw to put manners on the clematis, put Lawn-Gro on the lawn and make it nice juicy green rather than beige-brown and faint-yellow, and just generally have a garden that’d draw the eye of passing motorists and pedestrians who would stop to greet me and express admiration as I bent over yet another task in a garden where every last detail was as neat and perfect as a Constable painting.
In fact the transformation would start today only there’s the England-Germany game on TV. You’ve probably heard. And after that the Argentina-Mexico game. Meanwhile I’ve moved the car so when I look up from the TV, I can see the strip with its chocolate-brown, smooth-surfaced, weed-free elegance stretching all of three metres along my driveway. And when there’s a lull in the commentary, if you read my lips, you’ll find they’re saying quietly “The good earth!”