PHIL CALVERT: ‘I thought you were dead!‘

THERE are many forms of greeting. Good morning, Hello there!, Eyup, Na’ then, Hi, Are you reight, everyone of them intended to greet the other in a spirit of friendship and acceptance and possibly as a way of opening a conversation.

The system is pretty much universal and seems to work reasonably well. Of course you get the odd miserable beggar who responds to a cheery “Good morning!” with a muttered “Is it?”, but even then a dialogue has been opened and you can progress to a discussion of whatever the appropriate business of the day happens to be.

It does, therefore, come as something of a shock to be confronted with a greeting phrased in the following terms: “I thought you were dead?” I think it was Mark Twain who, having read his own obituary in the newspaper, announced that reports of his death had been exaggerated. Now I’m not exactly what you might call an oil painting, and can happily accept that I may have been exposed to more winters than summers, but this seemed excessive.

It is true, that every joint in my body seems to squeak and grind and gravity has had an adverse effect on various parts of my body (I leave it to others to fill in the lurid details). My hair, once dark, now looks like it is suffering from extreme highlights with a touch of metal fatigue, whilst my…..no, enough of this! Suffice it to say that the years roll by and take their toll and there is little any of us can do about it. But to be described as dead, even with my physique, is frankly a little bit harsh.

As regards the miserable beggar’s reply reported earlier, I always believe that if you wake up and don’t hurt too much then whether it is cold and wet or warm and sunny then it really is a good morning….especially if you have lots to do and many reasons to get out of bed and get on with your day. Downstairs, there is that little bundle of mischief, called Monty, who will need to make an early morning call. Then there is the kettle that simply demands to be put on for the first brew of the day. The economy may be on the brink of collapse, plague and pestilence may be sweeping the land, but where there is tea there is hope.

Then I go through to the office, brew in hand, to check the emails on my laptop before (usually) leaving for work. It was way back in the dark and dismal past that having just “qualified” I jacked-in a supposedly promising career in banking to try to make a living in horticulture. It is a choice I have only ever regretted when I check my pension statement. Work these days is down at Reedley Garden Centre. We moved there as a reaction against the trend away from what garden centres are supposed to sell…plants, and as a gentle way of making the transition into retirement. It is plants and gardening that are our passion.

In the latter respect, our lives continue to revolve around handling plants and sharing our passion with our customers, themselves proper gardeners. As a gentle route into retirement, however, it has proved to be something of a disaster. Once I get a bee in my bonnet, I seem to become almost obsessive and that has been the way with Reedley. At the end of last September, as the dark nights drew in, Wifey and I decided to close down our little nursery and put in place various improvements to make our lives a little easier. Instead of relaxing over the winter, when temperatures have allowed we have tarmaced roads, re-concreted paths, paved rough areas, renewed poly-tunnels and generally given the place an overhaul.

But this has not been done out of dire necessity but because we like improving things. I may be slower but there is life in this old dog yet. Our ambition is fired mainly by a desire simply to make things better and make a workplace as pleasant a place to be as we can, as we emerge into the sunlight of a new spring.

I think it has been a worthwhile effort. There remains lots to do but it is very much a labour of love and we have put in some very long days to get things finished in time for the new season.

So as the blossom starts to form on the cherry trees and the roadsides are lined with masses of daffodils I feel well placed to enjoy another great gardening year. I get excited as another plant reappears from dormancy in the border, as a fresh batch of seedlings start to germinate, as leaf buds appear on the roses and red shoots appear on the ‘Forest Flame’. Suddenly you can’t stop stuff growing…especially the grass! It is a wonderful time of year. Dead! Who me? Sorry to disappoint but I have never felt more alive!