I’d been worrying about them for a couple of weeks.
In next door’s garden the daffodils were blooming in the cheerful and mistaken assumption that spring was on the way – and surely snowdrops were meant to come first? Normally our garden has a spectacular display but this year…nothing.
Had I somehow managed to dig them up? All of them? Without noticing? From different areas of the garden? Did they not like rain? (We haven’t had much else since September.) Or is there such a thing as Galanthus blight and had my garden contracted it?
But then, last Saturday, the rain eased off for a couple of hours and I got outside to cut off the old leaves from the hellebores, which were flowering happily enough, and to comb away the mossy carpet the rain had laid on the beds. And there they were! Dozens of thin, white spears poking their way eagerly up through the soil, preparing to bloom.
‘There you are, my loves!’ I exclaimed. (Sorry, there is no other word for it.) ‘How very clever of you. Now you just wait there and I’ll cover you up with some nice, warm compost.’
Yes it’s not just Prince Charles who talks to his plants. It’s the one thing, as far as I know, that we have in common, and as I get older I find myself doing it more and more. (Although ‘find myself’ isn’t quite accurate. Mostly I do it without being aware of it. It just seems the right thing to do. These nice plants have conceded to grow in my garden and it seems only polite to greet them. Or, in the case of unwanted interlopers, to tell them what I’m about to do to get rid of them.)
Meanwhile my neighbour, quietly troweling away on the far side of our intervening hedge, must have thought I’d lured a couple of our infant grandchildren outside in the cold in order to play a bizarre new form of Babes in the Wood.
And I’m doing far too much of this, I realise. Talking to inanimate objects – although that’s a bit unfair on the snowdrops, who were doing their best to be animated.
I’ve always done it in shops. I’ve only recently stopped berating oranges for coming from South Africa and I know I get odd looks as I mutter my way through the peppers and avocados, complaining about their provenance, or objecting loudly to the innocent bunch of asparagus that’s made the effort to fly all the way from Peru. ‘Five doughnuts!’ I heard myself say to the bakery shelves in Sainsburys the other day. ‘I want one doughnut. Not five. No wonder there’s so much obesity about.’ Followed, three aisles later by ‘I want pistachios. Not salted. Not sweet-chilli coated, for heaven’s sake! Just plain pistachios. Is that too much to ask?’ This in addition to the relatively normal ‘Onions, onions, onions. Don’t forget the onions,’ and a mild ‘Was it plain or self-raising we wanted?’
Sooner or later a polite young man in a suit is going to take me gently by the elbow and ask me if I’d like to just come this way and is there someone at home who might be worried about me?
If I was going to make a new year’s resolution I suppose this would be it – try to talk only to human beings, not to plants, fruit, vegetables, cans of soup….. It could get me into trouble one day.