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This Good Life lark is 'allot' of work


Gardening gurus: Tom (Richard Briers) and Barbara (Felicity Kendal) from The Good Life

Gardening gurus: Tom (Richard Briers) and Barbara (Felicity Kendal) from The Good Life

Gardening gurus: Tom (Richard Briers) and Barbara (Felicity Kendal) from The Good Life

Analogies abound on 'planting the right seeds', 'watering' children this way and that, adding 'the right nutrients' and suchlike. "Growing kids," these schmaltzy, smiley-face-festooned slogan peddlers bleat, "just like gardening, is a long-term exercise in vision, patience, weeding and nurturing."

No it isn't. Raising children is a dawdle compared to the soul-destroying pastime of gardening.

Children grow like weeds and, by and large, you can eventually make them do almost anything (albeit grudgingly) by shouting at them in just the right way.

I've tried shouting at the shoots we've occasionally coaxed out of the ground. It simply doesn't work.

They just sit there in their beds and laugh silently back, taunting you about how crap you are and how green your fingers aren't.

These are the sorts of things going through my head as I sit with my wife and contemplate our failures at plant husbandry.

"We're trying to decide whether or not we should keep the allotment for another year," says my wife to a passing teen as she frowns over the lease.

"Pssh," he says with what might be a shrug, before opening the fridge.

"You have to wonder," I tell my wife, "if we're getting back anywhere near what we're putting in."

The teenager shuffles out of the kitchen cramming something into his mouth and banging the door closed.

"All that expense," I mutter. "The sheer amount of feeding." I stare after the door with a slightly haunted expression. My wife looks at me. "Growing vegetables, that is," I add. "Gardening," I say.

"It IS a lot of work," sighs my wife.

The little girl lopes in, not so little, I can't help noticing, sprouting up like a bean plant these days.

"What are you guys talking about?" she says, half-interested.

"The allotment," says my wife. "Whether we should bother with it again," adds my wife. "It would be nicer if everyone helped out."

"Will there be strawberries?" asks the little girl.

"In theory," I tell her. "With equal quantities of hard work and fresh manure, eventually, on the scales of probability . . . I calculate . . . a handful, perhaps."

"Mmm," is all she says. "Strawberries."

"You know, I don't know if we can be bothered," says my wife.

"To hell with it," I agree.

"There's just too much to do," she says.

"Absolutely right," I tell her.

The eldest trundles in. "We're giving up the allotment," I tell him.

He looks at me, creases his chin and shakes his head in an expression meaning: 'And you're telling me this . . . why?'

"Turns out," I say, "we're not exactly Tom and Barbara from The Good Life."

"I'm sorry," he says. "Who?"

"Classic comedy," I say, "about growing vegetables."

"A comedy," he repeats slowly. "About growing vegetables."

"Yes," I say, irritably. "Back in the '80s."

"The NINETEEN eighties," he says.

"Yes," I growl. "The NINETEEN eighties." He disappears, still shaking his head and chuckling dryly.

The sound of thumping comes from upstairs, then a wail, another teenager torturing his sister.

My wife comes back in. "I'm still not sure," she says.

"Leave me ALONE!" comes a muffled shriek.

"If you're not sure," I wince, looking at the ceiling.

"It IS a lot of work, but then again . . ." she says, flipping her head around and propping it on the other elbow: "It's kind of a nice place to go, to get away to."

"There is that," I nod, as footsteps thunder across the upstairs landing and another door slams.

"And I've been weeding and watering that bloody asparagus for two years now," she continues. "This is the year it's finally supposed to be ready."

More muffled shouts and something hard is flung against a wall somewhere.

"The asparagus is a valid consideration," I say.

"Aggh!" we hear. "You're so annoy-INNNG!"

"And there's the cherry tree we planted," she continues. "It's too big to dig up and too sad to leave."

"I think we've just about made up our minds," I say over another shriek.


"Let's go," she says and we slip on our coats and dig out wellies from under the stairs. She yells a few final instructions up the stairs: "I want ROOMS TIDIED by the time we get back."

"But . . ." someone starts to shout back from somewhere. "I'm . . ." shouts someone else.

We close the door on it all.

Around at the allotment we make short work of clearing up winter debris.

"Do you reckon the house is tidy by now?" says my wife taking off a glove and wiping her forehead.

"That," I tell her, looking over a few neat rows of turned clay and enjoying the blissful silence surrounding the surviving strawberries, "would be too easy."