Gail has been trying to recover from the Christmas excess and has been on another date with Harry which didn’t go quite according to plan……
I’ve been exercising like mad after my self imposed statutory post-Christmas weigh in. Every year I think ‘well maybe just a pound or two’. Every year, my optimism is dashed by the cruel device that is the digital scales.
Consequently, I am at the gym early enough every morning to impress the instructors but not possibly see anyone I know. I am reacquainting myself with the joys of the treadmill and elliptical trainer.
I am also remembering that gym work is dull and that I really should go back to the exercise class Meg and I tried late last year. Life has rather got in the way since (well that’s my excuse).
As well as abstaining from alcohol for January I am eating a lot of soup full of lentils, beans, and cabbage and thinking it’s a good job I’m single. I am turning rather gloomy even if I feel better and sleep like a dead badger.
The one highlight in this being well-behaved life is that Harry asked me if I’d like to see the Lord and Lady’s palatial gardens that he has landscaped.
He picked me up in a dented and scratched silver van with a green oak tree and his name inscribed on the side. It smelt of soil and oil and the passenger footwell was clearly used as a bin. I scuffed the detritus around with my feet as I climbed in.
‘Sorry, I forgot. I only clean out the heap when I open the door and it all starts to fall out.’ Harry explained. ‘Another week and I’ll sort it, in time for its MOT.’
We approached the huge iron gates with sculpted dragons on top of the high stone walls. I could see 15 acres of lush gardens surrounded by miles of meadows and grassland upon which cows and sheep munched contentedly. I came over all Jane Austin at the sight of the 17th Century mansion (without the youth and tight-fitting flattering outfit, given I was wearing a fleece, wellies and waterproof trousers). Would Harry be my Mr Darcey?
Harry looked like a country gentleman gardener in brown cords, checked brown and green shirt, olive wellies and matching gilet with logo. I, on the other hand, looked a total wreck. Harry had given me one of his black padded jackets with the tree logo Although it was satisfyingly too big, I looked like a heifer.
And then there were my wellies. Bright pink with blue stars. I bought them so I would always be looking at a constellation even if it was only on my feet. Harry winced at my wellies and I did the same. Not quite the image either of us was hoping for.
He handed me a black plastic bucket filled with a trowel and hand-rake to look the business, despite Lord and Lady not being in residence. They were sunning themselves on some hot far-flung beach. I imagined them being waited on hand and foot, lying on thick sun beds a foot from the blue ocean. I felt disgruntled as I ambled along the graveled paths, beneath ancient oaks and other trees I could not possibly name, apart from a Douglas fir still festooned in classy white light.
‘It seems like a dead time of year,’ said Harry as we cast around at the tree twigs which appeared like black sculptures against the milk-white sky. ‘But look at this,’ and Harry pointed to the hundreds, no thousands of green shoots coming through the dark earth.I could see he was in his element and it was a lovely element to be in. The air smelt leafy and a few snowdrops peeped beneath an oak tree.
Two dogs came running and barking from a walled garden and close behind but still invisible, followed a booming voice.
‘Beaujolais and Margot, come back now. It’s only the gardener.’ I saw Harry’s face set like instant concrete and I wasn’t sure what to do with mine other than make it appear very blank. ‘Harry, darling, I’m so glad to see you and have a chat about plans for the parterre’.
What on earth was a parterre? A tree, flower, shed? I could only guess.
‘Good afternoon Lady Maureen. I thought you were on holiday, away from all this weather.’
Lady Maureen (which I thought was a distinctly odd name for one entrenched in the upper echelons of society), beamed.
‘Sir Peter’s father died so we had to cancel but I’m off next week and even better, on my own to a spa in Barbados.’ She held his eyes for that fraction too long. Meg told me that’s a sure giveaway when you like someone. Lady M’s gaze then fell on me and swiftly moved on. I felt instantly dismissed and invisible, despite the wellies.
‘You know the problem we had last year. You said the tulips would be a mass of beautiful orange blooms to light a dull day. And yet, the company you recommended clearly didn’t read the brief. Hardly an orange tulip in sight. It look like that rainbow gay Pride flag .’
I had to stop myself smiling.
‘Not that I’m against gay people you understand. I just wasn’t expecting it in my parterre’. Lady M pulled a face like she was sucking lemons. Her florid cheeks juddered as she remembered the event with horror.
Harry remained silent and shifted uncomfortably. Clearly, this had previously been talked about at great length, but Lady M was still holding a grudge.
‘We’ve used a different company this year and agreed on planting purple bulbs mixed in with the lavender. It will look very classy’
‘Good. And we need a meeting. I’m rather concerned at the increase in hours, as lovely as it is to see how creative you are.’
Harry took out his phone and they decided on a date. I backed off and took myself to a long bank of ivy twisting around blue periwinkles, pink hellebores and white cyclamen. A squirrel scampered up the oak tree, clutching an acorn.
Beaujolais and Margot did what dogs do on lawns, regardless of class. Once relieved, they sniffed around me, barking at the squirrel. Harry looked at his watch and said we had to go. Lady M ignored me, said goodbye to Harry and called the dogs.
We walked back to his battered van in silence. If this had been Meg we’d have been bitching and laughing and feeling envious all at once. But this was his client and I didn’t know Harry. Perhaps he has a penchant for powerful, rich women. A lot of men would.
It began to pour with rain. I took off my wet jacket in the van and sat on the inside of it. My wellies dripping on the footwell detritus that was promising to self-eject.
Harry sighed as he climbed in and turned the heater on. ‘I’m sorry, that was awkward,’ he said. I didn’t say anything for a few seconds. He reversed the van aggressively.
‘It’s a very beautiful garden though. You’ve done a lovely job with it. I quite like the idea of rainbow flag tulips. But then what do I know? Anyway, what is a parterre?’
‘Posh flower beds separated by gravel paths for people to swan around and admire.’
He laughed and so did I.
He dropped me home without making a date (although he’d made one with Lady M). As I opened the van door an empty salad box fell out. I placed it back in. I noticed one of his brake lights didn’t work, as he sped off.
Ah well I thought, heating up cabbage soup and packing my gym gear, I’m not in that circle and don’t want to be.