Pottering About In The Garden

May 11th  2006

I don’t know in which book I first came across the term ‘pottering about in the garden’, but it was probably in one of the Just William books or maybe The Famous Five series that I read when I became interested in reading when I was aged about twelve. I was attracted to the phrase at once; it sounded such a cosy, English, way in which to occupy oneself, and I couldn’t wait until I was grown up and I would be able to potter about in a garden myself (I assumed that children couldn’t potter about in the garden because whenever I came across the expression it was always being done by an adult, and usually an older adult; also it sounded like something that was done by grown-ups rather than children).

In those days I couldn’t even pretend, as children do, to potter about in the garden,
as we lived in a mean terrace house which didn’t have a garden in which to potter, just paving stones at the front of the house and at the back a backyard not big enough to swing a landlord in. So when I married The Trouble and we eventually got a house of our own, with a small garden, I was naturally eager to get some pottering time in.

It never happened.

Since I first ventured into a garden all those years ago with a virgin spade and uncalloused hands I have never once pottered. I have dug, double-dug, forked, raked, hoed, chopped, sawed and hammered, all of which are far too strenuous activities to be classed as ‘to busy oneself in a mild way with trifling tasks’, which is the dictionary definition of ‘pottering’. I have mowed lawns, trimmed hedges, turned over flower beds, laid paving stones, humped bags of compost and fertilizers, and in the course of this have been bitten by ants and stung by wasps, bees and hornets, and on one occasion savaged by a stray dog; none of which are mild or trifling.

It eventually dawned on me that there was no such thing as pottering about in the garden, except in books, and that I never would potter, I would go through life as a non-potterer. Until yesterday.

I’d been giving the garden a general spring tidying up, uprooting triffids and other monster-like weeds that had sprung up in the borders over the winter, preparatory to planting something more colourful and less intrusive. One of the weeds was particularly hard to dislodge. I took a firm hold of it, braced myself, gave an almighty heave…and it shot out of the ground much more easily than I had anticipated and sent me staggering back a couple of steps. The second of the steps caused me to put my foot onto the business end of a garden rake I’d carelessly left on the ground and the other end of it shot up and cracked me a nasty blow on the side of the head, gashing my temple. When I’d stopped hollering and seeing stars I went into the kitchen to attend to it. The Trouble was one the phone. “Your dad?” she said, to whoever was on the other end of the phone, either my son or one of my daughters. “Oh he’s pottering about in the garden.”

Neighbours From Hell

May 12th 2006

Actually I don’t yet know if our next-door-but-one neighbours the Pollitts, who moved in yesterday, are neighbours from hell, but early indications are that you wouldn’t bet against it. They arrived in an old off road vehicle, the transport of choice of neighbours from hell, which is a good pointer.

There are five Pollitts in all, if you don’t count the baby, and Mr and Mrs Pollitt obviously don’t as they left it crying for the entire four hours it took for them to move in, after first securing it to an ornamental stone bird bath on the front lawn.

I don’t know any of their names at the time of writing, except for the dog, which is called You Twat, if Mr Pollitt’s instruction to it to ‘Get from under the fucking feet You Twat,’ and his daughter’s ‘Get off my leg You Twat’ are anything to go by.

Mr Pollitt’s low forehead gives him a distinctly Neanderthal appearance. Low foreheads invariably indicate low intelligence whereas  high foreheads indicate high intelligence, and although Ant of Ant and Dec disproves the latter theory I suspect that in Mr Pollitt’s case the maxim will stand up to investigation.

Mrs Pollitt can be best described as a cross between Janice Battersby of Coronation Street and a pit bull terrier, but nowhere near as refined. She was wearing a sort of pink babygro, multi-coloured Wellington boots and, most of the time, a face like a smacked arse.

The boy is about fourteen, that magical age when a teenager goes from knowing hardly anything at all to knowing absolutely everything. He has no visible skin on his face so far as I could tell, the spaces between his acne being taken up by a collection of rings and metal studs.

The girl, probably a year younger, is at the age when a girl’s periods arrive, along with a large helping of attitude. Her general demeanour indicated that she had recently taken delivery of both of these attributes, the latter in spades. She wore a crop top with the words ‘Too Drunk to Fuck’ written on the back.

The dog, You Twat, is of indeterminate ancestry. It certainly has some collie in it, although what was in the collie, or what the collie was in, is unclear, possibly an Old English sheepdog or an Irish wolfhound. It is a sort of muddy grey, or mud and grey, its fur matted, and has two dreadlocks hanging down each side of its head.

Of the six of them the dog looks by some way to be the most intelligent, but as even the most intelligent dog in the world would be incapable of fashioning its own dreadlocks it is obvious that one of the Pollitts must have plaited them into its fur. And if they’re capable of that what else are they capable of? I shudder to think. But I’ll no doubt be finding out soon enough.

Plain English

May 10th 2006
The headquarters of the Plain English Campaign is housed in New Mills, the Derbyshire town in which I live, and high on the list of things I would like to do before I die is to throw open the door of their offices and shout “Fuck off!” After all you can’t get much plainer English than that, can you?
At one stage I toyed with the idea of throwing open the door and shouting to the occupants within: “Immediately vacate forthwith the environment in which you are currently inhabiting”, which is a way of saying fuck off in the gobbledygook they detest so much, but I decided to stay with my original plan in the interests of simplicity.
What has always stopped me doing it in the past is the fear that the staff at the Plain English Campaign offices might fail to see the point of my little verbal joke and take some form of revenge. However now that I am sixty-eight my thinking is that if they did indeed take exception all I would need to do to get myself off the hook would be to tell them I’m an old age pensioner, in which case they’d probably feel sorry for me and put it down to the ramblings of an old man.

 So, about two-o-clock this afternoon I threw open the door of the Plain English Campaign offices and……didn’t shout ‘fuck off’. The reason being there was no one in there to shout it too. There were about ten desks and chairs scattered around the large office but every chair was vacant. Had everybody in the country suddenly started talking and writing in plain English, rendering their campaign surplus to requirements? Doubtful. A more likely reason was that they were all at a meeting elsewhere in the building making plans to invade the local council offices to take them to task for the impenetrable verbiage they’d used to explain the reason for the latest hike in Council Tax, or maybe planning a swoop on a greengrocer for persistently writing things like apple’s, pear’s and plum’s on his window.
Then, just as I was about to leave, a door opened and a young woman entered the room, a large book in her hands. Engrossed in the book she made her way to one of the desks and sat down. I made my way over to her. It would have been better of course if the office had been full and I could have told the entire staff of the Plain English campaign to fuck off but one of them was better than nothing. And I was about to do just that when I happened to notice that the book she was reading was the Collected Works of William Shakespeare. I stopped. How could I tell someone like this to fuck off, someone who was obviously engaged in ploughing her way through Shakespeare with the object of turning it into language that people could understand? About time someone got to grips with it!
I was about to congratulate her, something along the lines of ‘Nice to see someone trying to illuminate some of the most inaccessible verbiage that quill has ever put to paper in the entire history of Christendom’ when I remembered that she was a disciple of Plain English and as such might take offence so I just said: “Sorting out Shakespeare I see.”She looked up. “Sorting out?”“Putting it into plain English. And about time too if I may say so. I mean why go all the way round the houses of ‘What’s in a name, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’ when you can say ‘Shit’s shit whatever you call it’.”

“Oh,” she said. “No, you misunderstand, it’s my lunch break, I’m reading it for pleasure.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. “Pleasure? ‘Now is the winter of our discontent, Made glorious summer by this son of York; And all the clouds that l’ourd upon our house, In the deep bosom of the ocean buried?’ You’re reading a load of old tripe like that for pleasure?”


“Fuck off!” I said, then went on my way. I hadn’t said it for the reason I’d gone there to say it but it gave me just as much satisfaction even so. 





May 9th 2006


I have received a very interesting e-mail from John Laithwaite of York. As a regular reader of my blog and thus knowing my interest in charity shops he wanted to know if I was aware of the abundance of these bargain retail outlets in his home city. He wrote that he hadn’t counted them but that there must be at least forty, and of that number upwards of twenty are to be found in one of the city’s main thoroughfares, Goodramgate, close to the famous Minster.


He went on to point out that York is a prosperous city with a consequently large population of well-heeled citizens, and that this is reflected in its well-stocked charity shops, many of which are of high quality. He then listed them. I won’t mention them all but Help the Aged, Oxfam, Age Concern, SCOPE and MIND are represented, some of them with more that one shop.


The only fly in the ointment, John warns, is that York is a university city and as such is infested with a large proportion of students. Being students the vast majority of them are poor, and charity shops are an obvious attraction to them, offering as they do the chance to rig themselves out in decent clothes without causing too much of a dent in their beer money.


Consequently students are frequent and voracious users of the charity shops and this brings about occasions when a non-student charity shopper and a student make for the same item. The way to deal with students when this happens, advises John, is to poke them sharply in the ribs with the pointed end of a rolled umbrella, or, if they are particularly persistent, a cattle prod.


York is a lovely city, one of my favourites, and John’s e-mail reminded me that it had been far too long since I had last walked its impressive walls. News of all the charity shops to be found within those walls – especially in Goodramgate, which sounds to me like the Bond Street of charity shops – only increased my desire to pay it another visit, and soon. Charity shops were certainly not there in anything like that number when I last visited York, but that must have been about fifteen years ago, and charity shops on the scale you get them nowadays are a quite recent phenomenon.


I mentioned John’s e-mail to Atkins Down The Road. Atkins is an even keener patron of charity shops than I am, quite unable to turn down a bargain, and, courtesy of Help the Aged, probably the only man ever to venture out in broad daylight dressed in a bowler hat and a kilt in the tartan of the MacGregor clan. This he did when we went together to the 2000 Commonwealth Games at nearby Manchester and he wanted to see if dressed in that fashion he could get into the Lawn Bowling for nothing by telling the man on the gate he was the entry from British Caledonia. The man on the gate, dressed in an even more bizzare manner than Atkins, in the official Games uniform of multi-coloured shell suit and flat hat, took one look at him and let him in without batting an eyelid, although he might have been swayed by the fact that Atkins had taken out the insurance of carrying his bowls bag and slipping him a pound coin.


The upshot of this is that Atkins and I are off to York for the day on Friday May 19 with plans to avail ourselves of the benefits of the charity shops to be found in Goodramgate, followed by a visit to the Jorvik Viking Centre, where Atkins hopes to get in for nothing provided he can pick up a helmet with horns in it at one of the charity shops. If anyone would like to come along with us we have room in the car for another three, or if enough want to come we can maybe hire a minibus.