Having spoken to an ex-lawyer in the pub, and in line with disclaimers carried on all TV and Radio output at the moment, I have decided to include the following warning: This item may contain jokes that some people do not find funny.
The Spring has sprung, the grass has ris,
I wonder where the birdies is.
Some people say the bird is on the wing, but that’s absurd
For I would say the wing was on the bird. (Traditional)
The air still carries the chill bite of winter, even while the sun shines down through the transient, undiluted diorama of crystal blue skies. Birds squabble over the last few hips and berries of autumn past: males puff out painted chests whilst females – avifaunally plainer – spring clean homes of yore, or gather material with which to pitch new tents, cosy enough to raise a new generation. One by one the new year’s flowers bloom: snowdrops, aconites, crocus, daffodils, dandelions, something sharp and spiky that lodges under the fingernail and refuses to be removed until it has had the opportunity to throb with an intensity only otherwise felt with the death of a star. The world is suddenly abloom and there is nowhere to tread in the garden that is not ‘the wrong place’; nowhere to stand that is not on something only just emerged, or in something more recently – although insufficiently – buried.
Tiny pricks of green emerge in trees and bushes even as much bigger pricks emerge in white vans bearing aerosoled signage – D. O’Brien, Qualified tree surjon. Hedges clipt. All clipping’s removed and ecologically burned. Dogs groomed – and start door-knocking and leafleting anyone who might not have seen them coming. Now is the time to assure all of these peripatetic Samaritans that you do not need your gutters cleaning, your drive tarmacking, nor your valuables independently assessing. Now is the time to resist the siren call of all of those who can do everything that you do not want doing, better than you cannot be bothered to do yourself.
Spring is the time when everything is on the rise (Oh, come on!) and atop the list of ‘rising things’ is the word ‘ladder’ (or, more precisely, in my case, the words ‘next-door’s ladder’, as I have studiously avoided any temptation to own my own for forty years and more now.) Ladders are for reaching up and washing down, painting over, cleaning out and falling off. Ladders have tiny steps only to facilitate ease of falling. It is impossible to remain steady on these slender rungs without cramp setting in within thirty seconds. I am master of the knock-kneed teeter, the over-stretched swipe and the grip of steel around something that should not be, but almost certainly is, moving. Ladders are an inescapable fact of Spring and my only advice to anyone preparing to climb one in an amateur capacity is ‘don’t’: employ a professional; someone who is competent in ladder-usage and not so apt to find themselves doing it on their back from the ground with a twig up the nostril, a paint brush in the ear and a hole in the conservatory roof. It is an unwritten Rule of Spring that wherever you land following an uncontrolled ladder descent will be in ‘full spike’. Spring landings are never things of fragrant bud and luscious foliage, but are inevitably spiky and underpinned by cat shit. Winter-softened flesh is easily breached.
There is an old country saying: ‘When the first cat of spring leaves a semi-digested mouse on your doorstep, it is time to remove your lawnmower from the shed and discover that plastic can actually rust – or at least look like it.’ Spring’s first cut is an unavoidable trial – you might as well get it over with whilst it is still possible to blame something else for the carnage you are about to wreak. Step one is to open the shed door. All shed doors exist simultaneously in both of the two possible states: a) Shrunken so far that mice, rats and, at times cats, can sneak through the gaps without touching either side and b) swollen to such an extent that it is impossible to open. It is widely known that all shed doors exist only in the latter stage whenever you want to open them. This is the point at which the door knob falls off. Entrance is usually gained by forcing the door with a garden spade. The garden spade is in the shed. Do not worry, in this post-winter season you will be able to enter through the gap where the roof used to be before it made its way onto the floor of next-door’s ex-conservatory along with several desiccated panels of larchlap fencing and what might quite possibly once have been a stoat.
The rutted, sub-Passchendaele expanse of lawn will, by now, be covered in patches of frost-hardened corrugation and swamps of recently thawed gloop, and the winter-dried and rusted drive shaft of your ancient electric mower will ensure that the freshly trimmed lawn will resemble the very worst of your lockdown haircuts, but it doesn’t really matter because, as the mower will have blown every fuse in the neighbourhood and welded your consumer unit to the garage wall, nobody can see it after dark. Although, of course, the cover of night is decreasing: daylight expands to cover a greater percentage of the grey and drizzled day. March winds and April showers punctuate the meteorological lope towards summer. Spring in the UK is a time when the clouds leave the sky and descend to earth, breaking just long enough to reveal the steely blue of tomorrow’s sky: to let the sunshine in; to allow the unexpected cold snap full access to buds and nethers. Spring is the promise of tomorrow. It is never to be trusted. The icy-white blush of sun in an acid-clear sky is not a promise. It is an aspiration. It is what the world would like to be. Each little snowdrop, crocus, aconite and daffodil is an illustration of what the world hopes to become – just as soon as the first trickle of spring finds its way to summer and the full panoply of opportunity to self-harm in the pursuit of the perfect garden is laid before me.
I can’t wait.
Oh hang on – yes I can…