Here is a nice thing. Well it’s a sad thing, followed by a nice thing. A few months ago my step-gran, Alison, died. There was no great drama or heartbreak. She was 91, and had always been very matter-of-fact about life and death (to give you a measure of the woman, she told several people who visited her at her death-bed to ‘go and do something useful’). She wanted it to be over nice and quick when her time came, and it was, relatively, so we had to be pleased for her.
We didn’t have a proper funeral as she donated her body to science, and science took it, so about 70 friends and family gathered in the golf club near St Andrews where she played golf with her friends, and people stood up and talked about her, and what she meant to them. I liked this. It meant I stood up, whereas I never would have felt it my place at a proper funeral. And I made people laugh by using the word ‘spiky’, which she was: I remember her poking me in the ribs many times but I don’t recall a hug. But I also got to say that she is the person I have received and written more letters from and to her than anyone else in my life, and got a murmur of recognition from the assembled company. She was interesting and interested, highly intelligent and a bit fierce, someone who showed you they loved you through practical help and a keen, ever-present interest in what you’re up to.
People always call gardening an older persons’ pastime as if that should put younger people off. But if you are a youngish person who enjoys gardening (I am very aware that I am fast approaching the age where I have to stop calling myself young, but she was 91, come on…), it gives you a beautifully direct line of communication. You may not be interested in the availability of primary-school places in the north Bristol area, and I may not be interested in Jean’s broken hip, but we are both interested in how to get our dahlias to flower for a bit longer, and we both have an opinion on what pest might have done *that* and what to do about it. Gardening was one of the places where Alison and I met.
So when I saw that her garden bench and table were on offer I rather jumped at them, partly because I thought it would be a nice way to remember that link, although mainly because I had the perfect spot for it, and have been wanting a bench for my verandah. Being ‘step’ I didn’t want to make a bid for an heirloom, and a bench seemed about right. And then, a couple of weeks after I took delivery, my step-dad found this on clearing out the house.
It was tucked into a pamphlet on seed growing from ‘The Tropical Library’ (Alison spent much of her young married life in Malaysia working in family planning) along with a beautiful packet of Bartonia aurea seeds (no idea). It’s a picture of Alison’s mother, aged about 50, perhaps. She is leaning on the bench, and in the background you can see the table. I have accidentally ended up with an heirloom, or at least, a very fine bench indeed.