House Guests

Posted by Jeni in Ad Infinitum | 17 February 2021

Who can forget their first ever saucer with a piece of paper sprinkled over with mustard and cress seeds? The excitement as the little green shoots emerged, then the sheer pleasure of eating those newly sprouted leaves with a cut up hardboiled egg on a mound of cold butter that tore holes in a slice of thin white bread. Lurpak spreadable didn't exist then.

I came from a family of horticultural experimenters. Every window sill was filled with small pots of wonderment. My mother planted everything from tomato seeds, straight out of the tomato, avocado stones, the tops of pineapples and lemon pips. Her grandawter has inherited her green fingers. Whilst Covid is ravaging she has set up a mini Kew garden in her bedroom.

Two Cacti, a wilting Monstera, a Rubber plant which used to be mine, a Yucca which used to be mine, a bushy Ivy, various un-named species, a lemon tree that she says is a thirsty bitch, and cuttings from whatever she can lay her hands on.

I too have greeny type fingers which I have put to use over the years. My first attic was in Putney. A record player, books and a baby rubber tree accompanied me. I bought a little bottle of leaf shine and stroked the leaves whilst listening to James Taylor and dreaming of stardom. When I toured abroad the plants would go back to my parents home where my mother laid hands on them.

Throughout my peripatetic years plants always accompanied me along with clothes, cooking utensils and candelabras. Hiring vans to transport my personal effects as well as a harmonium, three tons of books and my collection of houseplants was a regular occurrence. Accommodation was easier to come by then. But it occurs to me that the dawters' rubber tree must be nearly fifty years old. She tames her plants way better than I.

In the spring of 1970 I worked for a bit in Dudu's, a clothing boutique next to Peter Jones in Swiss Cottage. I got bored folding coco coloured tee shirts, and left soon after visiting a customer who lived down the road. She was a Native American clairvoyant who had an enormous orange tree growing in her window. It was the first time I had seen real oranges dangling on a real tree in front of my very eyes. She told me to leave Dudu and pursue a career in the arts. Which of course I did, far be it from me not to listen to a sooth-saying Sioux see-er.

I invested in the plants of the time. I had the ubiquitous chlorophytum comosum, otherwise know as the Spider Plant which everybody displayed in the 70's. I moved in with an American photographer who had lied about her age. We lived in a rented house in Queen's Crescent, North London, on the 24 bus route and round the corner from Hampstead Heath. I slept on a divan on the ground floor. and watered my plants daily. With my first pay cheque from the BBC I invested in an innovative stereo system, the speakers flanked by two spider plants that stood on the top shelves in my extended bedroom. Their spidery leaves cascading over the works of the likes of Oscar Wilde, Simone De Beauvoir and Betty Friedan's 'Feminist Mystique' - why there's even a photograph of Betty in her youth, posing next to, what I suspect, is a Ficus Benjamina.

Whilst on tour in Hull, I had a phone call from my housemate. We had been burgled. The police were adamant that losing my music system and my pulverised spider plants was better than losing my life which is what would have happened had I been home. The thieves had dived onto the divan and beaten the living daylights out of the scatter cushions thinking they were me. That rubber plant survived.

After falling backwards into the arms of a group of itinerant actors and meeting the Thespian husband, the old git and I set up home in Wapping - the rubber plant retrieved from Boreham Wood stood by the window overlooking the River Thames.

With time came money and our move out of London in 1984. My friend's mother was one of the first female voices to be heard on the BBC's home service. As well as her mellifluous voice Margaret was a prolific gardener. A cutting was taken from her Begonia Rex. That one cutting now has more offshoots than Monty Don's publications. There's one on the sitting room window sill, one on the kitchen window sill, one in the dawters bedroom, ( beautifully trained) a fantastic specimen in the attic, that drips pink jewelled flowers every year and several cuttings that I have sent through the post to a host of gardeners who have propagated it even more. Margaret's legacy lives on through Brexit, Covid and Gardeners Question Time.

The only real arguments I have with the old bastard is when he gets scissor happy and prunes. He destroyed a Passion flower, that had been nurtured for fifteen years, he cut away my bower of dog roses, and the garden now has three apple trees that look like they have been amputated by a sociopathic butcher. He says he's breathing life back into them.

During my Battersea period I visited my Swedish acupuncturist near Wandsworth common. Her flat, a symphony of beige and natural coconut fibre, is adorned with a few orchids and an Aloe Vera which she keeps in her Scandinavian bedroom. She gave me a cutting, years ago, which now stands in the kitchen window all mighty and plump. If I need to calm down sunburn I break off a stem and slather the aloe on my skin, when I remember.

The last influx of indoor greenery happened in 2012. Apart from the Olympics the other momentous occasion in that year was the death of my mother. We gave her clothes away to the appropriate charities, her furniture to the appropriate house clearers and I rescued some of her plants; a flourishing money plant, a delicious succulent which has been propagated and loved. Unfortunately three little versions of the money spinner were trashed by the weather, so I will pinch off some little shoots and carry on her legacy. The big Money Plant stands in the attic looking in the right direction according to Feng Shui. I also rescued my mother's 'mother-in-law's tongue' which I gave to the 'oosbind to tend in the studio. The old bugger was far too busy hacking away at the creeping hydrangea when I found the Dracaena trifasciata standing outside the studio door wilted and swollen with rain. I shouted that he had let my mother be pissed on from a great height.

I took the ailing plant into the house, talked to it, dried it out and before you could say, "where has nine fucking years gone?" that mother-in-law's tongue is packed into a huge flowerpot and shoots it's variegated leaves up to the sky. It spent some of last summer outside. Then a few months ago I brought it in and put it on the same window sill as the money plant.

Yesterday I went upstairs to get new laundry form the airing cupboard. I looked and looked again, a double take of horror! Around the flower pot lay tiny pellets of mother-in-law's tongue. I called up the 'oosbind who climbed the stairs quicker than Sherpa Tensing ascending the Himalayas. Being too squeamish to look in the pot I pointed the 'Grim Reaper' at the Dracaena trifasciata. He carried the heavy pot down two flights of stairs and into the front garden. It was then that we noticed each and every tongue of that mother had been nibbled. Chunks had been chewed away. The old git turned the pot upside down and found two beetles and some wood lice. My mothers tongues had been feeding a colony of hungry crustaceans. The dawter, sensitive to my distress, carried the pot through the house to the bench outside the kitchen, standing on Dennis the cat (who screamed) and repotted that beautiful specimen. She left out one clump which is now in a vase of water waiting to throw out roots. My mother lives on.

For isn't that what plants do, carry on regardless with the help of us humans?

So as time and tide await no fucker, I recently read that academics at an Australian university have told staff to stop using the words mother and father in favour of terms like gestational parent and non-birthing parent in order to deliver gender-inclusive education.

What will become of us and my gestational parents'-in-laws tongues?

I'm all for being woke, but FFS......

Jeni Barnett tells of her scrumptious time at Good Food Live in her first audiobook! Download NOW from iTunes

Comments

1. At February 26, 2021 1:03 PM Lyn Misselbrook wrote:

And how do you respond to the news of Potatohead no longer being Mr (or for that matter, Mrs - for some unknowable [*irony alert*] reason outrage it seems is confined to the lack of Mr) ... no response required. 😉

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