The Guv’s veggie patch
Circa 2005: from the book Tales of a Backyard Farmer
Just up the road from our house lies the old Magill cemetery. I guess, by definition then, those old folks lying around up there must be in the dead centre of Magill, and my veggie patch and me must be somewhat on the periphery. But the veggie patch in the real dead centre of town is to be found at the very heart of Adelaide, at Government House. And I’ve been there twice now…
Even closer than the local cemetery is the local high school, whose oval and buildings I can see while hoeing potatoes. During weekdays, one can tell the time aurally down the garden merely by listening out for the hooter that spells the changes of period for the Year 11 and 12 students. Saturdays in the garden however are something else again – primal roars of intense ferocity can be heard from two strange all-male tribes who battle each other up there in bloodless combat. I can only surmise that they remain bloodless because of their white clothing, on which their mates permit green stains but not red. No physical injury seems to occur in these matches unless the red leather projectile they hurl at selected victims cannot be adequately fended off with the wooden stake provided. This projectile must be valuable, because one whole tribe at a time dedicates itself to returning it to the hurler at maximum speed so he can have another bash at the current victim. Fortunately the poor bloke they are attacking has a mate, and if things get too tough, he runs off up the crop and lets the other bloke run down and spell him. It would appear that failure to injure the stake guy by the concerted effort of the whole tribe can be compensated for if they manage to smash up his spare three stakes. This gives rise to the primal “I have killed!” scream, to the intense humiliation of the victim, who skulks off, to be replaced by a lesser member of his tribe.
While I cannot claim to understand what all those able-bodied fellows are doing out of their gardens on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I am convinced that the weekday activities that take place in those buildings behind the killing fields are worthwhile. I know this at first hand, because the elder two of my three sons laboured long and hard therein, in order to obtain that ‘invite’ for me to the Guv’s veggie patch. Son number three has yet to distinguish himself in the halls of learning, in which he must obtain a perfect score in some subject or another in his final year to secure this prize. But this can only be to the Guv’s benefit, as he or she now has three more years up their sleeve to get that veggie patch sorted out before I return for my third and final inspection!
On a glorious summer day this year, I presented myself, my wife and my second scholar at the Guv’s gate, and in we went. This time I sincerely meant to stay out of the veggie patch and listen to the speeches, and so it was that we strode resolutely across the verdant green grass to the refreshment tents, amidst the throngs of other Adelaide scholars and their proud parents. My wife had me firmly by the arm, and a magnificent Morton Bay Fig and armed security guards blocked the way to the back reaches of the grounds, where the real action lay. Then out strode the Guv, surrounded by her small entourage; I was still there to see them pass by.
It was fortunate that I managed this glance at my competitor in the veggie stakes, because she soon disappeared up the front there somewhere with a whole bunch of other dignitaries. Pretty soon someone had got hold of the microphone and was singing her praises. Well, this is the nature of hierarchical systems; there’s one big chief, lots of nobles and priests, and somewhere down the back the unwashed masses like me.
Whoever this noble was who’d grabbed the mike, I can only suggest that they hadn’t studied the Guv’s sweet-corn adequately, because they began to sing the alphabet song to the Guv without fair comparison between her veggie patch and mine, or anybody else’s for that matter. After the third repetition of the Guv’s full name plus ABC, DFE, OBE I knew this wasn’t going to be an honest contest. To be fair, I’m entitled to hang a fair bit of the alphabet off my name too, but I’d be dead embarrassed if someone mentioned it in public in that sycophantic fashion, or at all. About now, my wife was giving me sharply hissed warnings and sharp jabs to my ribs to try to hush my audible groans. Deciding that I’d be safer down the back of the property than mixing with the gentry, she gave me my head, and we headed for the veggie patch.
Now Guv House is a great place, built somewhere around the mid-1800s. It’s an imposing old stone building surrounded by magnificent lawns and flower gardens in the front, and an orchard and veggie patch down the back. There’s also the Guv’s private swimming pool, a quaint old house where the gardener must hole up at night time, and the portable dunnies for the unwashed masses.
Those toilets are a godsend, because they’re within spitting distance of the veggies, and if a guard catches me poking the cabbages, I just jerk my thumb resignedly over my shoulder in the direction of the Ladies. That worked all right last year, when I was judge, jury and prize winner. But this year my wife and son were determined to be on the Guv’s side and to make it a fair contest - after all, she was supplying the canapés! This scrutiny played havoc with my determination to win by any means.
I needn’t have worried – the Guv must have been eating out a lot lately, as she hadn’t had that much success in the veggie patch this year, and would otherwise have gone hungry. The sweet-corn hadn’t been harvested, and had dried off with the whole plant. The basil had run to seed, to the benefit of the bees. The zucchini had a bad dose of powdery mildew, which its prone to – perhaps the Guv hadn’t realized that 10% milk in a spray of water would knock that out. Perhaps she hasn’t got a cow for fear of frightening the visiting masses - I didn’t see one, at any rate. The tomatoes hadn’t been staked – perhaps she was also experimenting with low input gardening as I had been. The fruit trees weren’t producing much, and the sunflowers were a bit scrappy. And so on and so forth – I was the clear winner in what seemed to have been a no-contest.
Back up on the lawn, the Guv was finishing off her speech, presumably urging all those young scholars to lead a broad and sustainable life to avoid winding up without fresh veggies on the table each night, as had happened to her. But I wouldn’t know – I’d discovered her herb garden, and was fossicking around in there among some rather nice garlic chives and salsify – she had the runs on me there!
For those International readers who don’t recognize this sport, it’s called ‘cricket’ and was inherited by Australians from our English settlers.
Australia’s wonderfully warm dry climate allows us to play cricket during the summer for months on end.
Cricket has delighted many an antipodean heart in the century since it was transplanted down here – half the population stays up far too late watching Australia whip the ‘Poms’ at their own game, causing massive shortfalls in our economic productivity.
Mind-numbingly boring to watch, cricket is – in the words of Bill Bryson – the only sport where they stop in the middle for lunch.