I go outside to mow the grass. It's an easier task now that the dog is no-longer around using the garden as an open-sewer. Not that I minded particularly, it goes with the territory, you have a dog - you have to clear up its mess. And then they die and you're surprised by the odd perk that is thrown up. I've no-one to share this little gem with as I was the only one that ever cleaned it up anyway but I can't help but feel a few small throbs of pleasure at this sudden 'petit cadeau' of serendipity.
I carry the mower out from the garage and lug it up to the grassy area. The grass maybe clear of dog shit but its been replaced by a scattered and disorderly congregation of dandelions. Affrays of dandelions who lurch, drunken and provocative, across the grass in careless clusters like stumbling C-list WAGS on a Saturday night out. I plan to annihilate them with the Flymo. Who likes dandelions?
Well actually the old man next door used to.
My elderly Norwegian neighbour Frankel, who died a few months ago, used to plead with me, with a pressing delicacy, to leave the dandelions alone, as he could never understand what they had done to deserve such brutish and unified hatred.
'But they're weeds Frankel and if you don't get rid of them they'll just take over!'
'Well, would that be so bad? they are such harmless and happy little things!'
'But they're weeds!'
'But they are beautiful!'
Frankel, with his long straggly white beard, who spoke softly through his Norwegian accent, ate a clove of fresh garlic every morning and daily performed a series of unique and somewhat haphazard 'stick' exercises. The 'stick' exercises were devised to keep himself supple when younger and he continued them until well into his 80's.
These mainly consisted of him twirling and weaving any available stick or large leafless branch in and out of his legs and arms in ever-increasingly dangerous and wildly enthusiastic circles. Sometimes he would suddenly start stick hurling and whirling in the middle of a conversation, his lithe elderly body bobbing and dipping with ease. The stick would swoop within an inch of your nose so you always had to be ready to jerk your head back with speed to avoid a good-natured collision. He always smiled when performing the exercise and he always made me smile too. And if a stick didn't get you in the face then you could be more or less knocked sideways by the air-vaporising pungency of his powerful Allium-infused breath.
Frankel was a Quaker, a gentle man and very sweet. He always spoke up for the misunderstood, the voiceless under-dog. Even the dandelions. His accent caused him at times to be unwittingly amusing as well.
I once spent a very puzzled few minutes, suppressing nervous laughter, and pondering on what on earth he was talking about when he sprang out of his back door with exuberance, a few years ago, to cheerfully greet me one early April morning.
'Oh at last Spring is here and I shall get new frocks!'
'Frocks! Soon I shall have lots of new frocks!!'
He looked at me with the patient tolerance of one who was explaining a simple fact to a simple-ton.
'First comes the frock-spawn...and then come the frocks!'
I plug the mower into the extension cable and then feed it back along the garden to the sun-room and into a socket. As I walk back I become aware of voices and people moving around next door, I can just catch glimpses through the apple blossom but I don't recognise any of them. The gardens are close together and I never feel polite mowing if someone else is sitting outside.
Soon though, my naturally questing characteristics take over and I'm straining to catch any snippets of conversation which might float over the fence while trying to look interested in the mower. Maybe the house has been sold by Frankel's children and I wonder if these are my new neighbours?
I begin to mow, annihilating plenty of dandelions and the springy bright flower heads spew up into the air in a satisfyingly shredded and destructive manner. I start to move the trampoline which is a cumbersome dead weight to haul but I have a well-developed manoeuvre for that and in a few short twists, drags and tugs it is repositioned into one of its two spaces so that I can now mow the upper part of the garden. Then I see a man looking at me. I give him a friendly neighbourly smile.
'I won't be long! I'm just giving it a quick trim and then I'll leave you in peace!'
It's a youngish man with a flat empty smirk. Humour is written all over his face but I don't find him funny. I heave the trampoline the last few inches into the deeply embedded grooves on the ground.
'Yes. I am'
'You must be stronger than you look'
'Oh yes. I'm much stronger than I look'
And you, my friend, look like an oaf.
I mentally swallow back my sullen disappointment and try not to make any sweeping assumptions.
I look down at the remaining dandelions and remember Frankel's raw garlicky breath and 'stick' exercises. I decide to leave a few clumps of them where they are around the edges. They stand out in bunched gatherings like gossipy girls in cheap loud dresses. They stretch out their long necks, eager to be noticed. I'm trying to see the beauty in them. Like Frankel would have.