Grounded

He stands there, his arms wide to welcome me. Le patron. Jean-Marie. His expression is ironic and teasing. He always laughs at me, and I like that. When I return to the gym after an absence, he looks at me in mock incredulity. Where have you been? Usually I say, truthfully, that I’ve had to go back to the UK or I’ve had a virus. This time is different but he doesn’t know it yet. Why have you stayed away? he asks, as if it’s a personal affront. I know, it’s been a long time, I say in French.  My father died. I’ve been in Scotland for a month. He squeezes my arm. The teasing mask is gone. Desole, he says, serious. I’m sorry. Now go and get fit.

The gym is my sanctuary. My very own space. I come here to be invisible, without a past or present. Without a profession or an interest. I nod and mouth Bonjour to the regulars, but who knows what we do in our lives outside? I’m a middle-aged woman who comes here to exercise and to restore her sanity when her equilibrium is thrown out of kilter by the world outside.

Later, when I’m on the stepper, Jean-Marie returns for a brief chat. The gym is almost empty so he’s on his rounds, stopping to joke with a man doing stomach crunches and to correct the posture of someone twirling back and forth on the twisty platform that is supposed to whittle away your love handles. He high-fives a bloke doing shoulder presses.

He stops at the stepper where I’m struggling to do five minutes. Bien? he asks. Much better, I say breathlessly, and mean it. Then I tell him my return to the gym will be curtailed. Again. I have return to Scotland on Sunday for a month to sort out my father’s flat. After that, I say, my ties with that cold, unfriendly city are cut. I won’t be going back.  He asks about my family. All in London now, I say. My youngest son moved recently from Glasgow. He moves his hand back and forth through the air – a plane going to London and back. I ask him where he lives. Here. And his family? Here. And his wife’s family? Here. He stamps his two feet on the floor and says, I’m grounded. My feet are firmly planted. My roots are deep. So I can welcome everyone. From anywhere. Like you.

It’s true. He’s good humoured and laid back. There is no cloud of tension around him. No angst. He jokes with the regulars and teases people like me – the light weights and exercise dilletantes. It’s obvious he loves running this place with his wife, Natalie. Not that I’d like to get on the wrong side of him – he’s a stocky bloke and doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

I can’t imagine what it’s like to have roots that go deep into the soil. I’m green with envy.  An army brat, I lived in twenty-eight houses, flats and tents as my father moved every two years from one posting to the next. From Germany to Cyprus. From Malta to Germany. From Tripoli to Portsmouth. I went to seventeen schools of all denominations. We lived in two war zones. The red-and-white striped barrier lifted, and in we went in and out of another barracks. We knew nothing of the cultures of the countries in which we camped.

Deja? Jean-Marie asks, as he always does when I emerge from the changing room. We have this farewell comedy routine that rarely changes. I’ve been here an hour, I reply indignantly. He shrugs his shoulders. OK. If that’s all you want to do. So be it. Allez. Off you go.

Jean Marie

A bientot, he says.  A bientot, Jean-Marie.

Is it my imagination, or do I not drift off into the blue beyond as I walk away? Are my feet a fraction closer to the ground?

Sad cyclists

The atmosphere in Tonic Gym is subdued today. The sad cyclists are here. People skirt around them. Nathalie stays behind the counter. She doesn’t bestow three kisses on us.

I don’t know if they are sad or not. I know nothing about them. The assumptions I make are based on the off-kilter atmosphere, furtive glances thrown in their direction and my feverish imagination. They are different from the rest of us.

Three are on bikes, cycling very slowly. Two are walking on conveyor belts, and one is on the cross-trainer. Their movements are completely without  drive or energy or effort, and have a sustained slackness. They are floppy puppets. They perform in slow motion to an inner music or perhaps an overwhelming silence that the rest of us can’t hear. They wear odd combinations of day clothes and sports wear. One cycles in brown office shoes with loose laces. Another is in ski dungarees, tight white socks gripping skinny ankles. Around their necks are faded, worn towels, the stripy sort you still see sometimes on wooden rollers in hospital bathrooms. Their faces are pale, as if they never feel the sun. Their skin tone is putty. They have bed hair. I don’t mean gelled funky bed hair but hair that suggests the owner spends a lot of time lying down. Their eyes are disconcerting. They are sad. So very absent and sad. They aren’t watching the video. They aren’t looking around, taking in their surroundings, taking quick peeps at the other people. They do not share smiles or nods or a mouthed Bonjour. Their blank eyes focus on an inward private world or perhaps on nothing at all.

Where do they come from?

Do they like it here?

Do they enjoy moving arms and legs to their own heartbeat?

Is there contentment in cycling to a foggy silence?

Or does nothing register?

Tomorrow, will it be forgotten?

It’s time to go. They are told to get off the bikes. They huddle in the foyer. The two people who came with them usher them out, and they go obediently, like small children. Their eyes remain on the blind spots and inner visions and dreams. They form a line and walk slowly out of the door.

No-one kisses them.

They hang Santas, don’t they?

Push your trolley over the green zebra crossing – where cars are not legally required to stop – and through the auromatic doors. What do you see? Nothing special? No, not yet. Walk across the space between the shops that have the prime location right outside the supermarket and…still nothing? Past the store detectives who look like bouncers – gelled hair and bulging chests under shiny suits – and into the first of many aisles. Still nothing. Listen carefully. What can you hear? Nothing. These are the sights and sounds of peace at Christmas in Clermont l’Herault.

OK, there are more toys on display in the non-food half of the supermarket. Segregated aisles for boys and girls. Play guns and khaki versus pink and sparkly. There is a single aisle of Christmas tree lights and baubles. Then on we go through the garden tools and toothpaste and bakery and deli and cleaning stuff and the frozen food. Nothing yet. Not a jingle. Not a Jingle Bells to stop you remembering what you came here to buy. Then you emerge at the wide open counters displaying fruit and veg and you know that the French haven’t forgotten Christmas. Next to the cabbages and leeks are pretty boxes of dates stuffed with marzipan. Some with ribbons.

Above the road into Clermont, last year’s lights have just gone up. In our village, they haven’t got round to it yet. Once the lights are secured to the lamp posts, they will stay there until February or March or until someone remembers to take them down.

xmas decsFrom my house perched on top of the hill overlooking the village, I can see one house flashing migraine blue. Otherwise nothing. Real stars twinkle in the clearest, coldest sky and the ancient church glows golden. And it is here that Christmas begins for the French, at midnight on Christmas Eve, when they go to mass and then return home to eat – foie gras, raw oysters, garlic stuffed escargots, turkey or goose with chestnut stuffing or wild boar or venison, cheeses – between five and seven including roquefort – and finally la buche (chocolate log) served with champagne. A dozen courses is not unusual. Then, somehow, they do it all again on Christmas Day.  Church, then another grande bouffe washed down with local vin.

church

The traditional French decoration is a Santa climbing the wall ready to get into the chimney. How do they explain so many Santas to the kids? Maybe French children understand icons and statues and symbols. The Peres Noels look pretty wretched with string pulled tight round their jugulars – like something out of Jo Nesbo. In France they hang Santas. They strangulate Christmas before it’s even begun. What a blessed relief!

Suicidal Santa

A perfect day

A perfect day is when you find something that you thought was lost forever.

I had a pair of Top Shop ankle boots, worn every winter for seven years, and irreplaceable. You can love boots – ones that can be walked through mud and mire, splashed in puddles and slithered in spilt frozen blueberries and then shine up with a smile after a swipe of a wet dish rag. Those boots were more or less welded to my feet.

Then one day I couldn’t find them. I searched the wardrobe, under the bed and sofa, the kitchen cupboards, every cupboard, every possible place where a pair of boots might have been left in a moment of absent mindedness.

I wore my fake leopard skin wellies which just didn’t do it, and my ancient square-toed pink boots that looked plain stupid. I wore my T K Maxx indoor canvass boots outside and ruined them.

But memory works in mysterious ways. Last night I had an apple-on-the-head moment. Insomnia can bring insights, as well as rubbish. Boots, boot, boots, I thought. I remembered that my boots had been in the boot of my van, on their way to be mended for the umpteenth time, when I went to the garage to get a flat tyre changed about three weeks ago.

Back I went, heart in mouth, hands knuckle-white on the wheel. Could they be there after all this time? Surely not.

It’s a grotty old garage, more a shed with a tyre mountain. I went there because it was cheap. The owner recognised me. Or the dog. ‘Mes bottes? Est ce que vous avez mes bottes?’  I asked him, holding my breath and pointing to my feet. ‘Aaah..les bottes dans un sac…?’ I stopped breathing. ‘Mais oui!’ he said. ‘The boots in the bag. Yes….’

He returned from a back room with my carrier bag. With my boots inside. I gave a shriek of joy that stopped the mechanics from their tyre-fitting. I wanted to hug the guy  –  filthy black overalls, W40-greased hands, stubble, spanner and all. I laughed. They laughed. Homer gave a sympathetic howl of joy. I showed the men the holes in the soles and heels and they offered to mend them with bits of black tyre.

I left on a wave of joy, skipping and talking to Homer. The mechanics watched us go. Just another mad English woman. Une Anglaise folle!  Une dingue!  Or perhaps they said something much worse.

Fig Chutney

She is my friend.

We sit at her kitchen table, Homer underneath, heavy on our feet. It’s a used kitchen. Cluttered and loved. She told me the first time we met to use the intimate tu form of you. Vous is formality and strangers. She talks fast but checks that I am following. I understand her, despite the accent. In this part of France, rhythm and vocabulary are heavily coloured by Occitan. Vin is pronounced veng. She pulls down cookery books that fill wall-to-ceiling shelves. She finds the confiture and chutney recipes I want and re-writes them in pencil, very simply, explaining the words and processes, stopping to make sure I understand: cac (coffee spoonful) and maceration (marinade). I guess anis etoile (star anise) correctly.

Fig Chutney

Her cookery, like her painting, is creative. She blends and invents. She works by taste and smell and instinct. Last time I ate at her house, she produced a casserole of beef and figs which was beyond heavenly. Her leg of lamb was accompanied by her own fig chutney. The fig chutney was dark, syropy and utterly delicious.

On her drawing pad, I sketch the lines of my family tree and add names – my sons, their wives, my twin grand-daughters. Beneath mine, she draws hers – a son and daughter, a husband and wife, two grand-daughters. With a ruler, she tears the paper in half so we can take away each other’s loved ones. Ella and Amelia. Laetitia and Amendine.

I tell her I miss my little grand-daughters and haven’t seen them for months, but negatives are hard (too many) and ‘miss’ works the opposite way round.

Je ne les ai pas vues depuis trois mois.

I not they have not seen since three months.

Elles me manquent.

They I am missing.

As always, we look at her paintings in the converted garage. The aquarelles and the newer Chinois. She has mastered traditional Chinese painting and talks of brushes and brush strokes, ink, rice paper, chickens, horses and peonies. By now, the words bounce against my brain and fall to the ground.

I tear myself away. As I drive home, I hear the words of our friendship: gingembre, bouillonnant, marinade, cassonade, petite-filles, figues, citrons, coup de brosses, les couleues des pivoines. Ginger, bubbling, marinade, brown sugar, grand-daughters, figs, lemons, brush strokes, the colours of peonies.

The next day, she emails me in half-sentences, her thoughts too quick for the constraints of grammar.  Signing off, she writes, Je t’embrasse. 

Hair of the dog

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My dog is moulting.

He is black with white spots and the floor tiles in our open plan living space are white. Not my stupid idea. They were down when we moved in.

I’m not talking about a fine covering of canine hair. I’m talking about an autumnal moult of epic, Samson and Delilah proportions that leaves the floor looking like a barber’s shop and keeps me a slave to the hoover for an hour a day. Each morning the floor looks like a whole pack of dogs have been fighting all night and tearing chunks of hair out. If I open a window or door, black fur balls waft back and forth, dance under the table and chairs and end up dredged against a wall. There is hair in my bed and hair on the kitchen work surfaces.

Homer loves to shake himself. He shakes his body with a perfect head-to-tail shimmy that would score 9 on Strictly.  He shakes himself when he is pleased which is most of the time. If filmed in slow-motion, you would see the hair and dust rise up and hang in the streams of sunlight for a second before gracefully falling and spreading across the floor, like those circles in water after someone has thrown a stone.

Homer and I are currently incompatible housemates. I like to walk barefoot. I’ve never worn heels and go straight from flip-flops to boots when the seasons change. I walked barefoot when I was a child in Africa. In the late 60s, I walked barefoot from my hall of residence, along the streets, to the university campus. That’s what we did then. Bare feet, bare thighs, no cleavage, long hair.

What to do? I brush and scrape him. I take him for a swim in the river so that the current will wash away the loose hair. I stand him in a Force 8 gale. No difference.

Enough.

I’ve just hoovered the floor for the fifteenth time this week.

I put him outside.

He stares at me through the glass, puzzled.

He gives a small bark.

Stares some more.

I let him in again.

He executes a perfect five second shimmer-shake of delight.

Lamb in tar

‘We’ve been asked to go along to a special meal,’ I tell him. ‘It’s lamb in tar and it’s for the workmen who build the roads in Languedoc. Once a year, a group of engineers cook them a meal to mark the end of the work.’

I have an image of a rows and rows of tables, covered in white table-cloths, lining a stretch of just-finished, glossy black motor way. The workmen will sit down in their overalls, drink red wine and eat the agneau bitume served by the engineers who did the technical stuff for the roads and made the drawings’.

‘Are you sure?’ he asks.

‘No.’ I confess. ‘Viviane was speaking a bit fast.’

‘It sounds unlikely.’

‘Maybe I didn’t understand. Definitely lamb in tar and something about labourers who build the roads.’

‘Lamb rolled in asphalt. For all the men who work on the roads? I don’t think so.’

Viviane and Michel tell us to get to their house early. I ask Viviane to tell us again where we are going and what it’s about, but there isn’t time for explanations. They have to help prepare the lamb and we are already late. Remember the French take eating very seriously. We follow them to Montpellier, then into suburbia, and finally pull up outside a rather grand house. I don’t see any tables on the pavement.  We follow our hosts down the path to the garage where a group of men are preparing the meat. They greet us warmly with lots of kisses, and carry on stuffing. It’s all very convivial with jokes I don’t understand. These folk know each other well and they’ve done this before.

I watch the men, and the wives who have joined in. Little slits are made in each leg of lamb and cloves of garlic and sprigs of rosemary pushed inside. Each leg is smothered in mustard and olive oil, then wrapped in layer upon layer of white paper, and wound round and round with white sticky tape. Like a mummy. Like a parcel. Soon a tray of bound lamb sits ready.

Viviane takes me outside and round to the front of the house where a vat of tar is smoking. It is lamb in tar! And there’s a chef in a pinny. No workmen yet. Maybe they arrive later.

Viviane shows me round the house which belongs to an artist, not an engineer, but he is hosting the event this year. They take it in turns, Viviane tell me. Upstairs is a courtyard of citrus trees. There are paintings and sculptures and light-filled spaces and acres of books and beautiful old furniture. We step from the living room on to a long terrace. Here, finally, are the tables. I’d been worrying about the tables. And wives laying cutlery and glasses and talking. Still no workmen. I note there is seating here for thirty at most.

‘Um…please explain again what is happening.’ I say. ‘Je ne comprends pas.’

‘The engineers have known one another since they were students,’ Viviane says. ‘Michel is one. They went to the same specialist college, about twelve of them, and have kept in touch. Every year they meet for this meal.’

‘Why lamb in tar?’

‘Long ago, the men who built the roads used to have no way of cooking their meat so they wrapped it up and boiled it in the vats of bitumen they were using to surface the roads. The engineers are carrying on the tradition.’

Now I’m getting there.

‘Les ouvriers?’ I ask, just in case. ‘The workmen? Are they coming?’

She looks at me, mystified. 

We return to the garage where the chef is loading the bound legs of lamb into a wire basket. Everyone follows him outside where he and his helper slot the basket on to long handles and drop the whole thing into the boiling bitumen. People clap and take photos. We trail up to the terrace and drink a toast to the simmering lamb.

The cooking is timed to the minute. A couple of the men anxiously keep an eye on their watches. At exactly 13.20 we all troop outside again for the climax of this somewhat unlikely ritual. They cheer as the basket of agneau is lifted out of the vat and laid, smoking, on the ground. The chef drops each burnt, black lump into a pail of water and unwinds the rolls and rolls of paper. The tension and suspense is palpable as he undoes the last strip, sniffs, pokes, and beams up at us.  The leg of lamb is cooked to perfection.

He carries it ceremoniously back to the garage and cuts off little slices for us to taste. The engineers and their wives nod in approval. They smack their lips. They kiss their fingers.

The meal gets underway and last for four hours. The lamb is moist and delicious. As are the salads and the cheeses and the strawberry tart and ice-cream and the coffee.

‘What happened to the road-builders?’ my husband says, poking me in the ribs.

‘Um, they ate their lunch about a century ago.’ I reply.

Dancer

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In Languedoc, there are ON and OFF switches for rain. None of that dismal day-long drizzling that leaves you wrapped in a damp blanket, feeling miserable and mouldy. Here it’s a downpour of burst dam proportions, then the sun comes out again. The fierce clatter of rain-drops is often accompanied by the bass of thunder and a sky-filled light show. The heavens are performing a fireworks display and it’s not even bonfire night.

So there we were, Homer and I, walking along the poplar-lined pathways under a pale sky in Villeneuvette when the charcoal clouds rolled in and the sky opened its trap doors. In less than a minute we were soaked to the skin. Water ran off Homer’s silky black fur and pooled on either side. His tail was a running hose-pipe. I was standing, fully dressed, under a power shower.  Then the booms and bangs began right overhead, and a dazzling diagram of silver lines ran down the sky. Fearing electrocution, we did a runner for the only building in sight which was the art gallery.

They could not have been more gracious. Viviane Zanca and her husband Michel were at a desk covered in leaflets and postcards when two creatures from the deep crashed through the doors and dripped rain and orange mud all over the polished floor. Desolee, I said. I’m so sorry. While I stripped off my anorak, Homer got free and ran all over the gallery, shaking and splattering water over walls and floor. I grabbed him and tied him to the door handle. Introductions were made. Viviane talked passionately about her aquarelles while her husband translated into perfect English. After our operatic entrance, I took some deep breaths and wandered round the gallery with Viviane at my side telling me about the landscapes, the nudes and the recurring clown.

Indigo

Poule 2

I was particularly drawn to an aquarelle of a dancer. She’d finished performing and stood bowed and spent, her emotions draining away in the colours of rain and storms and flowers. I asked how much it was. It’s not for sale, Viviane replied. Disappointed, I saw the tiny red dot. I’m keeping it myself, Viviane continued. It’s my favourite too.

Danse

Funny how you can know somebody you’ve never met before. Viviane’s energy and mine were synchronised. We talked about writing and painting and our need to be creative, about being different, about experimenting with words and colour. We could have talked for hours with Michiel gently intervening to translate, but Homer was growing restless in his puddle by the door. We exchanged cards. We promised to meet again. Empty promises had been given before. The French are scrupulously charming and polite but I’ve been told you never get invited into their houses.

I went home, found two large towels, dried one dog and one wet dog-owner, and afterwards looked for a long time at the postcard of the painting of the dancer.

Two days later an email from Viviane invited me and my husband to lunch with a group of their friends. And so our friendship began. Viviane is gifted and unconventional. She has a furious wild energy. She is utterly open and honest. We start talking as I get out of the car and are still talking when I get in again.

A bientot, Viviane. I’m glad it rained.

To see more of VivianeZanca’s paintings go to: http://zanca.over-blog.com/

Kisses in a French gym

The French don’t really do gyms; they are few and far between. They do cycling round hair-pin bends in tight groups with tight buttocks in tight black and yellow lycra, holding the road, holding up cars. Some days, the road up to Vaihan and down into Magalas is closed for the boy racers, some of whom are definitely over forty. Those guys are scary fit but I hold my breath as they free-wheel down the ski-jump slopes. At that speed will they make it round the next bend? The drop is sheer.

It’s pure serendipity that there’s a gym only fifteen minutes from where I live. It’s small, crammed with cranky equipment and has feeble fans on the ceiling that circulate warm, sweaty air. Each time I go, I am met with a cheery ‘Bonjour!’ and three kisses from the patron, Jean-Marie. The endorphins kick in before I even get on the bike.

Gyms wipe out class and age and background. Even, to some extent, nationality. Here we are equal in our attempts to get fit, though not in the results we achieve. We wear grotty t-shirts and old trainers. The guy in the baggy shorts emerges later from the changing room in a crisp suit and tie. Another leaves still in his gym things and carrying a motor cycle helmet. I like not knowing what they do outside.

Ever since my first son’s nursery teacher dragged me along to a small gym in Bristol, they’ve been my refuge and my escape. Long before Esporta and Virgin came along, I went to the gym to switch off my busy brain with simple repetitions. Count to ten, then another ten. Draw breath. Count to ten. The gym in Bristol was owned by a guy who had been an athlete. He did sit-ups and ate pea-nuts from a brown paper bag. And encouraged ‘the ladies’ on the two evenings when the blokes were barred. After that, it was one of the first big gyms to open in Edinburgh on Lothian Road with tons more space, instructors, aerobics and step classes. Finally Virgin – not so much a gym as a life-style. If you were so inclined, you could spend all day going from the gym with the eight video screens to the pool to the sauna to the cafe to the lounge with free Guardians (yeah Guardians!) to the wi-fi space. There were ten showers with free industrial fairy liquid and hair-driers. About four of us can fit into the changing room here. I’m back in the Bristol gym except it has crossed the channel and the patron is kind and helpful when he isn’t laughing at me. Weird English woman.

The patron’s wife, Nathalie, takes the French kissing ritual to a whole new level. Emerging every twenty minutes from the counter, she squeezes her way round the gym and without a sign of repugnance bestows three kisses – right, left, right – on all the sweaty cheeks she can reach. I love that. I love being kissed while I’m doing sit-ups. It somehow makes them less painful. The intimacy makes me smile. Gym etiquette in the UK requires you to avoid eye contact with anyone. You plug yourself into your ipod and keep pedaling. Anonymous. Private. Individual. Here, each person who arrives shouts Bonjour! It would be rude not to, just as you say Bonjour to everyone in the post office and everyone in the dentist’s waiting room. The men clap each other on the back and do high fives. Some hug. Some kiss. I can’t follow the bavarderie carried on in rapid French but I do recognise the bonhomie. They are not taking it quite as seriously as the gym bunnies across the channel, although there are some massive blokes here. I try not to stare as I lift my puny weights and count to ten.

I recognise the regulars now and acknowledge them with a smile and a greeting: the older woman in her day clothes and jewelery who reads Le Midi while peddling on a bike very very slowly; the tall thin guy who dances across the gym on tip-toe as if he’s trying to be quiet; the hard-core guys in the weights section pouring sweat over improbable loads. One bloke is doing a body lift on parallel bars with a stack of circular weights balanced on the back of his crossed ankles. The rest of us exchange wry smiles. A woman calls to Jean-Marie to tell him she can’t adjust the position of a machine and there he is beside her with his can of WD40. The woman cocks her elbow for an under-arm spray and everyone collapses in laughter.

Julian and Jean-Marie

As I leave, Jean-Marie says, as he always says, Deja? Already? Je suis ici une heure! I’ve been here an hour! I reply indignantly in wretched French, as I always do. Julian, the young guy, is getting ready to take a dance class in the adjoining studio and the small lobby swarms with French fairies in tutus and tights. Among them is Lisa, the daughter of Jean-Marie and Nathalie. I wave goodbye, and leave grinning, as I always do.

I would stay. I would stay much longer in this place where I feel welcome but Homer is waiting in the car, waiting for his exercise.

Box

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They were tiny when they arrived, forty of them, small enough to fit in one water-filled jam jar. They had traveled across France wrapped in bubble-wrap and newspaper, and yet they emerged green and alive. Each was a single fragile stem tapering to a fine hair of a root. Five or six baby leaves. A wisp of a plant. A beginner. My smallest plant pot was too wide and not deep enough.

The first planting was in sliced-off small plastic water bottles from our recycling – not enough for forty but a lucky dozen got off to a head start. The others had to wait, still clustered together, brothers and sisters not yet separated, in a temporary home. As I drank water – with a new eagerness – so more stems and roots were teased apart and pressed into bottles of soil. The containers fitted neatly into a green crate that offered shelter from the gales that sometimes swept across the terrace, picking up a pot of mint, flip-flops, the door mat, knickers off the washing line and the watering can and hurling them over the precipice. Our house perches on a steep slope.

They grew. Slowly. In their transparent bottles, I watched the roots grow down and spread out until they filled the soil. When the six leaves became a dozen and fluttered in the breeze and the single root became a tangle of fawn darning wool, it was time to move them on. They were so attached to their bottles that I had to cut the plastic away with scissors. No way were they coming out in one piece. I felt they were being reluctantly weaned.

It is almost two years since the box plants came in the post. This summer they had a hair cut to encourage them to grow into stubby round shapes. I dream of topiary and mazes, but those are many years in the future. Patience is the name of this plant.