I have a new toy. And it’s great – a gardener’s dream.
No, it’s not an instant compost-maker (dream on!) nor is it the humane answer to the ongoing battle with the ants. But when old friends of ours from Doha days visited us yesterday along with their relatives, who are also our neighbours, they presented me with a power tool to die for: a hedge and grass trimmer.
It might seem odd to wax lyrical about a piece of garden equipment. But I had no idea you could get such things here in Egypt. I have never seen a gardener use one. All the hedges here, no matter how vast and high, are cut using hand shears, the gardener often standing atop the wobbliest of wooden step ladders while his mate stands and clings to the base of the ladder for dear life, in order to stabilize the thing.
The task of hedge cutting is also fraught with the usual uncertainties, the need to clarify terms and come to a precise agreement about what is to be undertaken being paramount. Sometimes, “cutting the hedge” means one side only; other times, it doesn’t include the top – this is what happened last time the Engineer organized the job. If you point out that only part of the task has been done, there is an aggrieved silence, a look of disbelief and a “Bess, ya Madam…” (Untranslatable – but you know you have to backtrack and find a better way.)
Tea sometimes soothes ruffled feelings; but, unless you have been clear right from the start, the payment metre starts ticking again and will go on into infinity if you don’t get a grip on the situation.
The thought that I may now be able to declare independence and handle at least part of the hedge-cutting process myself fills me with an odd sense of triumph: as if to say to the gardeners: “I’ll show you!”
Do I sense delusion setting in?
At all events, the gift was a wonderful surprise, and could not have been more appropriate. Usually, when people call for tea or a meal here, they bring something sweet and heavy such as “konafa” or “basbousa” to add to the calorie-fest. In a lethal modern twist, these traditional sweets, already soaked in syrup, are now further garnished with cream. The custom is to spend the meal discussing weight problems, analysing the failure of diets, and agonising over how to lose weight. I always feel there is a disconnect here, but can’t quite put my finger on the cause…
Of course, I could say that the answer is: gardening! Excellent exercise, guaranteed to get you moving, all in the fresh air. Just try not to fall off the step-ladder.