To drive past the old Kelway’s building going into Langport, is always a moment to recall memories of two summers spent working there,
The most abiding memory of those summers will always be of the astilbes.
One Monday morning, along with a friend, I was asked by Don, the foreman, to clear a bed close to the greenhouses in which he was working.
We felt we had done a good job, for an hour later there was not so much as the smallest of weeds left in the bed.
On his return, Don turned a shade which is often described puce. In Anglo-Saxon English he asked us where his astilbes were.
We didn’t know what an astilbe looked like, so couldn’t answer his question. A frantic search through the rubbish heap ensued, as Don, along with the two of us scrambled to find the unearthed plants before the owner came around on his morning rounds.
In later years, it was not hard to believe the story of the man who knew only one sort of tree – it was called “tree.”
Having a list of trees that runs to oak, not-oak, silver birch and Christmas, it is not hard to imagine someone having as little knowledge as I have.It must have been hard to have got through an entire education in rural England without developing even a slight awareness of the countryside around.
My ignorance is despite the best efforts of Miss Everitt, who took the primary school class for Nature every week, trying to teach not only the sorts of trees and flowers, but also their components – sepals and stamens and all that sort of stuff.
My list of recognizable flowers is longer than that of trees: daffodils, tulips, primroses, cowslips, things that might be bluebells, the red ones in the corner, and lily things that always gave me hay fever on Easter morning.
Not being any lazier than the next person when it came to studying at school, what happened that an entire component of education seemed to disappear? Historical stuff like the day of the death of Marie Antoinette and the youngest person in the Royal Navy to be awarded the Victoria Cross stuck in the brain (16th October 1793 and Jack Cornwell). English was not bad, except for the handwriting classes. Arithmetic was manageable, even the long division. But ask what was the tree that grew in the hedge beside the school field, and there would be bewilderment.
Perhaps it was just dislike of the everyday familiar things – maybe stuff about trees and flowers had not much appeal in a rapidly changing England. Sometimes, an evening class on all the things one never learned would sound an attractive proposition.
As for the astilbes, they still look like weeds.