Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Tennis and the tragic gnome

The All England Lawn Tennis Club has just completed a very successful Wimbledon tournament on some thick and healthy looking (but gnome-free) grass this season. And as a valiant Andy Murray is just edged out of being the first Brit to win the title for a thousand years by a majestic Roger Federer, one wonders again at how much of a factor the weather was. The Wimbledon organisers closed the roof, Federer could perform better as indoor conditions suit him, and Murray was seen off by the best player on the day.

Of course, Federer is perhaps the finest tennis player ever to have lived, so Murray's task was always an uphill struggle. But the point is that, once again, our mad 2012 weather here in London has had a major influence, in Murray's case necessitating the closure of the roof.

I am wondering if this all risks becoming a weather blog. I had no intention of that being my theme when I started out, but being a Brit, I am genetically predisposed to it. And us Brits have had much to discuss. There have been multiple hundreds of flood warnings around the UK. But, being the middle of summer, when the sun pops its face out from behind the clouds for any length of time, the air temperature in London rockets. This means you can quickly be too cold or too warm on an almost minute by minute basis. Also, as I previously described, Britain's wild plants are having a merry old time of it with the continuous rain and random sunny moments causing any untended green space to become thickly lush and verdant. It can be suddenly humid and I have been reminded of steaming tropical forest places simply by walking to work. The effect is compounded by the numerous parrots which now inhabit every corner of the capital. Olympic visitors from tropical nations are going to feel right at home here.

Wimbledon is not too far from Chez Siddie, and is enjoying a similar climate. The difference is, I suppose, a professional ground staff. Elsewhere, the overgrown gardens are this year's truly spectacular sight. I was slightly concerned it was just me, but clearly hardworking families everywhere are struggling to find time to fit in a spot of lawn mowing during the rain-sodden weekends. The front of our house is like a jungle exercise area used for military training, fully equipped with some genuine hazards such as bumblebees the size of barrage balloons. I saw a monster moth called a Red Underwing land in my garden like a Harrier Jump Jet, and even the occasional frog which turns up in my back yard is starting to look menacingly large. Has it eaten one of the neighbour's cats?

My lawn is also lush and green like that at Wimbledon, but that's where the similarities end. A tennis ball in my grass would simply be lost, with only the dandelions and daisies knowing its secret location. Things couldn't go on like this, so I bit the bullet, climbed into my gardening trousers, and launched into the undergrowth with my electric trimmer thingy (which I found after hacking my way to the garden shed with a machete).

It wasn't easy. Sweat oozed from every pore and my rippling musculature (moobs, if you prefer) with its glossy sheen must have been a sight to behold. Eventually I chanced upon the corner where one solitary garden gnome sits, waiting patiently for that big sweaty bloke to occasionally cut the grass. Of course, I couldn't see him through the undergrowth, and WHACK! I caught him squarely across the head with a burst-the-strings backhand that I'm sure would have sat agreeably with either Mr Federer or Mr Murray.

But where had the top of his hat gone? Smashed to smithereens, beyond repair. And thus, albeit indirectly, the bad weather claimed another innocent victim. There are only losers in this rain game. If Murray can blame the rain (and I don't recall reading anywhere that he did, but let's just imagine he thought it for a while), so can I.

How am I going to explain this to my lovely wife? I'm in a bit of trouble now, so would you mind keeping this just between us? Thanks. Let's hope she doesn't notice otherwise I fear being on the wrong end of a forehand smash. Ouch. New balls, please.

Gnome, by Siddie Nam
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See the gnome in full size on Flickr, along with more of Siddie's images.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Leaf slapper in the unrelenting rain

Now I wouldn't want you to think there was a dark stain on my otherwise emerald green credentials, but I have to tell you that I am about to to pick a fight with something you might regard as a pure and innocent living thing. Maybe it's the persistent bad weather, the relentless precipitation. It's pushing all of us to the limit, and my personal bugbear, my own axe to grind, is with trees. Yes, there it is. Out in the open. Trees are getting to me.

There's a tree on my commute-route that blocks my path daily. I dare say that, when it was planted as a sapling perhaps eighty or more years ago, the locals must have thought, "Oh, that's nice." These days it's a towering monster of a London Plane tree, which, unsatisfied with simply spreading its canopy across the road, has decided to sprout leafy tendrils from its base. These seem to be a protest at the local authority periodically cutting its mature upper limbs off in an effort to minimise the threat it poses to the surrounding properties and passing cars. Several iterations of this cycle have resulted in what looks like a chunky trunky frame almost entirely covered in leaves.

This years "wettest April, May and June since records began" (the dear old BBC loves a "since records began" story) may well be further contributing to this tree's verdant leafiness. There's no doubt that the torrential downpours of late, punctuated with the (tragically infrequent) sunny spells we have occasionally enjoyed, have made the south of England a lusher, more densely vegetated place.

One of the consequences of this is the random assaults that trees and bushes everywhere delight in making. Since it's currently always raining, the trees are often hoarding what must be countless gallons of water. They stealthily conceal it in their leaves, waiting for an unsuspecting commuter to walk beneath thinking, "that's nice; the sun's come out," before dumping a torrent of drippiness on his head. It's the arboreal equivalent of the old bucket-on-top-of-the-door trick. But the trees have two or three other anti-personnel weapons.

Another such device is the leafy wet face-slap. You may have experienced this one yourself, perhaps when following another pedestrian. I'm wondering if certain trees and plants have formed strange pacts with selected human beings. When the world is as lush as it currently is, it is sometimes necessary to use an arm to temporarily bend a tree frond out of your way. But if you happen to be following someone who has made an arboreal deal with his local forest, you may find out too late. This tree-sprite in commuter form releases a twisted branch bent away from his own path, then it pings back and, SMACK! Right in the chops. You emerge from the undergrowth with a streaming wet visage and a diminishing temper. It's always especially nice when you've made a particular effort with your hair or attire.

If you add in the constant threat from the variety of spiders hammocked between the plants, and the fact that even one abandoned soggy leaf can be enough to have your feet slip from right under you, it's surprising that we don't have more of a love/hate relationship with these large and intimidating wild things.

Or perhaps it's just me. Maybe just a little sunshine. Just a bit. A few simple rays to warm me, brown my translucent skin, pull me back from the brink. Then I can learn to love the leaves, branches and stems once again. Until then, they're sending me barking mad. Barking. Bark. Aargh!