Sarah Pitton holiday at the bottom of the garden
WATCHING the rain pelt down on the blowsy late August garden the other day, it occurred to me that I need a holiday. It is either that, or I'm going to have to prise my eyelids open with matchsticks to stop myself falling asleep at my keyboard.
Luckily I've booked two weeks off in September, which is easily my favourite month, with the leaves getting their first hint of autumn tints and late summer flowers giving a final flourish.
With my current lack of funds, though, it is going to have to be a staycation. That's fine by me, actually, as I'd rather drive a few miles to the beach – even one where I'm likely to shiver rather than bask – than put my trust in Ryanair and their ilk to fly to southern Europe.
I don't like flying very much.
And when the whole point of a holiday is to relax, it seems counterproductive to have to worry for weeks in advance about the damn thing crashing.
Yes, I know that stuff about crossing the road being more dangerous than taking a flight, but at least you are in control of your destiny when you dodge the traffic. When you take a flight, you put yourself in the hands of others. I always want to nip to the cockpit to check the pilot really knows what he or she is doing. I've never been allowed to do this, though, so I console myself with scanning the air hostess's face instead, for any signs of panic and swearing, with a stiff gin and tonic in my hand.
So, a staycation it is.
It is a concept that has caught on anew with the recession, but it is not new by a long chalk.
During the Second World War, when the government propaganda machine was doing its damnedest to persuade the great British public to do things they weren't wild about doing, like eating Spam and turning the lights off, they were also pushing staycations as more fun than sunbathing on a beach covered in barbed wire.
I remember a wonderful black and white photograph which I came across while reviewing a book on the history of Britons' love affair with their gardens.
It showed two women in glamour era halterneck swimming costumes and high-heeled sandals, taking tea on the lawn behind a terraced suburban house, while behind them a man cheerily watered the plants. There wasn't much space but they all looked quite jolly about it. I'm not sure anyone ever actually did this – the scenario was concocted for the propaganda photographer's camera. It has given me an idea, though.
Why not avoid the traffic jams, and go no further than my own backyard?
My garden is 70 feet long, a tangle of a plot with clematis, and tree peonies and luxuriant bamboo, ending in a stream which my small nephews are just beginning to hanker after dipping their toes in.
Most of the time, I just look at it despairingly from the kitchen window, aware that the lack of a working party to sort out the weeds means it is starting to resemble the tangle of plants growing up around Sleeping Beauty's castle.
The ivy, in particular, is sending its tendrils everywhere, weighing down fences, suffocating the rosemary bush which is pretty hard to kill on our acidic soil, and overwhelming the lavender bushes that a former occupant planted around the only flat bit of lawn.
I've only really got to grips with the front garden which, facing south, gets what sun there is. This year, my herbs and tomato plants have been able to kid themselves that they are in the Mediterranean, thanks to the brilliant summer we've had.
But my adventures in the back garden have been confined to hanging out the washing, or parting the undergrowth in search of a bay leaf or a sprig of rosemary (although I've yet to emulate one lodger of mine, who would don a head torch after dark to go looking for something aromatic to flavour dinner with).
So that's my plan for my fortnight off. I am going to get busy with secateurs and trowel and try to sort out both the weeds and the ivy.
I might even lose a few pounds in the process; after all, fitness magazines have re-labelled toiling in the back garden as working out in "the green gym".
One thing is for sure, I'll definitely have earned a stiff gin and tonic at the end of each day.