Naked weeding

By David Medcalf

'You'll get worms.'

Hermione, never more delectable than when blowing a stray strand of hair from her eyes, is assisting with weeding the Side Garden on a summer afternoon.

She resembles a cross between 'Crocodile Dundee' and 'Field of Dreams', her shorts, tee-shirt and floppy hat ensemble completed by a bulky pair of knee pads. If ladies glow, then she is glowing like a lighthouse as we lay into the dandelions which have invaded the asparagus patch.

'You'll get worms,' she insists, as she mops her glistening brow.

'But I love worms. They are my favourite creatures.'

'No, not earth worms! I mean intestinal worms, parasites. No one loves tape worms. No one in their right minds loves hook worms. No one with any sense loves tape worms.'

'Nah! Dogs get worms, not me.'

The dear woman explains patiently that using bare hands to tackle unwanted buttercups or daisies exposes the unprotected gardener to all manner of infection and invasion. Though it may yield wonderful crops, raw soil is laden with all manner of unseen perils and poisons, she counsels earnestly. Hermione is presumably correct, of course - better by far to pull on a pair of working gloves and avoid the dangers.

But I prefer to set about my work bare-handed, wrestling with the invading docks and thistles like an old-style prize fighter, promising to wash properly afterwards.

'You will get lockjaw.'

Nice try, oh lovely one. My late mother used to say the same thing to me. My late mother's late mother used to issue similar warnings to my late mother about how dirty wounds could lead to lockjaw. As a child, my pals and I would speculate with delicious horror on the dire consequences of such a condition, which would require the smashing of perfectly good teeth to allow victims suck liquid meals through a straw.

Half a century on, I have yet to meet anyone whose jaw has actually locked and certainly not as a consequence of picking burrweed or cow parsley from a herbaceous border with naked fingers. I am happy to run the risk. And, if I should happen to be stricken with the dread condition, then be sure to tell the doctors that I prefer the beef flavoured liquid meal if given the choice.

'You will get Weil's disease.'

Ah, yes, Weil's disease, the often fatal bacterium spread through rat's urine. Weil's disease is a real and present danger. It's just that I have a problem looking at the world, specifically looking at the garden, as one big toilet with every leaf likely to harbour faecal matter and a cocktail of lethal organic chemicals.

I elect to continue playing Russian roulette by tugging at the nettles with unguarded hands. This flower bed is the canvas on which I express myself.

Would Vincent van Gogh ever have painted his sunflowers in a pair of Marigolds? Not a chance! Let me grapple with that pesky skutch grass man to man, man to monocot, man to rhizome, man to whatever. No barriers. No restraint. No compromise…

After a hard day's labour in the Rolling Acres, no greater pleasure than to snuggle down on the sofa with the missus to enjoy good video. The lights are low, the drinks are cold and fizzy, served with freshly picked mint leaves, while the children are elsewhere.

Hermione is a keen George Clooney fan, so we have dusted off one of his movies to savour at our leisure.

I move to put a companionable arm around the beloved, only to have the romantic mood shattered as she responds with a theatrical shudder.

'Take that filthy mauler of yours off me.' No use of the word please. 'I know exactly where that hand has been and it is not coming near me. Not now. Not ever.'

The abrupt rejection is delivered in a hiss, her eyes never deviating from Hollywood's finest, the words invested with steely insistence.

Hmm. Maybe, perhaps, on reflection, a pair of those French floral pattern gloves might just possibly be a good idea.

Wexford People