‘You take the car, I’ll walk back with the dog’. I hear myself desperately say, as I try to carve out some time to myself, after four weeks family holiday.
‘It’s ok, I’ll come with you’ says the VOR, afraid that I will call into the pub, ‘Besides I have to pick up some flowers for the village fete’.
Reluctantly accepting my fate – not fete, although it is somewhat similar – I am surprised when she agrees to my suggestion of a cheeky, lunchtime ale. After the customary ten minutes choosing, the VOR settles on ‘A half of whatever you’re having’ then complains about its quality.
‘What do you have to do?’ I ask through a mouthful of hoppy beer. ‘We’ says the VOR, scuppering my chances of a sneaky second pint, ‘have to get some Cosmos from Gerald Trainer – knight of the realm and former spy’s garden. ‘Well, to be precise, it’s not his garden anymore. Penny and Ralph live there now but they are in New Zealand and Margaret said that they wouldn’t mind.
‘What Is Cosmos’? I ask, wondering how I became involved.
‘It’s an orange flower, YOU will know it when YOU see it’. ‘Do you know the house?’ ‘ Yes’ she says, ‘It’s where Edward and I bought the boat’. ‘And do you have some secateurs?’ I say, warming to the conspiratorial task but realising I have probably asked too many questions.
‘What was that beer called?’ ‘Old Molethrottler – you normally like it’ I say, as I tie the dog to the gatepost.
Trying to find some orange flowers, I walk around to the rear of the house and bump into a man in a panama hat unloading a car. ‘Hello’ I venture, feeling like a small boy who has knocked someone’s door and been caught running away. He returns my hello without enthusiasm and an expression which says ‘Who are you and what the **** are you doing in my garden?’ Before I can say ‘Ralph, I thought you were in New Zealand’ the VOR arrives.
‘Hi’ she says, extending her hand ‘I’m Katie, Jenny and John’s daughter, from the farm at the top of the hill. Margaret said it was OK to pick some orange flowers for the village fete – What are they called Jules?’ ‘Cosmos’ I answer.
‘Who’ says the man, fixing her with what I can only imagine is a quizzical stare behind his dark glasses. ‘Margaret’ says the VOR, less sure of herself now and realising that we are not at Penny and Ralph’s.
‘Are you Gerald?’ she nervously asks.
‘I am’ the man says, ‘But What Is Cosmos?’
This is my moment, and unable to resist, am just about to say – for I too am wearing dark glasses. ‘Well Gerald, I think you know precisely what Cosmos is, and we’re here for it, so hand it over’.
Fortunately the VOR interjects, ‘I think there’s been some misunderstanding and we are all at the wrong end of some Chinese whispers – So sorry to disturb’.
Gerald’s quintessentially English reserve prevents him from informing the police and we cheerfully depart leaving a confused, and inwardly seething man, to his unpacking.
We laughingly recount our experience as we hurry down the hill and the VOR wets herself with laughter in the country lane.
Later that evening we learn that the flower in question is called Crocosmia Paniculata and it grows, like a weed, in our drive.
‘Give me a taste of that beer’ says the VOR. ‘Oh now that’s nice, much better than the one at lunchtime’. ‘What is it?’ she asks. ‘Old Molethrottler’ I answer, struggling to keep a straight face. It has not been a great day for women’s intuition.