In the Sticks: How to move an entire garden in a day

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The Independent Culture
MY MATE Frances makes her living running aerobics classes that make training for an Olympic gold seem like a soft option. So Frances knows about bodies and she says that the section of the population with the toughest arms are mothers of children under two, because lifting steadily growing children is the perfect incremental training. Clearly a case of life influencing art. In the hope that it works the other way round too. I go to the gym believing that battling a flabby botty makes useful physical labour easier. I needed it to be true this weekend because we had to move an entire vegetable garden in a day.

It was all the fault of the new greenhouse - the one the size of a central American republic. When Doug measured the plot for it he found that it would neatly cover half of our newly constructed formal veg plot. We checked the measurements three times before facing the horrible reality of dismantling the careful geometry of triangular raised beds and paved paths. Aliens may be able to do large scale fractals on a corn field in a couple of hours but then they don't have to move a tonne of top soil and 100 concrete pavers to do it.

"Don't worry," I said, "it won't be too bad. I'll help. I do go to the gym after all." And in my well-meaning naivety I really believed that two aerobics sessions made me as able to dig and barrow and lift as Doug - who is twice my size and has been doing all that sort of thing for 15 years. But I was determined to show that sitting on my backside in front of a computer all my working life didn't mean I was a wimp.

"I'll just get this path moved," I said. Nonchalantly I fitted my fingers under the edge of the first flagstone and pulled. At first I thought it was stuck down, then reality dawned. It was very heavy and I had let myself in for lifting at least 50 just like it. After the first 10 I'd worked out a way of shuffling the stones on their ends over the grass, in the way that Zombie Teletubbies might move. I'd also managed to stop myself gasping as if in the last throes of sexual ecstasy.

After the paving stones, we moved the beds, shovelling and barrowing endless amounts of soil. I got so hot I stopped caring about Doug seeing my crinkly midriff in the full and unflattering light of day, and stripped to my bikini top.

"You were quite right," beamed Doug. "It's not so bad. We'll have this done in no time. Here take this spade, it's bigger." I smiled and thought, "I'm just going to lie down and die, right now". But pride is a terrible thing. I didn't suggest a lunchbreak or burst into tears when I looked at Doug's watch and saw it was only 10 past 11. When he said we should stop to eat, I even said, "Oh, I'll just finish this first".

I think after lunch my natural endorphins cut in, you know the way they do when people have their limbs lopped off in battle and then walk 20km to the field hospital with their arm in a Tesco's carrier.

We stripped turf on the new veg garden site. Or rather, Doug stripped it - a horrible job involving all the most painful aspects of lifting and bending - I stacked it into a neat little yurt-like structure to rot down for compost. As the afternoon progressed I became more and more engrossed with perfecting the form of my yurt. Doug, having never shirked in his life, didn't understand what was going on.

Finally at around six I was reduced to spiteful worm chopping to relieve my feelings when the wooden frame of the bed I was working on refused to be level. After half an hour of watching me stabbing at innocent invertebrates and swearing Doug came over and moved a small stone out of the way. Instantly the frame fell into place. I could have screamed. But I didn't.

"Okay," said Doug, "moment of truth. If this last frame doesn't fit we're stuffed. I'll have to re-plot it all again." I just stood with my mouth open and my arms hanging while he lifted an equilateral triangle made of planks and the size of a tepee into the centre of the garden. "Yessss. Perfickk!"

Ten minutes later we were in the bath and with two glasses of champagne inside me I was feeling a lot better. I even began to feel quite cocky when Doug fell asleep just as I was perking up. I had triumphed, proved myself fit for active service, demonstrated that working out wasn't just about vanity.

But the proof of the fitness pudding is in the morning-after stiffness. My whole body throbbed and my bottom was so painful I had to take Neurofen to walk downstairs. Doug however was fine. "Yeah, gardening's the best burn workout there is," he said. "Gardeners, huh - buns of steel."