Gardening: Broken hearts amid the buddleia blooms

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The Independent Online
IT HAS been a wonderful year for wild flowers. Down in St David's, Dyfed, where we've been camping, the hedgerows seemed riotous with purples and yellows. It can't be that suddenly my eyes have opened since last summer: I believe, rather, that some oddity in the weather must have triggered a bumper season.

I wish I knew the names of these delicious weeds, let alone why they are doing so well. I have been reading the Beveridge report and a hagiography of the good Sir William by his wife, Janet (who sounds even more of a blue-stocking than he), and both these ancient tomes are now pressing various blooms that I hope Mrs North's brother, a knowledgeable cove, will identify.

One of the few flowers I confidently name is buddleia. This is an important British plant. If rosemary is for remembrance, buddleia is for recession, and for the transitoriness of human affairs. I seem to see it everywhere; its scent hangs over every abandoned building, every old railway siding; it inserts itself wherever the human hand has ceased to fuss and tidy and care.

Naming names does not add much to understanding, but it makes one feel good and ordered, and order is at something of a premium with me just now. Halfway through the holiday, I took a train up to the London Hospital. The people in the cardiac department can shove a very thin something or other into your arteries and take pictures of the heart.

I was rather moody about the whole thing, and bought a Hornblower and a Nicholas Monserrat in a village fete to distract myself. I finished the Monserrat over a brilliant vegetable curry in Whitechapel High Street, right across from the hospital. The district epitomised everything I liked about London 25 years ago when I briefly drove evening frocks from Carnegie Gowns' depot in the East End to its showroom up west. I can't remember my employer's name, but he used to ask me (after complaining about how long I took to get from A to B) what a nicely spoken boy was doing driving vans. He gave me a tenner to buy respectable clothes. He was Jewish in the fully-fledged rag-trade way.

Then, London had much more decay about it, and the quaintness of many of the pubs was unselfconscious. Probably there was a heck of a lot of buddleia about. Now, the pubs in Whitechapel Road boast decor and antipodean bar-persons. But the back streets remain a hotchpotch, and there's plenty of buddleia. It barely surprised me, either, to find the house where the historian John Green lived and suffered horribly from TB. I still read him for a Whiggish onwards-and-upwards account of the march of the English people. Whitechapel has probably always seemed the sort of place to be if you cared about the improvability of the human lot, or even of the human soul.

The night before the 'procedure' (a little intravenous exploration barely qualifies as an operation), I took myself off to see Map of the Human Heart, a lovely, mythic movie. It's an account of arctic life, of Eskimos and white men, of illness and war and coincidence. Its Polar Star-crossed lovers are deliciously doomed not to be together. I couldn't help guessing that it owed something to Hugh Brody (who would not make the connection, given that one of his books of polar anthropology is called Maps and Dreams?). Big chunks of the film were about X-rays, which suited me not at all since I was about to have quite an encounter with the insightful isotope, and had spent the afternoon carrying an X-ray of my heart from department to department. An Eskimo man carries a torch for an Indian girl, and also an X- ray of her heart. (They have their heart's desire just once, on a barrage balloon; my own blood-pumper is going to be fixed, probably, by a much smaller balloon, of the sort that did wonders for Chris Patten.)

After the film, I walked along to the Venus kebab house in Charlotte Street, where I used to see Bernard Crick, Orwell's biographer, eat his lunch, while I was buying dresses for the shop I helped to run in Suffolk. The waiter who served me then, served me last week. 'Good God,' I said, 'you were here 20 years ago.' 'Thirty years ago, actually,' he replied, as he offered me a honeyed pudding that was timeless if not old. I envy his being a fixture, but only up to a point. In any case, I am absurdly pleased that there are such fixed points.

It may be the Mediterranean diet that has kept that waiter looking so well. The more I read Beveridge, the more I worry about the egregious luxury I have enjoyed. He talks about the obligation to be well, upon anyone who expects the benefit of a free health service and pension. Damn him] I have often cursed my lack of courage: I have raised too little hell in my life, and yet seem to have wrecked my heart anyway. Was it all those lovely cigarettes that did it? The bike-riding? The stopping the bike-riding? The kebabs at the Venus? The steaks and garlic butter at boozy lunches? The stews in France? The dripping sandwiches at school? The wine or the beer? The time I was a vegan? The worry? All that good milk I washed down, and for which the state paid?

One day, we will chart the causes and avoidance strategies that our individual DNA maps require, and we will know how to behave. Probably, we should all live like the rural African, on plenty of mealie and long walks. Or perhaps as the Inuit used to, on raw this and that from beneath the ice, and lots of canoeing. Come to think of it, however, it was kayaking in the surf of St David's that first brought on my angina last summer, so I think I'll opt for the tropical and not the polar regime. A young Kenyan doctor told me that the African suffers from heart diseases banished 40 years ago in Britain, and has our sorts of problems ahead of him unless he changes his ways as he gets richer. How bizarre it all is]

As for finding a way through the march of the human spirit, I recognise how well off I am to be as happy as I am. As well as the African's diet and forced exercise, I could do with a sharp infusion of his randiness. Apart from that, I must thank my lucky stars that I have kept most of my marbles in these stressful times. At least two people in this village have flipped, temporarily, during these past few months. They have been recessioned out of their brains. They are victims of the buddleia years.

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