Try gardening as an alternative to debauchery

How else can one explain the repeated inclusion of Alan Titchmarsh in lists of attractive public figures?
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We were pushing and pulling, gasping and groaning, first in a standing position, then on our knees. So caught up were we in our shared rapture that, when the light faded, we kept going. It began to drizzle, then rain, then sleet. I wondered out loud whether it was quite the moment for this kind of activity, but there was a look in her eyes which I know from sweet experience will simply not be denied. So our breathless scrabbling for completion resumed until, soaked and sated, we could at last relax and return to the world of ordinary, domestic behaviour.

We were pushing and pulling, gasping and groaning, first in a standing position, then on our knees. So caught up were we in our shared rapture that, when the light faded, we kept going. It began to drizzle, then rain, then sleet. I wondered out loud whether it was quite the moment for this kind of activity, but there was a look in her eyes which I know from sweet experience will simply not be denied. So our breathless scrabbling for completion resumed until, soaked and sated, we could at last relax and return to the world of ordinary, domestic behaviour.

There will be those - town-dwelling, sneery, wine-bar types - who will regard this clenched and glazed approach to something as banal as planting trees as being odd or, worse, middle-aged. It is true that the pursuit which has become an obsession around here, turning what two years ago was a couple of fields and a shed into a glorious human habitation with shrubs, flowers, vegetables and, the task of the moment, trees, is more about the future than the present.

Gardening is one of the few occupations which actually makes one look forward to being older, a fact which may account for its popularity among those who have started to become twitchy about such things. It is, to use the phrase once deployed by Cynthia Ozick to explain why people wrote fiction, "a stay against erasure".

But the suspicion that there is something more to it than that has been confirmed by the National Archive papers released this week under the 30-year rule. It has been revealed that one of the great shaggers of 1973, Lord Lambton, the Tory minister caught up in the sex scandal of that year, confessed to an MI5 interviewer that it had been the sheer dullness and futility of being a junior minister which had turned his energies to mischief - something Tony Blair might bear in mind when making his next round of appointments.

There were other echoes of contemporary concern. Lambton had become obsessed by his inability to use his title to the extent that he was no longer able to take his mind off things by reading books. His solution to the problem was to pay regular visits to a call-girl called Norma Levy who arranged dope-fuelled three-in-a-bed bunk-ups for him - so far, so traditional. He also, much more interestingly, had become "an enthusiastic and vigorous gardener".

Boredom, snobbery, privilege, lasciviousness, all leading to a vigorous session in the herbaceous border: it is a thoroughly English story. Yet, now that Lord Lambton lives in Italy, the connection between gardening and the pleasures of the flesh is no longer something enjoyed by those with a title, but has become a universal, if unacknowledged, part of the national character of the country he has abandoned.

How else can one explain the repeated inclusion of Alan Titchmarsh in lists of our most attractive public figures? If Charlie Dimmock had made her name in another area of lifestyle TV - making over flats, for example - would the nation's manhood have risen so irresistibly at the sight of her handsome but unremarkable embonpoint? Would the Charlie Dimmock Calendar have become a coveted item among male (and some female) horticulturalists? It is surely no coincidence that "passionate" is the adjective of self-description most frequently used by keen gardeners.

The passion of the British, so often misunderstood and under-rated in the wider world, is not only expressed behind the closed doors of the bedroom but outside on allotments, around lawns, in vegetable patches. The expression of those looking at hardy perennials or clematis at their local garden centre - rapt, intensely absorbed in fantasy - is not that dissimilar to the men and women visiting their local Ann Summers emporium in search of the latest erotic aids from Bangkok.

On the whole, it would have been better if the reason for that sense of intimate, throbbing, sap-stirring anticipation which horticulturalists know so well had not been made quite so explicit by the Lambton revelations. It is embarrassing and faintly disgusting, the idea of a minor public figure slaking his ennui and social frustration not only by clambering all over Norma Levy and her pals but by some eager flower-bed action, too.

The danger now is that those who like to exploit such things will see a fresh market in the making. Sleazy websites - seedy.com, stalker.co.uk - will spring up on the internet like rampant blackberry bushes with a view to attracting pervy on-line enthusiasts. Bob Flowerdew will become a sex icon. There will be gardeners' chat-rooms, expensive phone-lines where the dirty talk is about real dirt.

None of this should deter or distract those of us who are true, passionate gardeners. We shall be outside as usual, our hands busy, our minds free of Lambtonian associations, as we vigorously cross-pollinate on our raised beds.

terblacker@aol.com

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