The Chaos of Horticulture

It is largely known that children are mean, healing unprincipled little shits who would happily trade Granny for a Lego Star Wars Turbo Tank. They’re awful. Lord of the Flies is less speculative fiction and more challenging documentary; a recreation seen any day on any national playground as children feed each other on sand, humiliation and bits of human poo.

Just try to discipline them, though. It’s never their fault. Someone else is always to blame. Even if you’ve just seen them send Gran to the courier.

Children have the morals and shame of a mattress and are as unlikely to accept guilt for their manifest poo-crimes as, say, a Shop Steward is to admit he and his friends used a Union credit card at a massage parlour on the NSW Central Coast.

Happily, children tend to grow out of it. Or, at least, they used to grow out of it. I like to think I did.

When I was three or four, I was a delusional racist. Oh. Don’t judge me; we’re all sociopaths in kindergarten.

Every time I broke something or cursed or wet the bed, I ascribed blame to an imaginary devil.  I called her “Black Helen” and she quickly became answerable to all my misdeeds; to wit taking a dump in the bath or drawing tits in texta on Aunty Jenny’s night-dress. Gradually, Black Helen became the wellspring of every rotten ill. She was soon responsible for extreme weather events, measles and double dissolution. Who did it? Black Helen did it.

Eventually, my parents stopped laughing and took me to the shrink.

Thanks to psychiatric intervention, I entered grade school with a sense of liability.   Like many of my peers, I’d learned by then to cop it sweet and accept the terms and limits of responsibility.  I was now a citizen and I knew Black Helen was a fiction who couldn’t change the weather; that I must own up if I’d sat on the class Guinea Pig. RIP little Daryl.

This is the basic stuff of our social contract. As we grow, we learn to claim responsibility in matters of dead pets and beyond. We learn, where necessary, to accept guilt and only to consign blame when we are absolutely certain of its shape. Did Helen sit on the Guinea Pig? Yes, Miss Bloom, she did. By the time we are ten, in general, we learn the justice sufficient for survival.

Things, though, in recent years have begun to spill back beyond the sandpit.  Easy blame is at an all-time high and there are Black Helens appearing at all corners. I didn’t do it. And neither did my friends. It was that imaginary thing over there.

When the terrible news broke this year of the tragedy in Norway, Murdoch’s UK paper The Sun rolled off the presses with the headline “Al Qaeda Massacre”. In the same moment, the Washington Post wrote of the “specific jihadist connection” murderer Breivik had with Pakistan. Except, of course, there was no such link and in minutes that might have been otherwise spent reporting, press appointed a new bogeyman. With Islamic fundamentalism down for the count, they chose video games as the culprit.

This wasn’t just the mad work of a few crazy Christians eager to distance themselves from a Christian murderer by means of World of Warcraft. Dozens of respectable commentators wrote that it was the Wrath of the Lich King that had pulled the trigger on 77 young Norwegians and sales of the game were withdrawn throughout Scandinavia. Cries were heard here.

Then, In August, it was London’s turn.

On the front page of the Evening Standard, video games were to blame in the wake of city-wide riots. “Now they’re playing Grand Theft Auto and want to live it for themselves,” said a representative of the Metropolitan Police. As half the world’s policy makers got down to the important work of banning fiction, the other half stared banging on about how kids with no fathers were spending too much time at the mall.

Now, I don’t have any answers for the hate that tore through the High Streets or the terror that belted Norway into an icy age of dread. But, I’m pretty sure that cries of Make Love, Not Warcraft have as much use in restoring social order as the instructions of care for a Guinea Pig.

Once, we had the skill of looking at a problem and considering its texture and our possible part in its creation. Now we prefer our answers delivered in large, hot helpings in thirty minutes or less.  A riot steeped in ancient resentments becomes a Grand Theft London headline. Video games, lazy parents and shiny things in shops are to blame for something that looked very much, for a minute, like the end of the world.

We charge Twitter with mutinies, toddler beauty pageants with child abuse and beautiful fashion models with everything from anorexia to riots. There’s a lot of shit in the world. Rather than pick it up and examine it, we just gather it up and throw it at each other.

These days, successful people thrive in an atmosphere of buck-passing. In the very best professions, one cannot excel without hurling turds around the sandbox like a toddler. At the Stock Exchange, the Press and in Parliament, we find all the dangerous people together.  Here, they speculate on fantasy futures and pass dumb-ass laws about video games and parenting and porn.  But what else are we going to do with the people who never climbed out of the playground? Thank god it’s only our money, trust and civil liberties they’ve got a hold on. Imagine what would happen if they actually walked among us.

If you have anti-social personality disorder, it’s best to trade in derivatives or policy or current affairs TV. If you’re more-or-less sane, you work and you possibly raise a child from unprincipled shit into human.   You sign the social contract. You accept your responsibility and you assign blame for your misfortune only to those who have truly earned it.

Vale, dear little Darryl.

This was a piece written for the FHM lads

Helen's first iris.

There Are Two Kinds of People in This World.

What? What?! This statement is only a preamble to nonsense.  Whenever anybody upchucks such tripe, patient
I stop listening and think about my tuberoses. Dividing the difficulty of seven billion people into two is obviously silly; however, no rx
dividing tuberoses is not silly and should be done annually to promote better flowering.

If there really are Two Kinds of People in This World these, more about
these are possibly (a) people who believe that There Are Two Kinds of People in This World and (b) sensible people who don’t. Apart from this, it’s fairly pointless to go about popping humanity into colossal one-size-fits-half categories.  The crushing insensitivity of such dualism aside, the practise is bent.  People are terribly confusing and any hope we have to understand them exceeds this either/or solution and will always be upturned by lunchtime.

Clearly, there are more than Two Kinds of People in This World.  However, on occasion, I do understand the temptation to bisect.  This has a little to do with my tuberoses. And my grevilleas.  And my growing fascination for mulch.  Let me explain.

My mother has long held that There Are Two Kinds of People in This World.  There are those, like herself, who have “interests”. And then, there are those, like myself and my father, who have “obsessions”.  Given the current state of my garden, which is exemplary, and my growing debt to the garden super-store down the road, I fear she may have a point.

Although I can cultivate native lilies, I cannot cultivate moderation. When I took the decision some months ago to tart up the garden, I also took myself into territory that could reasonably be called obsessive.  This is evidenced by the dirt beneath my fingernails, the fact that Sharon at the mail-order nursery now recognises my number and greeted me yesterday with “don’t you think you’ve got enough clivia?” and the tough love speech I delivered yesterday to my hoya.   “I don’t CARE if you prefer tropical conditions,” I said to the waxy little leaves, “YOU WILL LEARN TO CLIMB BITCH.”

A kind person would call the hours I spend in the garden a proof of passion. Well, it’s not a passion. It’s more like a dermatitis that burns and grows the more it’s scratched.

It has always been so. For some of us, a hobby is a lovely way to pass the time. For others, it quickly curdles in the sun of our curiosity until it becomes a disease.

I have seen this problem take hold before. When I was fourteen, I was not content to enjoy Scrabble. Instead, I became a monster. Having memorised every two and three letter word in English and American standard dictionaries, I went to tournaments and dreamed of forming words like “quixotic” on a Triple Word square. Less of a hobby and more of a lexical heroin, Scrabble dominated my days and gave me little in return; save for the knowledge that an “eft” is a juvenile newt and is worth six points.   I gave up cold when I found myself dreaming of the eft and the ai (a sloth with three toes and two points) and am no longer a tile-carrying Scrabbler.

And now, I am a gardener.

To be gifted of such focus, in this case on ficus, is a burden. On the upside, I never have cause to buy cut flowers or salad greens. On the downside, I smell of manure (mostly sheep; sometimes chook) and cannot maintain adult conversation that does not have soil condition as its focus.

There Are Two Kinds of People in This World.  There are those with hobbies and there are those who bury themselves in sheep poo.


Written for the goodly folk of the Big Issue.

5 thoughts on “The Chaos of Horticulture”

Comments are closed.