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4 June 2010


I'm afraid I don't know the name of anything that grows.

By Mark Watson

I’m sitting outside my room in a nice hotel somewhere in Hampshire (or, to be less James Bond about it, Winchester). The baby — my charge for the evening — is sort of asleep just the other side of the door. I’m enjoying the last of the sunshine; I have a glass of wine; things are about as good as they can be. (See how the optimism is working? I could have said “As good as they can be, given the cancellation of We Need Answers” or “Were I not still shitting myself about ticket sales” or “But there is still death to worry about”. And indeed, those thoughts are there, but I choose not to embrace them. Just about. Result!)

A feature of this hotel is a kind of outdoor walkway connecting the rooms, which is lined with all sorts of fauna. From where I’m sitting, I can see some of those, you know, purple flowers, with — what’s it called? — a bee sniffing around for pollen, or whatever the hell it is they do. On the wall is some . . . I don’t think it’s ivy, but some sort of crawly plant. Then, in the flowerbeds in front of me are some lovely — er, well, pink ones; a kind of bush with some sort of pale blue stuff on it, some brighter blue ones coming out of a tree, and looming above this pastoral scene is a group of . . . hmm, sort of skinny trees a bit like weeping willows but more compressed, and even over them, a tree with sort of darkish, red leaves.

That’s right — I’m shit at anything to do with nature. I don’t know the name of anything that grows. I have no appreciation of flowers or trees. I love the idea that trees are sometimes hundreds of years old and saw things like the French civil war unfold and are still with us, but I can hardly tell a monkey puzzle from a, you know, sapling. (The only tree I can confidently “tag” is a cedar, because I used to live on a street where one grew.)

When I’m in a pleasant spot like this, I naturally enjoy the peace, the birdsong and so on, but I have a hard time really getting all happy about the beauties of nature like a lot of people do. When I’m reading a description in a book of a splendid rural scene, I normally start to switch off. When I had to plough through a lot of Wordsworth at university, I really got sick of him banging on about communion with Nature. I feel there’s something missing in my appreciation of the world around me.

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Even when I do find myself really savouring a splendid view, it’s normally from the safe vantage point of, say, a train (the climb through the Lake District towards the Scottish border, for example, or, for that matter, the east coast as you approach Berwick). I just don’t seem to be an outdoorsy person. But that’s fine — I like a good walk, I’m in good physical shape, I have no desire to be one of these folks who rise at 6am — though I sometimes have to do that anyway — and have walked 18 miles by lunch, and come back wiping mud off their trousers and talking about how you’ve missed “the best bit of the day”. I just wonder if I’m missing a trick somewhere.

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Cities are what really thrill me. For me, driving into New York all lit up at night, or walking along the Yarra in Melbourne with the cheery spectacle of the town rising on all sides around me, or even the familiar aspect of London seen from Westminster Bridge (as, to be fair, Wordsworth pointed out) is my equivalent of seeing a waterfall or something. I’ve been known to squeak with excitement when flying low over a city and seeing it all spread out below, its millions and millions of tiny lights pulsing with life. (Less creditably, I’ve been known to get petulant when people insist on having the window shut even though I want to gawp at Russia, and will sometimes mutter things like: “What’s the point of HAVING a fucking window seat?”) My favourite paintings are things like L S Lowry’s, where you see the great sprawl of humanity against an urban backdrop. If I see a great big tower, I normally start making plans to go up it. Whereas if someone shows me a lovely load of roses in their back garden — much as I do like roses, and we had them at our wedding and blah blah blah — a part of my brain will be going: “Why have you grown these? You could be playing cricket on this space.”

Since the novel began to take over from poetry as the popular form, and urban living became the dominant way of life in our country, many writers have done justice to the strange magnificence of cities, so I feel in good company admitting that I like them, with all their dirt and danger and so on. But it would be a good plan for me to develop my relationship with “the natural world” a bit further. So, if anyone has any pointers to help me enjoy stuff like flowers, let me have them. And a prize for whoever can come closest to identifying the lifeforms around me, based on my descriptions above. Of course, I’ll have no way of knowing if you’re right, but be as convincing as you can.

Keep applications coming for yesterday’s jobs (deadline is end of tomorrow). There are more for the Very Late Review so far; not that many for the TYSICs. And also keep suggesting things to stop Chris wasting his life (see Monday’s blog). And to clear up a couple of questions from recent blogs:

Radio 4 show — yes, there could well be another series next year, but in the meantime, there might also just possibly be a Christmas special. Maybe.

Juice – my favourite, quite simply, is a freshly squeezed orange juice. But genuinely freshly squeezed, by one of those machines. And with all the bits of orange included. I know people have died over the “peel/no peel” debate. But I’ve said my piece and there it is.

The convention of being allowed to nominate a topic for the next blog has worked quite well, but it does encourage people to jump in just for the sake of it. So I’ll modify the system and say anyone can ask any question in a Comment and I will eventually deal with it (unless it seems like it would be better suited to the Can I Help You? feature) . . . (or it is upsetting for me to talk about). I started doing this on the Fans’ Forum but let it slide. So there we are. You can grill me. See you tomorrow. I’ll be writing it on the way to Ashford, Kent, for a gig. Or right before the gig. Or on the way home. Or I might have trained the baby up to write my blog by then.

UPDATE: yes, I meant the hotel walkway is lined with “flora” of course. “Fauna” are animals aren’t they? Ah well.

This post originally appeared on Mark Watson’s blog.