I have for a long time made it a policy to avoid gardening. I like nice gardens, enjoy talking to gardeners and think that it is a wonderful way to spend a life, but it is not my thing. Partner is on the other hand a born again gardener; if there is a gardening equivalent of a happy-clappy, she is it. She thinks Alan Titchmarsh, the BBC gardening guru, is Jesus, and she regards Charlie Dimmock, the water feature designer, as a kind of feminist Virgin Mary. For those who are unaware of this corner of British culture it is fair to point out that Charlie Dimmock wears no bra under her tee-shirt and that in some quarters this causes controversy.
Let us cut to a reassuringly expensive restaurant. The cast is partner’s mother, partner and myself. Partner’s mother has salmon, partner has a snapper (replete with head), and I order crab (I will only eat sea creatures that scared me as a child). Partner’s mother, partner and myself are celebrating.
Halfway through mouthful of crab tien, I hear partner’s mother announce that Charlie Dimmock uses her sexuality shamelessly and that Alan Titchmarsh is a weakling for letting her do so. The air chills for a second and partner’s face takes on a contorted expression. I have been in rough pubs where the atmosphere has become thus and it usually means that it is time to drink up and get out.
“Men only watch Gardeners’ World to look at her whatsits,”
partner’s mother announces, and she pokes a morsel of salmon. Partner looks disgusted, and begins to mistreat the snapper on her plate (an expensive restaurant, it has been said, is one where the food can watch whilst you eat it).
continues partner’s mother, lips pursed in the way that one does on identifying a trollop.
Strangely, partner’s snapper looks sad and misunderstood; perhaps it was an aquatic Charlie Dimmock in a previous life. It may even have glanced at me as if looking for sympathy. I respond by stuffing my mouth with food, a little voice inside me telling me that it is rude to talk with your mouth full, and that this tactic might keep me silent until the topic has changed. Like most of my neat little tricks this one fails. Two nights previously when a waitress had established eye contact with me, and had asked me whether I would like fries or boiled potatoes with my steak, without missing a beat they both announced in unison that I would be having boiled. They might as well have taken my trousers off there and then and shouted something like: “Hey everyone, want to see a real eunuch?”
The exchange between mother and daughter quickly takes on an extremist quality. Battle lines drawn, partner carries the banner of post nineteen-seventies feminism, partner’s mother speaks for all powerful ladies in their seventies.
Partner’s mother then begins her character assassination of Mr Titchmarsh.
“It’s his programme and he should take control of it,” she says, now stabbing her salmon in the way that a woman who is used to a bit of control might. “He should behave like a real man…”
I wonder if I am manly enough for partner in partner’s mother’s opinion. But I distract myself and imagine the exchange that partner’s mother would have between the master gardener and the ample water feature designer.
Alan: “Charlie, I want to have some strong words with you.”
Charlie: “And what might they be?”
Alan: “Get a bra or get off my show!”
Charlie: “What if I don’t?”
Alan (menacingly): “Then it’ll be across my knee, young woman, to learn some manners.”
Charlie: “Oh… Mr Titchmarsh…”
The natural order thus asserted, Charlie Dimmock (henceforth well girdled) practises her profession demurely.
It is now time for me to put on my beard and Austrian accent and wax psychological. The theme of this exchange is about men and women. Both partner and partner’s mother are not averse to a bit of men-controlling themselves (cf. the incident over the new potatoes). In partner’s mother’s world men should fight back. Let us now turn to or rather on partner. Partner makes out that her ideal man should be a new man, but she will very occasionally announce, with obvious pride, that I stand no nonsense from her. Indeed I do not, I will only stand nonsense from cheeky children and people who pay me money.
I suspect that men have always struggled with what is expected of them by women. But women themselves have some diverse views on what they expect from men. From where I am sitting, stereotypes and relationships sit uneasily; to expect something from someone because of the category that they fall into somehow detracts from who they really are. In this case the category is gender, but in applying the category the person is somehow hidden. Could we advise Charlie or Alan from this interchange? Should they be referred to one of my clinics they would be advised to be themselves and behave in a way that is consistent with who they believe themselves to be. The last thing that a person, either celebrity or non-celebrity, should be doing is to live their lives around the unrealistic expectations of other people.
At various points during this conversation I had intrusive visual images of Charlie Dimmock’s whatsits, Everests the both of them with their assertive peaks suggested through the material of her tee-shirt. Partner’s mother has a point. What red-blooded man can concentrate on plant propagation when this kind of thing is going on?
I have a series of bizarre thoughts about becoming a vet, resuscitating and then moving in with snapper. Snapper and I then might then team up and start a market garden somewhere in the South Pacific.
Are men really from Mars and women from Venus, or is the truth a bit more complex? Why not comment and let us know what you think?