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Patrick Vickery is a Scottish gardener and garden writer. This article on A Surreal day is reprinted on these pages with his permission. To read a bit about Patrick go here.  You can visit his page at

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Garden Blether  - A Surreal Garden Blether April 2002

By Patrick Vickery (Copyright reserved Patrick Vicery)

Ever have a 'surreal' day? 

Saturday afternoon and not much going on. Dismal weather too. 

Time to visit a Garden Centre, to take an amble amidst the horticultural blooms and the gardening accessories, followed by coffee and cake in a nearby café. Why not? A grand idea. 

Now there's a Garden Superstore a mile or so out of town, at the retail park. Not been there for a while, I mused, so this would suffice. Do some food shopping at the same time, buy a CD from the music shop ('Bruce MacGregor' or 'Blazing Fiddles'), a bag of chewy dog bones from the pet shop and maybe - just maybe - substitute my earlier notion of coffee and cake for a burger and chips from one of the fast food outlets instead. 
Click on any pix to see larger

Handy, aren't they, these retail parks? Very convenient. Everything on tap, all in the same place. 

So I parked the 'people carrier' (very posh, I know, but ideal for transporting goats, hay, plants, children and gardening equipment) and headed for the Garden Superstore. 

Now while I was pottering about, checking the price of compost, inspecting the perennials, that sort of thing, I was approached by an elderly lady who engaged me in conversation, a conversation that went something like this: "I want compost, young man. I want that big bag over there." "Do you need help?" I asked, a trifle stunned by such directness. "Of course I need help," she snapped. "I can't carry it myself." Her attitude left much to be desired, but despite this I gave her a helping hand anyway. 

A short while later - having returned to the shop - an elderly gentleman laid a hand on my shoulder (very impertinent) and engaged me in a conversation as well: something along the following lines: "How does this biodegradable coconut coir compost work then?" "I don't know," I replied "You don't know," he retorted. "You sell the stuff and you don't know. Not good enough." 

And then the penny dropped. I was wearing faded jeans and a dark green t-shirt, the same as the staff here except for a barely visible logo below the right shoulder. As the irritable old gentleman took off in the direction of the hand-decorated pots, I chuckled quietly to myself. After this experience, I decided, I wouldn't fancy being a shop assistant, not if this was the attitude regularly adopted by the customers. Undoubtedly a thick skin and a sense of humour are necessary pre-requisites for this sort of job. 

My stomach told me that it was time for food, so I traversed the car park to one of the places that sold burger and chips - a 'Burger and Chips' place - where I was pleasantly informed by a man in a brightly coloured hat that today was 'Special Offer' day - simply collect four cereal packet tokens, recite The Lord's Prayer backwards, stand on one leg with a finger up your nose (all at the same time, mind) and qualify for a free donut with accompanying toffee sauce (but only between the hours of nine and ten in the morning - something called a 'happy hour'). Alternatively, present an empty packet of non-biological washing powder (5.4kg size) and a receipt for a well known brand of toilet roll (nine pack, quilted) at the counter to receive a free 'Demented Harry' (a soft drink apparently). 

Surely this was a wind up? A 5.4kg packet of washing powder is very large, is it not? Not the sort of thing that you would normally buy for the average family, and most definitely a reinforced trolley item, not a basket one? Now I know that gardener's are prone to exaggeration - aren't we all? (Cucumbers the size of cricket bats, tomatoes as big as footballs, grapes like melons, that sort of thing).

But this was taking things a bit too far if you ask me. Ridiculous in fact. 

Obviously it was time for home, time for a cheese and lettuce sandwich in the sanity of my own kitchen, then a dignified retreat to the polytunnel to contemplate my navel. 

So that's what I did - home, sandwich, polytunnel, navel. What a 'surreal' day. 

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This page was updated August 8/04

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