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What a mess...

January 2021

Have you ever been in a garden mess room? They are rarely mentioned, but are sacrosanct spaces that provide much needed sanctuary – from the sun, from the rain, from the visitors…

There is no gesture more welcoming, more symbolic, than the two hands of a fellow gardener raised, in passing, in the ubiquitous semaphore of a letter ‘T’. That’s all it takes: no words, just one hand upon the other, one vertical, the other horizontal, and a knowing nod.

The gardeners amble in. The kettle switch is flicked. Cake appears. All is fine with the world. Some mess rooms (or perhaps some gardeners – I look to myself here before any fingers are pointed) are territorial places. Claims are staked; corners colonised. It’s a fine balance that can be easily upset by an ill-informed interloper. But a quiet word, or a Paddington hard stare, and harmony is restored once more.

Some mess rooms are ordered – I have yet to witness such a thing but I have heard tell of it; others live up to their name. Mess rooms are where old gloves come to die. Boots multiply within their walls. Laces congregate. Then there’s the Tupperware, mountains of the stuff, and cake tins, and of course the cakes themselves, and brownies and muffins and flapjacks and biscuits and wagon wheels and Penguins and Tunnocks teacakes by the barrowload. Mess rooms aren’t healthy places, but they are invariably snug; collapsing into a mess room after a hard morning’s mulching is like returning to the womb.

There is of course mess room etiquette to maintain. Making tea means making tea for everyone. It is so tempting to fly solo here but it’s not worth the fallout, believe me. There is only one rule about mess room conversation: on no account should one attempt to talk about plants or horticulture or gardening in any form. Sex, fine. Food, of course. Netflix, optional. But no one wants their precious downtime sullied by a lengthy discourse on phytophthora or dosatron rates.

So let’s hear it for the mess room: drier of wet things, warmer of cold things, miraculous conjuror of sweet things. We worship your cobwebs,  we savour your musty bouquet; in short, humble mess room, we salute you.

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