An Afternoon Out

My mother still says, “Are you ready to go out?” with that look on her face and that tone in her voice that takes me back to my childhood. When I was a little girl, it meant: “Go and wash your hands and wipe the jam off your face.” In my teenage years, it implied: ”If you insist on going out looking like a dog’s dinner, then so be it, but I’d prefer you to wear something else.” Nowadays, I’m not quite sure what she’s getting at. Could still be jam on my face, but it’s more likely to be something I’m wearing.

My mother has never, in all my life, told me, “You look a mess!”  It has always been more, “Do you really want to wear that?” and “Oh, that’s better. You do look nice,” after I have changed out of the offending garments. Today, I was wearing jeans. For my mother, jeans are appropriate around the house and garden, on country walks and hikes, and for messing about on boats.

Our planned excursion was to the garden centre, just to look around and see what’s on offer and maybe pick up a plant or two. Garden centres, in my mind, are where you get things for the garden. Plants first and foremost, then tools, compost, fertiliser, weed killer, and maybe a garden ornament or two. I would have thought that jeans fitted in with that kind of environment, but there was that tiny wrinkle of her brow that informed me I was wrong.

Now, I am no meek and mild aye-aye-saying little maid, but she’s almost 96 and I see no point in upsetting her unnecessarily, so I changed my trousers.  Go-anywhere black slacks, as recommended by the Travelling Light Guide. Just as well that I did, in the end: Mother always knows best!

Just as we parked the car and dashed into the glass-fronted building, the heavens opened and the rain gushed down. As our area was declared a drought zone only two days ago, there must have been many prayers of thanksgiving being offered up.  Such a downpour, however, meant that we couldn’t visit the outdoor part of the garden centre, as had been our intention, and had to stay indoors. This is the section we have never bothered much about, so it was interesting to browse these aisles and displays for a change.

First port of call was the Café. When the garden centre first opened, the café was just that: a modest corner where you could sit and have a cup of coffee or tea, and maybe a small cake or sandwich. Now, of course, it has become big and beautiful, serving delicious homemade meals to traditional recipes, as well as cakes, pies and gâteaux to rival any Viennese coffee-house, with sturdy pine furniture plus sofas and armchairs that out-Starbuck Starbucks (including wi-fi).

These places, which cover acres of land nowadays, provide wheelchairs, so with Mom majestically seated, we sallied forth to explore. Sitting in a wheelchair, your eyes are at the level of other people’s belts, so whenever we reached anything worth looking at, it was usually displayed above Mom’s head. Consequently, she was having to pop up and down like a jack-in-the-box to see whatever we wanted her to admire or comment on: almost more tiring than if she had been walking around.

Of course, she was also on a level with little children in push-chairs, so there was a certain amount of entertaining social activity for her as we negotiated narrow aisles, sharp turns and sudden reversals when the way became too narrow to pass. I’ve done this before, so this time there were no items knocked off the shelves or swept to the floor as we passed. No breakages – it’s cheaper that way!

We acquired an orchid as a premature birthday present, and admired various houseplants we didn’t want, chuckled at the novelty bird-feeders, and then we were overwhelmed by wonderful fragrances emanating from Yankee Candles, Crabtree and Evelyn, Cath Kidston (oh yes, she isn’t just fabrics) and Emma Bridgewater. Actually, I don’t think Emma had any scents of her own, but all her goods were enveloped in the surrounding aromas. Lovely things, all very tempting, but what are they doing in a garden centre?

The question is rhetorical, of course. We continued through the Edinburgh Woollen Mill shop, picking up some ooh-what-a-bargain-must-haves (and the Edinburgh Woollen Mill is also not what it was – no kilts, but some very wearable cotton dresses!) tried out the patio and conservatory furniture, bumped into some distant cousins whose names we had forgotten, wandered past the pet food and animal accoutrements, stationery and books, toys and games, spices, jams and preserves, and couldn’t resist a cake labelled “Lemon Indulgence” from a local bakery, with £1 off.

And then – oh wonder! –  it really was a garden centre. We turned a corner and there were row upon row of weed killer, pesticide, fertiliser, forks, spades, trowels, rakes, scarecrows – everything a dedicated gardener’s heart could desire. We added a stiff yard-brush to our eclectic collection, which was piling up on Mom’s lap. From underneath came a small voice suggesting that we should just put all the stuff on the wheelchair and she would walk, so we quickly cast around for a basket. (Having entered hurriedly on account of the rain from the wrong end of the building, at the cash-desk end, we had missed the baskets.)  At this point, with the basket full, we decided to call it a day and go home.

The lady at the cash desk arrived back from her tea-break at the same time we did. She was very pleasant and helpful, finding bags the right size for everything, and carefully packing things so that the orchid’s buds and flowers wouldn’t be endangered, and then turned to the customer behind me. I suppose I could have just walked out but no doubt the alarms would have gone off. She had simply forgotten to scan the barcodes and charge me! I had to wonder what she had put in her tea?

Well, we got home just around four pm, so teatime for us, too; and very tasty the “Lemon Indulgence” was with our well appreciated cuppa.


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