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July 2007

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Saturday night fever!

Visiting gardens with other garden club members often throws up an interesting angle, as Sandra O'Hagan relates.

The weather was perfect, sunny with an early evening breeze. Posters had been pinned on parish notice boards and every last member had been sent a text. So after one postponement, for a date clash with charity fashion show, it was finally time for our first club visit of the season.

As the small convoy of cars left the village, someone casually announced that he used to go to discos at our intended destination. Now, bearing in mind that we were heading for an old rectory set in 40 acres, my mind struggled to picture all this in my head. We parked up and agreed to leave the formal introductions, between new and original club members, until later in the night. A few faces were missing for various reasons but we were a party of 15, the exact number I had booked for. Impressive but actually a sheer fluke and luck too that I got away with confirming everything only a half-hour before our arrival.  

The garden transported me back to the 19th century and the world of Jane Austen's novels. Just like the big house of the day, the garden revealed the reality that was the luxury of the wealthy home-owners, and the poverty of their servants. You could almost see the team of gardeners toiling away to produce food for their master's table. The now overgrown, walled kitchen garden, fruit cage and glasshouse, complete with chimney, would have been abundant with fruit, salad and vegetables just like our local supermarkets.

Flower beds growing a range of cut flowers to decorate the house and dried flora to create room fresheners and general odourisers. The small orchard producing various windfalls - apples for cider and wine, plums and pears for tarts and other sweet delicacies. Every crop would have been utilised to the full.

While the staff worked around the clock, the master of the house played a few sets on the tennis court, or tapped a few balls on the croquet lawn. Finally, took a rest under parasols while sipping some refreshing iced tea or homemade lemonade. Now somewhere in this romantic vision of landed gentry and their underlings I tried to fit in a disco. From the 1800s we fast forward to the past that is the early nineteen eighties. The noisy car park, laughter and friendly banter, a real Saturday night buzz. A smell of ‘Brut' aftershave, perfume and cigarettes with the music blaring out louder every time the door opened to let someone else in.

Now somewhere in this romantic vision of landed gentry and their underlings I tried to fit in a disco.

I was still struggling with the image when I noticed an old ‘Heineken' sign attached to the house, underneath were steps leading to the then disco doorway. When I asked one of the dance-goers about the garden back then, he laughed and said it was always very dark. Going to a disco with your mates, even if it were not pitch black, you wouldn't really be interested in the intricacies of a garden feature!

As the members drank coffee and got to know each other better, we were hoping for a few tales of those Saturday night forays to the Old Rectory. But secrets were saved and probably a few blushes, definitely some mis-spent youth, I would say. And why not, after a century of repression perhaps the place needed livening up a bit?

 

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