The Eye of the Storm

The sexual practices amongst Aberdeen University students in the early nineties, presumably no more or less weird, wonderful or vigorous than those of our counterparts at other, similar, institutions, can surely lay claim to one singular feature; that the eager participants, fuelled as we were by lust and love, alcohol and desire, would, more often than not, make the beast with two backs while keeping our socks on. The student digs of the Granite City were rarely blessed with central heating or, if they were, few of us could actually afford to switch it on. I was colder in Aberdeen, and for more of the time, than at any other point in my life. The sexual imperative to expose the more obvious of our fundamentals to the bitter cold was no less urgent than anywhere else; but while those fortunate enough to fornicate in the balmy southern universities, such as Stirling or Dundee, could enjoy the mutual toe-curling ecstasy afforded by uninhibited socklessness, the pragmatic Aberdonians had their pleasure with their feet warm.

There is little prospect of ecstasy, toes curled or otherwise, down on the allotment this morning, but the same principles apply – I shall only be exposing what is absolutely necessary; everything else will be well wrapped. And, as if to prove the case in point, I am wearing three pairs of socks – you can take the boy out of Aberdeen, but you can’t take Aberdeen out of the boy. I am here with pruning in mind; it’s too wet to do much else. Oh, but it’s blowing a hoolie! Even the trees seem to be shivering. The winds race across this site, open as it is on all four sides, although the magnificent row of poplars to the east provide some degree of protection. I have not been hugely successful with my fruit in recent years – in fact, the only thing that grows with any real vigour is the gorgeous crusty lichen which has taken up prolific residence on the branches of my greengage and apple trees. It is time to hack things back and encourage some new growth. Trouble is, pruning requires a certain boldness and I am, at best, a cautious fellow. So I consult the manual, take a deep breath and start snipping away. Before long my doubts and worries have dissipated and I am sawing and hacking with abandon; chopping the old and dead wood, shaping and tidying up. The difficulty now is knowing when to stop.

The wind picks up again, this time with a smattering of rain in it. It whips in from the west, like a whirlwind, exhilarating and enlivening. The rain smarts against my face, bringing my senses back to life and awakening me from the dull monotony of the grey day. The noise is tremendous, the power too – it’s thrilling and I turn to face it; I want to experience this elemental force. It’s a joy. All too soon it eases and, suddenly tired, I come into the shelter of the shed in search of the flask of hot coffee. It feels cosy in here, listening to the wind and the rain buffet against the walls and roof. I warm my hands on the mug and, although grateful for the home comforts, I soon realise that it is back out there, in the eye of the storm, that I would rather be.

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