joe ben­nett

In which our south­ern word­smith rises to the self-im­posed chal­lenge of pro­vid­ing two new nuggets of uni­ver­sal truth, har­vested from the gar­den.

NZ Gardener - - Garden Market -

Iknow most of you read this col­umn ev­ery month in or­der to learn at least two new things. And I shall pro­vide.

But be­fore I do so, let me tell you that I had planned to open this month’s col­umn thus: Hint: Cathy messed around a fra­grant bulb. As the as­tute will have no­ticed – and the NZ Gar­dener read­er­ship has a cer­ti­fied as­tute quo­tient of 93 per cent – it’s a cryp­tic cross­word clue, or would be if there were a grid to go with it.

I com­posed it on a dog walk. It’s the sort of thing I do on dog walks. Off goes the dog, in­tox­i­cated by the smells of the world, while I, whose sense of smell is sev­eral thou­sand times less acute and who there­fore find less ex­cite­ment in the trunks of trees on which other dogs have scrib­bled a uri­nary sig­na­ture, am left in search of some­thing to oc­cupy all those neu­rons that we hu­man be­ings haven’t wasted on smell re­cep­tors.

Though I have to con­fess that when I see the plea­sure the dog takes from the ol­fac­tory world, I won­der whether per­haps he has the bet­ter neu­ro­log­i­cal bar­gain. He has only to step onto a street or the edges of a park to be happy. Whereas we, en­cum­bered as we are with so many idle neu­rons, tend to miss out on the sim­ple plea­sures of the present tense, and think ahead in­stead, which leads to worry, dread and dis­con­tent, from none of which the wise dog suf­fers.

All of which sug­gests that when we hu­man be­ings make the claim that we are the evo­lu­tion­ary pin­na­cle, the acme of wis­dom and rea­son, rightly beloved of the cre­ator god and blessed with life eter­nal, we may be push­ing it a bit. As the dogs of this world would no doubt point out if they weren’t so busy ei­ther A. de­light­edly eat­ing, or B. de­light­edly dream­ing, or C. de­light­edly drag­ging their masters out in all weather so they (the dogs, that is) can D. de­light­edly sniff the world.

Which brings me back to the cross­word clue. You see, one day last week I stepped into Heather’s house (with the dog, I might add, whom Heather loves and by whom she is loved) and said, be­cause I know Heather well enough to be able to say such a thing, “What’s that smell?”

To which she replied by mak­ing a noise like a ring­mas­ter in­tro­duc­ing a trapeze artist and pointed at the side­board where stood a pot­ted plant that looked like a toi­let brush on per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing drugs and that emit­ted a per­fume so unig­nor­able I wasn’t sure whether it was nice or vile. “It’s a hy­acinth,” said Heather. I was so im­pressed that I de­cided on the in­stant to write an in­for­ma­tive and learned col­umn about hy­acinths, and to in­tro­duce it, for the ed­i­fi­ca­tion of the as­tute, with a cross­word clue, which I went on to com­pose in the course of a dog walk. But when I sat down to write the col­umn I re­alised what the as­tute have al­ready re­alised, which is that Hint Cathy is not, as it hap­pens, an ana­gram of hy­acinth. It has too many T’s.

No wor­ries, I thought. I shall just ap­ply my lim­it­less non-ol­fac­tory neu­rons to the com­po­si­tion of yet an­other ana­gram. And that dear reader, is how I came up with the first of the two new things for this month, which is that, uniquely among spring bulbs, hy­acinth is unana­grammable in English.

And the sec­ond new thing is the word unana­grammable.

No no, don’t thank me. The plea­sure is mine.

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