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