As I pulled it on this morning, it happened. My reaching hand tunnelled down the sleeve, and then suddenly everything was confusing. My hand was still half-way down the sleeve, yet my thumb waggled in open air. A new hole.
My gardening jumper is dying.
I am not sure what to do about it: one can’t simply buy a new gardening jumper. The whole point of gardening jumpers is their state of advanced decrepitude. Traditionally, one inherits – alright steals – a gardening jumper from one’s partner. I have had only two gardening jumpers in my adult life (as a child, every garment you own is a gardening jumper, much to the dismay of the adults who bought them for you). My first, proper adult plumage as a gardener was a gigantic old green Hackett thing that was deemed “dead” by my ex-husband when it got (note the passive phrasing) ink all down it. The sleeves were a good six inches longer than my arms. It came down to about mid-thigh. You could fit 30 apples in the front of it, if you held the bottom hem out. It was perfect.
People imagine you need to wrap up warmly to garden, but the reverse is true. It’s a bit like skiing: spend £300 on a fancy jacket that’s filled with the pubes of Norwegian snow leopards and is guaranteed to -50, and the minute you hit the slopes you’re clawing the layers off like Eustace Clarence Scrubb. With gardening, you need a t-shirt, some sturdy, waterproof boots, a pair of really good gloves, and a huge and venerable gardening jumper. Waterproof coats are useless – you’re bending and kneeling, and whatever you wear, short of full NASA space gear, the rain will get in, or the garment will get in your way. You toughen up like a pony and don’t mind the weather. But getting wet is one thing: getting cold is another. The jumper is a necessity.
My second inherited jumper – a vast grey thing I am wearing as I write – was also harvested from a long term relationship. Again, the long sleeves, the voluminous carrying capacity. I don’t want to give the impression that I drift in and out of relationships solely so that I can steal people’s clothes, but it’s probably pretty close to the truth.
One becomes attached to one’s gardening jumper. It is the adult equivalent of the child’s Special Blanket, of Aladdin’s magic carpet: this all-enveloping thing one puts on in order to be transported to a happy land remote from modern cares. It carries about it some automatic memory of the smell of the person who originally owned it, the snug aura of the happiness of love, of someone being fond enough of you to give you a perfectly good old jumper to muck about in. It also – and this is probably particularly true if you’re a woman – grants you licence to look absolutely frightful. You needn’t comb your hair when you’re wearing a gardening jumper. The hawthorn will do that for you. It would be incongruous to put on lipstick – it’s only going to get slapped off you by brambles. It’s not worth washing yourself – you’re about to get filthy, better to pile the clothes on, get out there and do it like you mean it. You will have to shower when you get back in any case. The gardening jumper returns you to age five, when you resented time wasted showering and putting on “nice” shoes that pinched.
It turns out “age five” is never quite as far below the surface as one imagines.
But there it is: in the last ten years I haven’t managed to meet anyone who was fond enough of me to make me a cup of tea, much less donate a jumper. I suppose it’s off to the charity shop for me.
I might wait until this sleeve comes off.