Saturday, September 25, 2010

Saving Roger

For my fortieth birthday, nearly ten years ago now, my family clubbed together and bought me a cordalyne. Some people might get a holiday or a new car or an expensive watch or maybe simply a large wad of money but no, my reward for attaining this advanced age was a cordalyne.
The date occurred shortly after we had moved into our present house in Hazelbury. For a year or so, we had toyed with the idea of moving and visited numerous houses for sale along the 37 / 39 bus route. While my wife pored through every nook and cranny with a tape measure, felt walls for damp, flushed toilets and worried about evening sun and aspect, my sole criteria regarding its suitability would be whether or not in had a palm tree in the front garden.
There’s something about having a palm tree in your garden, I’ve always maintained, that lends an air of class or opulence. You could be living in the smelliest hovel in the western hemisphere but stick a palm tree in the front garden and your house is the envy of everybody in the street.
Of course a real palm tree was too expensive for the likes of me, so they bought me a voucher for Woodies and I got myself a cordalyne. It was about two feet tall, had long green fronds and I christened it Roger, for no other reason that it looked like a Roger. (Any Rogers out there, I apologise profusely unless you are actually two feet tall and have long green leaves.)
My wife sat with it in the back seat of the car on the way home from Woodies, trying to keep the leaves out of my face, which is something I do not often find conducive to good driving.
Once home, I dug a large hole in the middle of the front garden, unearthing vast quantities of plastic milk bottles and builders’ rubble after I’d got a quarter of an inch down. After ten minutes of clanging the spade on rocks and concrete, I gave up, handing the offending implement to my wife to finish off the hole.
Eventually we got Roger planted and sat back to admire it. It was very much our stamp on the house, in that it was the same age and would grow with us in our new home. Do you remember that dreadful song by Bobby Goldsboro about Honey planting the tree and when the first snow came and she ran out to brush the snow away? Well, it wasn’t quite like that chez nous, as I had the theory, based on somewhat sketchy botanical evidence that cordalynes thrive on neglect. And there was never a tree that was more lovingly neglected than Roger.
As it grew, the trunk became woodier and ridged like a real palm tree, though without the coconuts, and soon it was taller than me, when we stood back to back, though I cheated for several months by standing on tiptoes. And still we did absolutely nothing to it.
Then, about two years ago, two events occurred in Roger’s still young life that, had he been human, would have roughly equated to castration and schizophrenia.
Firstly, he grew a tuber, a long fleshy like projectile, that stuck out of the umbrella of leaves horizontally. It seemed to be a veritable wasp magnet, with the little tykes flying in from all corners of the earth to amble up and down the length of it, like Sunday strollers on the pier at Blackpool.
Finally, when the sky became thick with yellow and black buzzing creatures, I donned an old anorak and balaclava, grabbed a saw, hacked off the tuber and ran off down the road very quickly.
This seemed to disturb Roger somewhat because shortly thereafter, his trunk split into two and he became a capital Y, like the tropical palm trees you see on idyllic desert islands. Indeed, many’s the time, I looked out on him sitting there in the wind and the cold and the rain and imagined I was looking out onto a sun-drenched atoll in the Maldives.
And still he kept growing, his roots doubtless thriving on the broken terracotta piping and breeze blocks under the front garden.
Until, that is, the calamitous events of January 2010. We may have complained about the snow and ice, donned an extra pair of socks and left for work thirty minutes earlier than usual but think of the catastrophic consequences for Roger and his army of mini cordalynes in the Dublin 15 area!
In our neighbourhood at least, the devastation has been practically total. Our brown cordalyne in the back garden, a stately six footer, and a firm favourite with the hordes of giggling hebes at his feet, shed all his leaves and died a sad and lonely death, trunk damp and rotting. Next door’s cordalyne did the same and word of mouth is that the frost has rendered them practically extinct in the locality.
Except one.
Roger, like Elton John, is still standing but only just and we are keeping a very wary eye on him (he seems to respond well to wary eyes.) In March, the north facing branch of the tree started shedding its leaves, leaving them strewn across the lawn like giant caterpillars. I felt the trunk of this branch and it was soft and rotten, but at least it hadn’t spread down as far as the main section of the trunk.
I knew I had to act quickly. Tearfully, I explained to him that amputation was the only answer and that I would try and source a prosthetic branch for him, though I think he knew I was lying. Slowly I sawed down through the gangrenous limb, feeling him shudder at every rasp of the sharp teeth, until the four foot stump lay pitifully at my feet, leaving me wondering how I was going to cut it up into the ‘finger-size pieces’ that are allowed in the brown bin.
He looked odd and unbalanced but strangely defiant, the last survivor of his race, at least along our part of the estate. We tended him and gave him even more neglect than usual to aid his recovery but it has been touch and go. A couple of weeks ago, I came back from returning a Lionel Richie DVD to Xtravision, to discover three leaves lying on the grass. This was it, I thought. The other branch is going to go the same way as the first.
Since then, however, the leaves have remained in place and I no longer have to down a half a bottle of whiskey before I open the curtains in the morning to brace myself for the potential shock.
As each day passes, we grow more and more confident and hopeful that Roger will make a full recovery, maybe even grow a new limb to replace the one he lost. He seems cheerful and chirpy in himself and I’ve even caught him humming some of the tunes from South Pacific on occasions.
Problem is, he doesn’t know about the other cordalynes yet. I haven’t mustered up the courage to mention them.

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