• Andrew James Greig

Pottering with intent

Updated: Aug 16, 2019

Potting shed, Walled Garden, Applecross, Scotland

I took this photo a few days ago, of a potting shed at the Walled Garden in Applecross, Scotland. One of the many benefits of mobile phones is the remarkably good camera that is almost always to hand, so when I see something that connects with me – snap! The question I now ask of myself is what connection is there to someone whose gardening expertise extends to lawn mowing and hedge trimming and not much more? It's the question that provides the answer.

Within this picture must lie a hundred different stories, whose teapot and mug is that? How many gardeners have sat here when the rain's been drumming on the roof? Who even needs this many garden implements? What words have been spoken here, what trysts have formed, secrets shared, knowledge passed in the old way mouth to mouth? The place itself gave rise to a remembrance of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, in which we both had a faint recollection of a tiresome weak boy being wheeled around a dilapidated garden by young friends who had found a way into the forbidden place, until by the miracle of caring for the garden the boy became well again. Metaphors abound in Victorian books.

Even the title of this piece is an interest of mine; the deliberate (or not) confusion of words that change the sense of a popular phrase or saying. The term is malaphor – so for example nooks and crannies may be mixed up in a brain as rattled as mine to become crooks and nannies. I have to lay some blame for this on my upbringing. My mother was an expert in using completely the wrong word when a perfectly sensible word was there to be used. One example was replacing aubergine with orgybean – it took me many years before I realised I had been mispronouncing so many words it's a wonder I had any friends at all. I am guilty of the same. My children have been told, since birth, that a picturesque view was picture skew – they are not amused now that they are adults to have discovered my innocent amusements.

But then language is a living thing, new words arrive, old ones fade; and if in the course of a generation 'Gay' or 'Sick' take on completely different meanings then why shouldn't popular sayings evolve into something perhaps more fitting? In the world of song, misheard lyrics are named Mondegreens – according to the BBC from the American writer Slyvia Wright who misheard the lyrics from a poem. Wikipedia has the more likely origin that the words from the Scottish folk song The Bonnie Earl of Moray "They hae slain the Earl o' Moray And lain him on the green," became mangled passing through the lips of modern day folk singers – but I may be a little too close here to be objective. There are some wonderful mondegreens out there. As a child I wondered why the words to Tommy Steele's Crash Bang Wallop from the film Half a Sixpence included the phrase 'stick it in the family. Our bum' Other more obvious and deliberate mishears are 'Got to get you out of my wife' for the Beatles 'Got to get you into my life' or the particularly Scottish version of the Rolling Stones 'Hey you get off of my cloud' which becomes 'Hey McCleod get off of my ewe'.

I guess if you want to write, you have to have a love of words. One of my favourite books is A Winters Tale by Mark Helprin published in 1983. It remained almost entirely unknown until for some peculiar reason a fairly lacklustre film was made of the book in 2014. If ever there was an example of how the printed word cannot be reproduced on film this one must be the gold standard. Martin Scorsese had the sense to see the book as unfilmable – maybe he was right. One of the beautiful elements in the book is the language used by the people who lived at The Lake of the Coheeries, but you'll just have to read it for yourself.

So, see where the potting shed has taken me. A journey back in time to meet my much younger self; understanding my mother's innate need to be misunderstood; a lightning tour of songs and popular culture and a recommendation to read a book (if it's even in print). Next time you press the shutter, ask yourself why – the answer may astound you.

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