I appear to have sparked controversy by suggesting that I roam the streets at night attacking unsuspecting plants with weed killer. Please note that I was indulging in Juvenalian satire (pretentious? moi?) and don’t literally mean everything I say. Rather like Swift, who didn’t eat children to the best of my knowledge, despite writing:
I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child, well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food.
OK, I don’t like lime-green conifers or cordylines, but it’s only because they just don’t fit in with the dark green, mossy tones of indigenous British plants. Britain is, as Emma Thompson so eloquently put it, a ‘cake-filled, misery-laden, grey old island’ and long may it remain so. I like my plants to act like Philip Larkin and look like Vera Stanhope.
But rest assured, I never use weed killer and I do actually like some weeds … even going to the lengths of defending them against weedists during a Radio 4 outside broadcast from Hampton Court Flower Show once upon a time.
Shakespeare also had a soft spot for weeds, writing in Cymbeline:
Fear no more the heat o’ the sun,
Nor the furious winter’s rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone and ta’en thy wages;
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.
In Warwickshire, ‘chimney sweeper’ was a term for dandelion heads, which ‘come to dust’ when you blow on them.
In fact, one of my favourite literary characters is a celebrity weed.
Little Weed was the third character in the 1950s BBC children’s series Bill and Ben, about a gay couple with learning difficulties who lived in a garden. According to Wikipedia:
Little Weed was of indeterminate species, somewhat resembling a sunflower or dandelion with a smiling face.
At the end of each adventure, Bill and Ben would say bye-bye to each other and to the Little Weed – ‘Babap ickle Weed’ – to which the Weed would inevitably reply with tremulous cadence ‘Weeeeeeeeeeed’.
Amongst fans there is controversy about whether they actually said ‘Flobbalob’, as is popularly supposed.
I once interviewed the wondrous Peter Hawkins, who voiced Bill and Ben (and Weeeed) – not to mention Captain Pugwash, Tintin and the Daleks – but sadly failed to ask him about Weed or the Flobbalob controversy. However he did confirm that he was fluent in Oddle Poddle, a language he invented.
Here’s Peter Hawkins voicing Bill and Ben during the interview:
Talking of funny voices, I was very young when I did the interview and I had hay fever. End of excuses.
Babap ickle Weed.