Sunday 30 October, 10.45 a.m.
It made a change for Nicky to sleep late and leave Steve and Lynn
alone to grab some unexpected extra shut-eye.
The Sunday papers were already scattered across the hallway,
after Lynn’s earlier foraging, when Steve went to pick up the
sports section of the Sunday Times.
‘United in Crisis!’ screamed the headline, telling him what he
Determined not to be depressed on this sunny Sunday, he tossed
it aside and sank into an armchair with the gardening supple-
‘Prune back now to promote healthy growth!’ he read aloud.
‘There you are, Lynn. That’s what we need to do this afternoon.
The front garden’s not been touched since the summer.’
‘I thought we were taking Nicky to the park before popping in to
see mum,’ countered Lynn.
‘We can do all of that if we just get a move on,’ replied Steve.
‘I fancy trying this new banana-based diet,’ said Lynn, flicking
through the celebrity pages. ‘Karina from Big Brother was on it
and lost a stone and a half.’
‘And how long before she put it on again?’ asked Steve.
‘Doesn’t say,’ replied Lynn.
‘I keep saying it,’ began Steve, ‘it’s not a diet you need, it’s …’
‘… exercise’, finished Lynn. ‘I know, I know. But where …’
‘… would I find the time?’ finished Steve. ‘Well, if you spent a
little less time with your mum and the Three Witches …’
‘Now wait a minute,’ replied Lynn, ‘we’re seeing my mum this
afternoon so I don’t have to pop in twice in the rush hour this
‘Which is great,’ replied Steve. ‘Now for the Witches …’
Half an hour later, Steve and Lynn were busy with the first of their
commitments – tackling the overgrown and sad-looking front
garden of their ground-floor flat.
A bleep came from the mobile in Lynn’s fleece, indicating she had
‘Steve, look at this,’ said Lynn anxiously. ‘I thought these hoax
messages had stopped.’
Steve took the mobile and pressed reply, without success.
‘I’ve checked the phone bills,’ he began, ‘and there’s not a trace
of them there. So it’s not one of these scams. And they still won’t
‘You have to admit, Steve – even an old cynic like you – they
are very timely. I mean: Who are you pruning back to promote
healthy growth? When we’re gardening?’
‘Yeah, but “who are you pruning?” hardly makes sense,’ began
He emptied more deadheads from the summer’s roses into a
black bin bag and stopped to address Lynn.
‘Although,’ he began, ‘there are parallels with your life in this
‘How do you mean?’ enquired Lynn.
‘Well, take this heather,’ began Steve. ‘We planted it here when
we moved in four years ago – and look how it’s taken over. A bit
like Helena. Give her an inch and she takes a mile, without any
regard for the other plants – or friends – she’s suffocating.’
‘So the heather is Helena,’ mocked Lynn, hands on hips.
‘Well, poisonous ivy would be more appropriate,’ taunted Steve,
‘but in the absence of any, heather will do.’
Taking his pruners in one hand and a thick stalk of heather in an-
other, Steve cut right through and tossed a large bush of heather
in the bin bag.
‘And think yourself lucky, Helena,’ he threatened, looking at the
considerably smaller bush. ‘We could have been tougher!’
‘Next, let’s find Andrea,’ he announced, setting his eyes on a
soggy, frost-bitten geranium.
‘You should have been uprooted years ago, when your friendship
with Lynn stopped blossoming and started rotting. You simply
have to go!’
As he yanked the dead plant out by the roots, there was little
Lynn laughed. This was Steve at his best.
‘Who’s next?’ he demanded. ‘Where’s Clare?’
‘Hold on a minute,’ intervened Lynn. ‘If this garden’s our life, let’s
get some of your deadwood buddies – like Jim,’ she said, poised
over a rosebush. ‘He only ever phones when he wants to come
round and watch a match on Sky. How often have you been in
his house recently?’
‘Fair point,’ said Steve. ‘Cut him back!’
Her pruners sank into the rose stem, leaving just a few inches
‘A bit severe,’ suggested Steve, feigning hurt.
‘It’ll do him good,’ replied Lynn, who continued, ‘Now to Bob.’
‘Nothing wrong with Bob,’ defended Steve.
‘As long as you’re on the crest of a wave,’ continued Lynn. ‘Sure,
he was all over you like a rash when you were Sales Director of
the Year. But where’s he been the last six months?’
‘Well, the Bulldog’s been barking at him too, Lynn,’ replied
‘Come on, Steve. These two are buddies. In fact, Bob’s always
best buddies with whoever’s on the crest of a wave. Surely you’ve
Steve stopped to consider the point. Lynn was absolutely right.
Bob always wanted to hang around with whoever was in the
spotlight. But he was never there when things got tough.
‘Weed him out!’ demanded Steve. Lynn uprooted a withered
‘This has been dead for ages,’ said Lynn.
‘Precisely!’ confirmed Steve.
It was his turn now.
‘Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I now present the case for
removing Ian and Irene from our lives,’ he suggested, grabbing
two spent gladioli by the base of the stem.
‘But we’ve known them for years,’ pleaded Lynn. ‘You can’t just
throw them out!’
‘Yes, we have known them for years,’ continued Steve. ‘Invited
them to our parties, looked after their dog, lent them our car,
invited him to the United matches when I’ve been given tickets.
And what have they given us back?’
Lynn paused. ‘You can’t just bin them, Steve.’
‘Watch me,’ he threatened.
‘No, move them to a corner of the garden,’ suggested Lynn, ‘and
give them a chance to grow next season. We’ll just not be staring
out the window at them every day.’
In less than an hour, Steve and Lynn had thinned out their plants,
disposed of the rotting foliage and were sitting on the doorstep
with a coffee, taking in the new appearance of their neat front
‘So, Andrea and Bob have gone,’ he summarized. ‘And Helena
and Jim have been pruned severely.’
‘And Ian and Irene have a less prominent role, but with a chance
to grow,’ concluded Lynn.
‘Now for the difficult bit,’ began Steve. ‘The house plants!’
‘What house plants?’ enquired Lynn.
‘I have dastardly plans for the mother-in-law’s tongue,’ dared
Steve, jumping out the way of a friendly swipe from Lynn.
The life garden
Steve is beginning to realize that he and Lynn are gradually handing
over control of their lives to external factors and to other people.
Too much of Lynn’s self-esteem is still invested in pleasing others
and Steve’s is heavily football-based.
For Steve, his Sunday would have been made if his team had won.
Right now he feels depressed.
The defeat of his team is a downer for him.
Lynn, on the other hand – being constantly battered by messages
from advertising, TV, magazines and newspapers, urging her to be
slim – is upbeat at the thought of a possible new diet. Even though
she doesn’t really care for bananas.
Lynn and Steve’s confidence is up and down, tossed about by the
uncertainties of outside events – like celebrity diets and football
Factors that are too superficial, too fragile and way too change-
Steve and Lynn’s self-confidence is at the mercy of outside events
rather than being solidly based on an inner sense of personal
No wonder they find their mood and self-confidence swinging so
Granted, this way, Steve feels that life has a sort of a ‘buzz’.
But for Lynn it feels fragile, out of her control and a little scary.
And life, by its very nature, brings all sorts of changes that are way
beyond their control anyway – so why deliberately add to it?
Steve is perhaps starting to recognize that they are no longer in
charge of their lives. Dieting, football and other people have taken
He sees that Lynn, by basing too much of her self-confidence on
her weight and shape, is only adding to her unhappiness.
Steve is more aware that other people, including their friends,
have too much control and influence over their lives.
As Lynn and Steve begin to survey their ‘life garden,’he recognizes
that Helena is one friend who has become too demanding of Lynn
and is choking her life – like an overgrown heather.
He feels that she has been given too much ‘space’ in Lynn’s week
and overall takes up way too much of her time.
As a result, other good friends are being ‘suffocated’ and squeezed
Some friends who demand too much time and space need to be
‘trimmed’ or pruned back.
Another of Lynn’s girlfriends, Andrea the ‘geranium’, was once a
good friend to Lynn. He suggests to Lynn that this once-healthy
and positive friendship has slowly turned negative, even poison-
Andrea has become damaging to Lynn’s self-confidence and ur-
gently needs to be rooted out altogether.
Some friends who undermine our self-confidence need to be ‘rooted
Lynn, on the other hand, equally recognizes that Steve’s old bud-
dies Jim and Bob are taking out much more than they give back.
These friendships are no longer mutual and balanced.
She encourages Steve to redress the imbalance in his friendships
with Bob and Jim but stops short of removing them completely.
The joint friends of Steve and Lynn, Ian and Irene, the ‘gladioli’,
are a different matter. Once in a very healthy relationship with
Lynn and Steve, they have become increasingly exploitative of
them over the years.
Perhaps they have simply come to take Lynn and Steve for grant-
Whatever the reason, Steve is tempted to over-react and to root
them out altogether.
Lynn feels that they need to be relocated to a different section of
their ‘life garden’ and to be set some new boundaries.
The amount of time they spend with them, the space that they oc-
cupy and the context within which they socialize with them could
put the relationship back on the right track. In this way, she senses
that their friendship with Irene and Ian may be regenerated and
perhaps flourish once again.
Some friendships need to be given a chance to grow in a different
area of our lives.
Steve and Lynn are gradually understanding that the health of
their friendships is affecting their self-confidence and happiness.
Driving back from Lynn’s mum’s house, Steve took an unexpected
‘Where are you going?’ asked Lynn.
‘We’re going to the sports centre,’ replied Steve.
‘Steve, I need to get Nicky to bed, he’s tired.’
‘We’ll be 15 minutes,’ replied Steve. ‘Because you’re going to
join for yoga and tennis – and I’m going to join for five-a-side
football. And don’t dare ask where you’ll find the time! Because,
if you’re going to stick to taking your mum shopping on a Sunday
and you’re serious about uprooting Andrea and pruning Helena,
you’ve just saved hours each week.’
‘OK,’ was the unexpected reply from Lynn. ‘But don’t come run-
ning to me in six months bleating about a waste of membership
‘It’s a deal,’ said Steve, ‘if you don’t come whining about piling on
the pounds because you’ve stopped going to classes.’
‘Done!’ said Lynn.
‘You certainly have been,’ replied Steve.