Hat has a geography project.
Identify two or three microclimates in your garden and describe them, her teacher instructs: rainfall, wind speed, temperature.
Her teacher lives on the autumnal Welsh borders. She sends a photograph of her own garden (‘Look, Mum, isn’t it pretty’, says Hat, her mouth wide open in reaction to images of green lawns and voluptuous herbaceous borders spilling unrestrained from their beds) and she describes the microclimates that it presumably hosts: one bank is quite sheltered, she writes, another is very exposed – that gets frost, even now. One side of the driveway is in full sun and the spring flowers there come out much earlier than they do on the opposite, more shaded, much colder, side.
Hat has closed her mouth. Her delighted expression is beginning to collapse into visible disappointment.
What shall I write about, Mum? She asks worriedly, ‘we don’t have microclimates, we only have hot’.
No, no I say to her (Jar half full, jar half full, jar half full I repeat mantra like to myself), we’ve got lots of microclimates in our garden.
Hat looks doubtful.
Think of two, I tell her (I can. Just. Sort of. If we tweak the definition of microclimate a little).
Oh, she says, suddenly brightening, ‘out there on the lawn’ (she means the old smoker’s head we optimistically call a lawn: all nicotine-stained balding stubble) ‘and …’. She deliberates a moment more, ‘Over there, under the trees, where there’s some shade and a bit of grass, where your pot plants live’.
The ones that weren’t burned alive in the fire.
Clever girl, I tell her.
‘Shall we make an anemometer?’ she asks; her Welsh-border-living-mirco-climate-aplenty teacher has helpfully provided us with instructions to make our own. Using a protractor and a ping pong ball. (I bet she can make a Lear jet out of a toothpick and a box of matches too?)
No, I say to Hat, let’s not bother, ‘I don’t think we get enough wind in this garden for it to register on an anemometer’. Nor do we have a ping pong ball. And it is not likely I will find one in the Outpost either.
What shall we do then? wails poor Hat.
We’ll measure their different temperatures instead, I tell her.
Can we? Really? She asks excitedly.
‘Course we can’. And I gather up my free-with-a-bottle-of-Calpol ear thermometer and we set off into the hot sunshine beating down on the old smoker’s head.
I turn the thermometer on. It bleeps once to indicate it’s doing its job and then it begins to bleep feverishly over and over, louder and louder, and the words Hi, Hi, Hi flash up on the screen.
As in high, high, high, I assume, not hello, hello, hello.
‘I think’, Hat observes sagely, ‘that it’s telling you your patient is about to die’.
Too late. Already quite dead judging by the look of it. Warning: smoking kills.
Let’s try sticking it into the sand, Hat suggests.
Hi, hi, hi it screams, objecting even more hysterically to the febrile environment we have thrust it into.
Undeterred we decide to measure the temperature of our alternative microclimate.
We walk towards it and as we approach the shade, the thermometer briefly obliges: 38.4 degrees it tells us.
Ensconced beneath the cool dappled dark thrown by the few surviving trees at the bottom of the garden, where the pot plants are trying to recover their recent trauma, we try again.
Lo, lo, lo gasps the bloody free-with-a-bottle-of-Calpol offering.
It can’t be too cold, cries Hat.
It’s not, I explain, it’s merely below normal body temperature. Which is still bloody hot if you’re standing outside.
After half an hour of pacing about and being howled at digitally, we give up.
We’ll just guess, I tell Hat: 42 degrees in the sun, 35 in the shade.
Hat looks doubtful. Hat does not like cheating. And she does not tell fibs. Unlike her mother.
I’ll measure the rain instead, she says.
I cast my eyes up towards a sky utterly, utterly devoid of a single cloud.
I don’t say anything.
She disappears into the kitchen and returns with two recently emptied jam jars. She places one in one of our microclimates, one in another.
“There”, she says, and she steps back to admire her handiwork and await the rain.
I watch her later, unseen, from a window. She is inspecting them, adjusting them a little.
Her jars are quite empty and already they are half full.