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     Volume 4 Issue 18 | October 22, 2004 |

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Straight Talk

The Not-so Secret Garden

Nadia Kabir Barb

“ I have no problem in trying to be hospitable, strange kids are fine, other people's cats I can just about live with but my hospitality doesn't extend towards squirrels!" This comment only served to make my husband's grin get even bigger. "No, I'm serious, we can't encourage them to wander in whenever they feel like, apart from the fact that it may be unhygienic if they come into contact with food or anything, I just don't want an invasion of squirrels from the garden". My other half obviously found this very amusing and his reply only managed to make me even more exasperated. "You've been watching too many Alfred Hitchcock films beware "The invasion of the killer squirrels!"" You must be wondering what on earth I am talking about so let me just rewind a little and fill you in on the back ground to this rather bizarre conversation.

Having always been a city girl, the thought of living in suburbia or even beyond was something I was never desperately keen on. I really didn't want to have to trudge a mile down the road to borrow the proverbial cup of sugar or be able to count the number of people I saw in a day on the fingers of one hand. I wanted to look out of my window and see other human beings going about their business and know that my neighbours were a hop and a skip away. A little bit of noise thrown into the mix wouldn't hurt either. In other words you can take a girl out of Dhaka but you can't take Dhaka out of a girl!

However, I also wanted a garden where the children could run around and play and not always have to be cooped up in the house which is an unpleasant but often unavoidable side effect of living in a hustling bustling metropolis. So when we went house hunting, my list of criteria seemed impossible to meet. But luck was on our side and we found a property that just fit the bill. One of the selling features described by the estate agent was the communal garden behind the house. From the moment we set eyes on it, both my husband I fell in love with the garden. Despite being in the middle of London, just beyond the back patio lay a mini oasis. Effectively the patio opens out onto two acres of greenery. Not only was I in the middle of London, but I also had a wonderful park literally at my fingertips.

The garden has proved to be a source of enjoyment not just for the kids but for us as well. During the year we have events such as our annual bonfire and fireworks display, the summer fete and Christmas get together. As for the rest of the year, if you look out of the window, you can see people jogging or going for their power walks, taking their dogs for their regular walks or people just strolling around getting a breath of fresh air. At one point when my cousin was living with us, we decided to go jogging around the garden every evening. This was to avoid being seen by other people as we panted around the grounds. But we found to our dismay that this was a huge mistake as every time we jogged passed the other houses around the garden, we set off the light sensors in their patios! Let's just say we didn't make ourselves very popular.

Another very common sight in the garden is that of dozens of children playing. It is almost as if they appear from nowhere and suddenly the entire place is crawling with children of different ages playing together, riding their bikes or just playing on the swings and slides in the little playground in the centre of the garden. This everything we could have wished for and more. When I say "more" I really do mean more. What I subsequently learned was that the garden had a few unwritten conditions attached to it. We were very happy that the children were able to go out and play and have friends who lived in houses around the garden. But this also meant that we had somewhere along the line given up our right to any privacy as their friends had carte blanche when it came to access to our house. Being a Bangladeshi, this concept of having an open house was not a problem. However there were times when I found my house invaded by nine or ten children having been invited by my progeny for lunch at short notice. I have on many occasions fed children or found them playing on the play station and wondered, "Do I even know you?" One incident that still makes me laugh is where we had two children wander into my husband's study, see a bowl of popcorn on his desk and then help themselves to a handful and leave almost as suddenly as they had arrived. To this day I still have no idea who they were.

Now if that wasn't enough, I have also had strange cats drifting into the house, checking out our bedrooms and then wandering back to their respective homes. The latest addition to my string of guests was our pet squirrel that lives in the garden. I say pet squirrel because it sits outside our kitchen and waits for us to give it some nuts, in fact it is even quite partial to Crunchy Nut Cornflakes! A few days ago I was sitting in the T.V. room when I heard the noise of scurrying feet under my chair. I asked our house help whether it was Fizz the cat again but she announced that it was a squirrel. Feeding it nuts from our kitchen is one thing but sharing my chanachur while watching television was just not acceptable! Hence my conversation with my husband about banning any kind of visits by creatures of the bushy tailed variety.


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