There is a postcard beauty about the villages on the road to South Petherton, not that there would have been much prospect of its appreciation when travelling in the back of a Land Rover, shaken as it travelled the rural roads. Even now, enter the journey from Langport to South Petherton into Google Maps and it gives a journey time of twenty minutes for the eleven kilometre journey. Even at primary school, it would have been possible to calculate that travelling the journey in that time represented an average speed of just thirty-three kilometres per hour, which is barely more than twenty miles per hour. Perhaps the area always seemed much bigger than it was because it took so long to reach places; half an hour’s driving on the motorway might cover thirty-five miles, in rural Somerset it might cover ten miles.
The journey in the back of the Land Rover was made from a nursery in Langport in order to work on fourteen acres of land used for growing herbaceous plants. A dullard schoolboy would not have been entrusted with anything responsible, instead the rows of plants had to be hoed. A tractor was used for clearing weeds between the rows, those growing between the individual plants had to be cleared by hand; the hoe would cause blisters on the palms of the hand that would eventually harden into calluses. It was tiring and boring work, the only consolation was that the journey to and from the land was made in working hours. A slow journey there and a slow journey back could take an hour off the eight hour working day which began each morning at 7.45 and finished each afternoon at 5.00, no-one was paid for taking breaks.
The journey today was the first made along that road since 1979. Having ridden in the back of the Land Rover in those teenage years, it was impossible to recall where the herbaceous plant fields had been; one block of open land seemed much alike the one that adjoined it. Driving a sunken road, where two cars could not have passed, with steep earthen banks that rose to trees that formed a canopy overhead, a thought occurred that a more curious student might have asked four decades ago: why did the nursery grow plants on land that was so distant from its premises?
A suggestion came that the soil was different, that plants that did not thrive at the main nursery might grow well in the soil of the fourteen acres. Perhaps they might: nursery plants were unpredictable species. Sometimes they might not grow as people had expected, or sometimes they might not grow at all.
Irritated customers sometimes arrived at the nursery with a complaint, intent upon imparting a piece of their mind to the nurseryman responsible for the fact that their plants had not thrived. Standing in the packing shed one afternoon, the foreman spied a woman crossing the yard from the office, a determined look on her face. “Here comes trouble”, he muttered.
The woman opened the door, “I want to speak to the foreman. I was told I would find him here.”
Without flinching, he said. “I’m terribly sorry, madam, he’s not available this afternoon. May I give him a message?”
The foreman particularly enjoyed the opportunities to be in South Petherton.