Have you ever told a black and terrible lie for the best of all possible motives? When we arrived at the church hall, we found the doors shut fast and bolted in our faces. There’s nothing like English oak for expressing “You can’t come in”, no matter how badly the paint is peeling. Attila had got the date wrong and no-one had taken the trouble to double check as the man is practically infallible. I patted him on the shoulder and mumbled that next year would do. I said that I had too many cacti already and nudged our daughter Cineraria in the ribs, telling her not to upset her father further. My own big bottom lip protruded so far that it impeded my step on the long walk back to the car.Mammillaria hahnianaMammillaria hahniana

The drive home was heavy with gloom. Attila apologised for our disappointed hope and frustrated greed; I protested that we both hated cactus plants anyway. I made tea and we drank it in companionable melancholy silence. Cindy drained her cup, squared her shoulders and addressed her laptop with a jutting jaw of determination that would frighten anyone who didn’t love her. After a brief session of button bashing, she announced that she had found a nursery open even on Sunday, out in the sticks. I found myself loaded into her car, clutching only a satnav for protection.Not enough cactiNot enough cacti

It is at this point that I should acquaint you with one of my many faults; I have no sense of direction. I live next door to a builder and if he parks his van up the street whilst working on a neighbour’s house, then I pull into the wrong driveway. My child shares this failing, to a lesser degree. We knew that we needed Southport Road but every hamlet in the area has one of those. By entering the postcode into my box of technology, we ended up at a dangerous bend with no sign of horticultural happiness in prospect. We visited half a dozen villages before returning to the first, in a sort of inward spiral which gave me some sympathy for bath water being sucked down a plug hole. This being the third time we had paused here to puzzle over our predicament, by now a crowd had gathered on the pavement. A man wearing an expression of weary compassion pushed his way through the chuckling spectators and introduced himself.Gasteria batesiana (barberton form)Gasteria batesiana (Barberton form)

It was worth all of the preceding disenchantment. Previously I have reduced folk to acquiescence by tactical use of Latin plant names. John impressed me by flinging around such terms as Neoporteria huascoensis in the casual manner of one who knows what he’s talking about. He could tell us the country and town from which each specimen originated. He knew the elevation at which it thrived and could remember the trouser colour of the man who sold him the seed. He showed us glorious great balls of greenery the size of a tractor tyre, studded with spikes. He proffered proudly small specks of fluff as big as my fingernail, older than I am. I received an education, a box full of exotic spiny specialities and not a few freebies. I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon; visit Croston Cactus (telephone 01257 452555). If you make the trip and you are unsure of the route, be sure to take a picnic, a change of underwear and a map.