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Off to Manchester, for the North West Cactus Mart. Along with myself and Cineraria, the hall was full of glorious aficionados, their faces alight with enthusiasm. Some were interested in patterns of fluting on the stems. Others were attracted by the placement of areoles and spines. The anoraks pursued a particular genus and a few tarts just wanted flowers. You could tell the old hands, because they brought boxes to hold their thorny purchases and pliers to remove the gems from the daunting displays. I promised Attila that I would buy only one or two specimens but we both knew that I was lying.
Strombocactus disciformis
Strombocactus disciformis

I have a huge collection of prickly beauties sitting at the sunny end of the conservatory. Due to the driven nature of fandom, the compilation is never complete. I circled the stalls like a vulture homing in on a particularly juicy breakfast. Repeated passes kept turning up some spiky sensation that I don’t possess already. I’m delighted that I am able to share my hobby with my daughter, it makes me feel that I’m not alone nor quite so eccentric. Stalking around the room, eyes fixed on the tables, our paths kept crossing, like some fancy aerial display team. I swear that we left contrails.
Astrophytum capricorne v. senile variegata
Astrophytum capricorne v. senile variegata

Every seller knew his charges, their preferences and odd kinks, which is all you can ask. I found umpteen specimens that I lusted after. Every plant had been carved into its strange shape by the inexorable grind of evolution. The barbs and bristles deter would-be diners in a landscape where water and succulent foliage are in short supply. Some forms are so extreme, you have to ask what hazards they face to extrude such outlandish defences. Incautiously, I grabbed an innocent looking Tephrocactus strobiliformis. The minute quills coated my knuckles in a dense mat of exquisite irritation, making me very grateful that I didn’t clasp it to my chest. I suspect that the Latin translates as sharp nasty bastard.
Cactus garden
Cactus garden

The revelry paused for lunch of coffee, apple pie and cream. We filled the table with our purchases, compared the styles of our favourites and assured each other of cuttings to be swapped in the future. Other shoppers paused to show off their acquisitions, to recommend a particular stand or to ask after one that we had found. Some care was necessary to avoid seeding dinner with indigestible bits of needle. Fuelled with caffeine and bouncing with the sugar rush, we hurtled back into the fray. When I pounced upon the peculiar potato shaped Opuntia miquelii, I felt positively orgasmic. Not the full “Harry met Sally” but it was close enough for other customers to mosey over, saying “I’ll have what she’s having”.

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