If I collected old bicycle frames, 1950’s corsets and empty crisp packets, everybody would be worried and asking each other “What shall we do about Mother?” Documentaries would visit the chaos briefly and my obsession would be the subject of scorn. As it is, my fixation is for curating botanical specimens and spectators compliment me on my single mindedness of purpose. My family buy me rare examples and still wonder what to do with me. Wherever possible, I lure my kin into my mania. So it was that Cineraria and Angelica went with us to the North West Cactus Mart in Manchester, having given their sports fiend partners the slip. Basil said that wandering around in concentric circles looking at plants was the worst possible pursuit that he could think of, then settled down to watch the Formula One car racing. Attila received a straight line trip from the woman in the satnav. For once he had no complaints, apart from her insistence on taking us through every red traffic light in three counties, because we were running late for the start.
Frithia pulchra (baby toes)
Frithia pulchra (baby toes)

Daughter Cindy has developed a taste for pert, bulbous, round ones. Angie celebrates all different shapes and wants as much texture and variety as she can cram into her bijou sun trap. Spouse admires succulents and I’m looking for something utterly unlike anything I already have. I promised my husband that I probably wouldn’t spend any money and he was right to look sceptical. We arrived amongst a seraglio of cactus flesh; endless tables of perfect, plump examples of plants all buffed to flawlessness by proud vendors. Sellers were knowledgeable and enthusiastic, keen to share hints and tips for cultivation. Old hands like us carried trays in which to accumulate our prizes, since clasping balls of spikes to your chest is a game that quickly loses its charm.
Rebutia heliosa on a graft
Rebutia heliosa, on a graft

The four of us scattered to follow individual fascinations, crossing paths to swap notes on particularly excellent stands and rewards gained there. I bought Attila a Crassula “Carolita”, vastly fetching but small enough for him not to notice in the wealth on offer and amid the scrum of customers. He acquired a Mammillaria spinosissima for me, which was positively hazy behind a cloud of spines and we exchanged gifts with arms entwined, like honeymooners sipping champagne but with much more care.
The cactus collection
The collection

On the way back home without time constraints, the lights were all green but our boxed director of maps knew nothing of a new road and two recent roundabouts. We were all talking about where we had been and what we had found, so took three wrong turns. We didn’t really care. Anyone who says that they don’t like cacti, I’m prepared to push earthworms in their ear until they change their mind.