Yesterday Jim noticed the name ‘Diogenes’ on a knife blade with which he was coring an apple, and asked me who Diogenes was (Diogenes of Sinope, c. 412-323 BC).
In an unguarded moment I boasted to a friend that I could write an essay on what we found out on Wikipedia, and on what the findings triggered in my memories and associations.
She suggested that yes, perhaps I might! So today I did.
It was harder than I thought, and I was struck by how little was about Diogenes, and how much about me… Here goes:

Working draft of Diogenes I

I took the knife from their dustbin. Not “stole”, because their daughter had thrown it away. Discarded, no longer wanted in the sheltered housing that they were moving to.

Discarded, just like me, the Lady Gardener that they named me, although that’s not true, they did not reject me… I rejected myself, rejected the image that I had set up of myself as their extended green fingers, the steadier version of their feet, the provider of spinach beet and fresh broad beans.

Whereas in truth I was their ivy puller (choking at the odour as I screeched it off the south-facing wall, anxiously avoiding the lifeline phone cable that he had warned me against pruning), their fretter about heaps of unrecycled greenhouse struts, potsherds, rampant periwinkle and rats, memorials to passed dogs; whereas I was in receipt of occasional bounty – their company for a start, their sharing of stories, their jolly abandonment to the randomness of laughter within the strictures of their shipshape timetables, their regular idiosyncratic meals with place mats from the topmost drawer. (She cooked, he laid, shuffling round in his Velcroed slippers, placing the abraded lemon squash glasses top right hand corner of “Racing Dinghies, Southampton”, each onto their own coaster.

I saved the knife from the Black Bin, the one for “any other rubbish”. I saved it from the ruthlessness of their minimalist daughter, rueing the day that they would miss it, bemoan its loss when next they wanted to pare an apple, cut some cheddar cheese for Jacobs Cream crackers. I knew it was their favourite, yet I could not contravene her decision that day, sprucely hurling the knife into a newly pristine bin, “They don’t need seventeen knives.”

Today we are nearly as old as they were, the first time I met him, canvassing community activities at our door, an advocate for Over Sixties Badminton at the Village College our son had just joined.

Today we are coring Tydeman’s Late Orange from our apple fridge, small and sweet, a bounty in May to follow the fresh lettuce snipped from the glasshouse, stripped of baby slugs, refreshed like us with local hard tap-water that chalks and crazes the squash glasses, strengthens our bones, strengthens the old badminton bones towards his next birthday, 101 and still counting.

Today Jim as he inspects with sharp-honed curiosity the blade of the paring knife he’s selected from the jumble that is our utility, the tool-kit of our regular drill,– the knife I stole, that knife – offers: “Who was Diogenes?”

And I, remembering across the sunnier years my mother bright tanned and turquoise dirndled, hear her say, Diogenes lived in a barrel, or was that Archimedes? and Jim says, Yes, there is a picture here, of Diogenes, I guess it’s him, he’s peering, peering at a tall container, and here’s the trademark of the knife.

Diogenes: I get the laptop and plug it in above the fruit display – bananas freckling in this unseasonable heat, Late Tydeman’s upon the Saxon-celebrating dish, my avocado treat ripening in a bowl Jim made from spalted beech…

I digress… Diogenes of Sinope, according to Wikipedia*, 412-323 BC or thereabouts… spurning the social conventions of the day, he occupied – a former-day rough sleeper in the city square – a ceramic jar, perhaps from storing temple wine, and slept and ate whenever it pleased him …

Unlike me, the thief of his knife, whose timetabling, whose discipline, veers from the casual to the ultra-strict, but not yet as formal as in the new bright and care-ful nursing home, where that old salt still just about recounts Southampton and dinghies, and how much he misses her and how they sang, sang together when there was the power cut in the dark dark night.


© Kathy McVittie 28 May 2017