They arrived, as arranged, in good time for lunch; and, after a happy afternoon filled with animated conversation, we had a rather late afternoon tea.
The conversation continued into the later part of the evening with a couple of alcoholic drinks for the three non-drivers; and early-bedders were switching off their bedroom lights before our day ended. It was great!
In the course of our many hours of conversation, our friends spoke of having visited Madeira recently, an island they have been to a number of times, and an island they have always found attractive, as indeed it is.
They said there had been a wonderful shop close to their accommodation for this most recent visit.
“It sold absolutely everything,” we were assured, to which I responded, “So it was what we would call a garden centre!”
You must have noticed, gentle reader, the seemingly-unstoppable tendency for garden centres … garden centres? … to grow larger and larger.
No longer are there many what I might call ‘extended nurseries’, where the horticulturally-minded senior members of the family are joined by their grown-up children and, possibly, a couple of employed assistants in the operation of a plant and garden sundries venture.
Nowadays a restaurant or a large café is more often the principal attraction of a garden centre … and its busiest area … while by far the greater part of the extensive covered retail space is given over to – well, pretty much everything one might buy.
Years ago, the Marquis of Bath, owner and operator of Longleat House, his ancestral home, introduced lions into his grounds … in a vast enclosure, I should add.
When asked if this was intended to be Longleat’s main attraction, the Marquis replied, “Oh, no. The toilets are the main attraction, followed by the café; the lions are only there to encourage visitors to take a walk through the grounds!”
And now, in md-November, Christmas has arrived in most garden centres, not just in the form of attractive poinsettia plants or in the opportunity to buy real, live Christmas trees before you wonder how on earth you are going to get your purchases into the car … although poinsettias and live Christmas trees are very much in evidence … but in the form of all manner of decorations.
There are more Christmas lights than there are lamps in the Blackpool Illuminations! There are more baubles than there are grains of sand on Portobello beach! There is more tinsel than would be needed to circle the world ten times!
And the good Lord alone knows how many tons of plastic items there are, ranging from things which are a bit Christmassy like ho-ho-hoing Santas in all sizes to sort-of-Bavarian villages with rails for a (usually derailed) steam locomotive powered train to go round and round.
What has that to do with Christmas? Whatever, I gaze in a sort of horrified fascination at this great range of supposed decorations; then I make my choices before heading off to the café. Ah, that’s life!