12 JUNE 1993, Page 43

Pruning the Wistaria

Swinging from the ladder-top, yards nearer heaven, one arm, one leg clocking above the door: now, you could read me as ten past seven a minute ago, I was five to four.

Each year this ritual performance: pruning the wistaria, little more at stake than old excesses given come-uppance, a job done almost for its own sake.

And yet, it has the elements of religion: that essential marriage of sky and earth, a sense of loss and yearly renewal, and trust in its intrinsic worth.

In practice, too: a certain priestly learning, the need for sacrifice (though nothing worse than hours and patience), even a turning to litany (albeit based on curse).

Above all, the smug belief of doing good, of order brought to tangled affront, the knowing in the heart one always could do better: if the secateurs weren't blunt, if the roses didn't foul the ladder's footing, if the damned wistaria hadn't grown - a host of hoary excuses rooting in a generous handful of fish, blood and bone.

In short, if only it really mattered an act whose wholeness, like that of prime numbers, truly never could be bettered: done once, with love, for all time.

Andrew Gibbons