Last Christmas I bought Robin two new front tyres for the car. This year I decided that she needed a present that was much more romantic than that. So I bought her 1000 worms.
She was thrilled. "Just what my worm farm needs!" she declared and she went out and bought a bucket.
"What's the bucket for?" I asked.
"It will live in the kitchen," explained Robin, "and you will put all your vegetable scraps into it as food for my worms."
"OK," I said.
"Don't give them fruit or anything with seeds in," she said. "I had a worm farm back home in Australia and I gave my worms far too much fruit. They left home in protest and moved next door. They made a lovely den for themselves under the canopy that covered the swimming pool. My neighbours were very impressed when they removed the cover so as to go for a swim. Worms everywhere! The children used to dive into the water, come back up to the surface and then spit out the lumpy bits."
"OK, no fruit," I agreed solemnly, even though our next door neighbour doesn't have a swimming pool. "Why can't I feed the worms seeds?"
"Because the seeds germinate and grow inside the worm farm and soon there's no room for the worms. That makes them want to leave home as well."
"Oh, that would never do," I said.
The worms came in a small cardboard box which Harpo the Terror Cat immediately wanted to sit in. We strongly discouraged him. "It's full of slimy wriggly things."
Harpo looked puzzled. "What's wrong with that?" he asked. "As far as I'm concerned, it just adds to the attraction."
"Cats don't like worms," I said firmly.
"Oh don't they?" asked Harpo. "OK. I'll go and sit on an early bird instead."
Robin took the box outside and unpacked it on the lawn. She laid all the worms out in order, smallest to largest. "Stop wriggling!" she ordered firmly. Then she counted them. "One, two, three, four... Oh no!" she said. "What a catastrophe! There are only 999 worms. You've been short changed by the shop you'll have to take them back immediately." She looked inside the box again. "Oh, it's OK. There are 1000 worms after all. There's a dead one in the corner. Poor thing. Perhaps we ought to have a funeral for it."
Robin dug a deep hole in the garden and we buried the worm with full pomp and circumstance. Robin wiped away a tear, and then she took her worms to their new home, a purpose built, architecturally designed worm farm with a tap on the bottom for draining dubious fluids. Robin introduced the worms to their new home one by one and as she put each worm into the farm, she gave it a name. "Arbuthnot, Abigail, Alan, Anne, Andrew Zacharia, Zamorah, Zan."
"Why are you giving them names?" I asked.
"So that they can tell each other apart," explained Robin, "and so that they can introduce themselves to each other when they have sex. You can't have sex with someone whose name you don't know." She sounded quite shocked at the idea.
"So you expect the worms to have sex a lot?" I asked.
"Oh yes," said Robin. "That's what worms do. You know how people shake hands when they first meet each other?"
"Yes," I agreed.
"Well worms don't have hands," said Robin. "So whenever they meet, they have sex instead. And what's more, they are hermaphrodites, so they do it both ways at once. They all have twice as much fun as anyone else does I suppose there have to be some compensations for being a worm."
"So worms are all actually hippie refugees from the Summer of Love?" I asked.
"That's right," said Robin. "Didn't you notice their long hair and the faint smell of marijuana when I took them out of their box?"
"So we'll soon have a lot more than 999 worms?" I asked.
"I expect so," said Robin.
"What happens when the worm farm is so full of worms that they can't even wriggle any more?"
"That's when they stop having sex and start eating each other instead," explained Robin. "Life in a worm farm is just one long, decadent orgy."
The next few days were anxious ones. I put vegetable peelings, tea bags and coffee grounds into the bucket. I even put in some cat biscuits that Harpo and Bess turned had their noses up at. Robin kept emptying the bucket into the worm farm and she'd come back with a very long face.
"They aren't eating," she reported gloomily. "I think they must still be traumatised by the move."
"Never mind," I soothed. "I'm sure they'll recover and start eating soon. Perhaps they are having trouble remembering their names. Once they get that sorted out, I'm sure everything will be fine."
And then one day Robin came back from her worm farm beaming all over her face. "They've started eating," she declared. "And look at this!" She held up a small bottle full of black goo.
"What's that?" I asked.
"It's my first bottle of worm wee," she said. "Isn't that just fantastic? The instructions say I've got to dilute it to the colour of weak tea and pour it on the flowers."
"What happens then?"
"You step back quickly before the rapidly growing flower hits you in the eye," said Robin. She diluted her worm wee and spread it liberally around the garden.
Sproing! Sproing! Sproing! Sproing! Sproing! Sproing!
"I think that chrysanthemum just punched a hole in a passing aeroplane," I said.
"Hmm..." said Robin, thoughtfully.