Thursday, 17 March 2011

One Day I Bought a Cactus

One day I bought a cactus. That isn’t interesting. No. Cactuses – or cacti – don’t usually open stories with a flourish. This cactus, however, had several strange properties.

Firstly, it was bald. It was a slaphead cactus. In the same way a baby can remain hairless into toddlerhood, this poor cactus was smooth and snug in its adulthood. When I got it home, I ran my tongue along its stems, tasting its green silkiness. I checked its underside for spikes. I watered it hourly so it might realise its full cactus potential.

Secondly, it refused to grow unless I played it thumping drum ‘n’ bass music. This genre involves a dump-dump-dump-dump beat that never seems to end. To this music, the cactus wiggled its three prongs, expressing an acute sense of timing.

This isn’t where the strangeness ends, however. Oh no. One afternoon, having left the flat with a thundertrance raveup on the ipod deck, I returned to find the cactus with its largest prong stuck up the cold water tap. How it got there, I have no idea, but the tap was running at full power when I pulled it free. The cactus appeared to be absorbing the water! Little bleeder was soaking up it like a parched Laurence of Arabia!

I decided to conduct a little experiment. I placed the cactus and a jug of water on the floor. Next, I put on Roni Size’s classic New Forms LP. Then I left the room, leaving the door ajar. I slammed the front door, pretending to have absconded the flat in case the cactus was reluctant to be seen. I tip-toed back into the hall. From a crack in the door, I watched it leaping around the room, dancing in a sexual frenzy to the music.

Well. I was quite taken aback. I had never seen a small potted plant letting loose with such abandon before. It flexed its stems in time to the thumping beats, spinning across the carpet and doing 360° flips. When the song was over, it leapt into the jug and drained it dry in under ten seconds. How much water it consumed! And how quickly!

Charmed by my funky plant, I set up a camera to record his crazy dances. I found a rusty bathtub in the shed and filled it to the brim with water. Leaving the people-shy performer to his own devices, I watched him tear up the garden, flipping and spinning and flexing his stems with undue aggression for a small household plant. More disconcertingly, however, was the sight of him sucking up the entire contents of the bath.

I did wonder. People get dehydrated during raves, and plants thrive on water, but – a whole bath? In under ten seconds? How is it possible for a cactus to drink in and store so much water in so little time? I can only assume he expended so much energy, dancing like mad for an hour, that a whole bath was required to hydrate him again.

My video was attracting millions of hits on YouTube. Most people assumed it was fake, and I was starting to question my own sanity. I bought a second bald cactus from the same garden centre to see what might happen. I set up my bath and camera. They both danced to the music, using each other’s stems to perform sleazier routines, locking together in lewd displays of hedonism. That was enough. I demanded an explanation.

I went to the garden centre, where the sales assistant told me:
“Your hairless cactuses are more playful, fond of acid house culture. They don’t have them spikes in ‘em, you see. You try and do a freeform boogie with a million pricks in yer skin!”

This made sense, in a sense. I couldn’t image someone getting up to breakdance during acupuncture. Was it possible cacti were nature’s dancers, and people had neglected to notice for centuries, favouring only the prickly, static cacti? Yes. It was possible.

Upon further research, I discovered events for cacti who loved getting their groove thang on and went along to a special meet in Eastbourne. The sight of a room full of bald cacti doing a series of complicated dances – the lambada, the watusi and the polka – was a treat. However, I noticed my cacti getting itchy. It was clear they craved a harder, stronger beat. They longed for the clash of those cymbals, the kick of that snare.

The inevitable happened. My cacti began to grandstand. They performed wild, inappropriate dances, elbowing other cacti out of the way and spinning wildly in defiance. I was humiliated. The organisers were furious with me. My cacti ran amok and leapt into the water vat, draining it dry then lying on their backs, panting in ecstasy.

It was clear they were unhinged. They could not be trusted to control their wild urges in public, and were costing me a fortune in water bills. A decision had to be made.

I took them from the flat and, bidding them a wistful farewell, threw them into the local pond. As I shed a tear for my talented dancing plants, I noticed bubbles rising from below the surface. I knew they’d lap up some of the water, but this was ludicrous. After a few minutes, the ducks and swans were being drawn into my cacti’s whirlpool.

They were draining the pond! The thirsty so-and-sos! I looked around, panicking. Had people seen me throwing them in? How could I get them to stop? With their stems extended, and to the amazement of unlookers, they sucked the pond dry within a few minutes while the ducks and swans gave resistance, paddling furiously.

Fortunately, this strange story was to end happily.

Fourteen mallards, nine swans and five geese landed in a pile-up on my cacti, tearing them to pieces. As they munched upon the prongs, the water gushed from their roots, flowing back into the pond in magnificent waves, capsizing chicks and coots. As the pondlife bobbed around the vortex, I walked away, thinking next time I would get a mushroom instead.


  1. *gives a standing ovation*

    I give you credit, Mr Nicholls, for bravely telling such a bittersweet story.

    And yes, mushrooms might indeed be a better choice.

  2. Very gracefully done. Kind of reminds me of really good Vonnegut.

  3. P&CR: Hello. Thanking you.

    Tara: Always check with your garden centre if the cactus is into rave culture. Cacti into folkies like Joanaa Newsom make for more placid companions.

    Jeff: Ouch. That's my ego set up for the weekend.

  4. brilliant. And a happy ending. What more could I ask for?

  5. Sex? More sex? Inter-floral intercourse?