I met LaFlamme at the Botanical Gardens. “It’s a fecund paradise,” she said. Her language was quite shocking at times.
We were on a furtive mission to procure a cutting from a particular herbaceous perennial, the name of which continues to escape me despite The Admiral’s repeated tellings. The Admiral had devised a highly effective hangover cure which depended on the leaves and stem of the plant. Early tests with a garden centre variety were promising until our combined inability to keep anything in a pot alive apart from fungus conspired against us, and as a consequence all three of us returned to behaving as if mornings had never been invented.
“Mental torment,” I said. “Mental torment. Mentalent. Mentalor. Mentament.”
“What are you doing?” said LaFlamme.
“This is how I remember the plant’s name,” I replied. “I start with 'Mental torment' then combine the words in different ways until I come up with the right mix. Talmanent. Talmator. Talmanentator. Talmanenta-latortator.”
“Tormentil,” said LaFlamme.
“Tormentil,” I agreed, nodding. “I would have gotten there eventually.”
“Maybe,” said LaFlamme, “but I wasn’t sure how much mental torment I could take.”
We found an uncharacteristically useful piece of graphic design in the form of a signpost which read ‘Herbaceous Perennials’ and followed a winding path on a shallow incline towards an extensive rockery. When the inclination turned steep, my own inclination was to turn back but LaFlamme was two paces ahead of me and I’d become sun-dazzled by her milky-white calves.
As we reached the top of the incline we rounded a corner and LaFlamme stopped abruptly, forcing the top of my head to collide with her back. It had long been my dream to collide with LaFlamme but this wasn’t quite what I had in mind. I peered round from behind her and saw a dapper looking man with secateurs in one hand, a cutting in the other, and on his face the guiltiest expression I’d ever seen. He too appeared to be blinded by the fullbeam effect of LaFlamme’s delicious legs and stood facing towards us in a half-turned position, not knowing whether to go the whole 180 or return to base.
“Phlobaphenes,” he said.
“Quite,” said LaFlamme. “Do you work here?”
“Yes?” he offered in a painfully hesitant whine.
“Why are you wearing a suit?”
“I try to be presentable at all times. It shows the plants due respect.”
When I stepped out from LaFlamme’s shadow, something I haven’t been able to do often, I recognised the man. “Armstrong,” he said, extending his secateurs. “Gavin.” It was Suave Gav, the frustrated gourmet and bon viveur from the Neon Emporium. “We extract phlobaphenes and triterpene alcohol from the Potentilla Erecta,” he continued. “It produces a rousing Bavarian liqueur called Blutwurz.”
It sounded implausible. Not that Tormentil could produce a rousing Bavarian liqueur, but that its Latin name was Potentilla Erecta. But it’s true. Go ahead, look it up.
“Potentilla Erecta?” said LaFlamme. “That does sound rousing. Does it have any special powers? You know, increased circulation, hot flushes, shortness of breath, panting, drooling?”
“Oh yes,” said Armstrong. “Its health benefits are well documented. A compound prepared from the roots and bark has been used to treat a number of ailments. It’s often used in herbal medicine as an astringent due to its tannin content. It also gave me a thumping great erection the last time I tried it.”
It was more than we needed to know but at least we’d found the elusive Tormentil. I was confused however. It was clearly a multitalented plant that could both cause a hangover and cure it at the same time, not to mention its other special powers. I asked Suave Gav if he was aware of its use as a morning after potion.
“Is it possible?” he gasped, gazing in wonder at the low-growing cluster of bushes before him. “Up until now I have been spellbound by its Blutwurzian gifts and concentrated on its roots alone. If the leaves and stems can be used to counter the undesirable after-effects of over-consumption of its glorious root-juice, then children we have indeed reached the promised land.”
I was sceptical. It seemed more likely The Admiral had been serving us a hair of the dog rather than a hangover cure, which would certainly account for the spring in our step on the days we tried it. But I took a cutting nonetheless as even a small hope of a hangover cure was better than none.
Since this encounter, LaFlamme has taken to calling me ‘Tormentil.’ I’m not sure if this is a good thing.