By Andrew Culture
If an Englishman’s home is his castle then it naturally follows that his allotment is his estate, and of course the same can be said for Englishwomen, women like Bessie. Bessie took on her allotment when her husband Victor was laid off by Ransomes-Rapier (in Ipswich) in 1964, it wasn’t so much out of a desperate need for a source of cheap food, it was more to get some time away from her husband.
After being laid off Victor discovered the joys of sitting down; he spent the majority of his seated time reading long meandering Westerns and the rest developing a championship level ability to find fault in everything (and everyone) crossing his path. It took a five year long campaign of persuasion to lever Victor off his chair and back out into the world of work, by which time Bessie’s nagging and his mithering had become a constant in their marriage; it was like a background hiss that they were both aware of but both did their best to ignore.
Victor found employment down at Ipswich Docks and it wasn’t long before the erratic hours of his shifts led to him and his wife sleeping in separate beds, and then separate rooms. And so Bessie committed herself to her allotment, and that’s where I’m going to take you now…
Allotments are now more popular than ever - much to the annoyance of Bessie and her fellow long term plot holders. Where once there was nought but weathered men in weathered (but respectable) tweed jackets, now there are young families with scruffy hair and foul language. Bessie knows their fancy new techniques for growing veg are faddy and lazy, it’s a frequent topic of mirth for the long conversations she holds with her grey-haired harem of allotment gentlemen.
Today she’s chatting with Jim; he’s an amiable old fellow with a cheeky glint in his eye. Bessie is leaning on her spade as they chat about the recent spate of break-ins (they both agree it’s all the fault of computer games and drugs). Although an old hand at the land Jim is fairly new on the allotment scene having moved to the area to be closer to his children, his wife passed many years ago but loneliness wasn’t his motive for moving; there was an ‘indiscretion’ with a married lady at his bridge club and he decided the time had come to up sticks and move.
Bessie and Jim have become close over the past few weeks, and much to Bessie’s surprise she’s found herself quite taken with the man, even with his increasingly lewd double entendre. It’s been longer than she cares to remember that someone has been so suggestive towards her, and it’s become something of a guilty secret pleasure. She’d never admit it, but she’s had more than a few lewd thoughts about Jim recently, and being a naturally shy girl she has been pondering the phrase ‘actions speak louder than words’.
Jim is commending Bessie on how deeply she has dug over her potato bed, as is his style he’s also making some suggestive comments causing Bessie blush a little on the outside, and spin like a top on the inside. After some mutual commiseration regarding this year’s poor onion harvest Jim tips his cap and wanders off to his own little estate. Bessie is lost in her thoughts for a moment, and then as she moves the spade she was using to hide Victors hand one of his fingers twitches slightly. Bessie furtively looks over her shoulder then grinds the fingers back below the soil with the heel of her boot.
Whistling a merry tune Bessie pushes her spade into the ground until it stands on its own and potters off to the other end of her plot. She chuckles to herself because, well, those courgettes won’t harvest themselves!
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Friday, September 03, 2010
About twelve years ago I was making my first foray into the world of scratching a living using the Internet, and way back then this involved a lot of house calls. I won’t trouble you with the details of what these house calls involved, mainly because this is the ‘jumping, scratching dog squirt story’, not the ‘boring details of Andrew’s early web-life’ story.
In the late 1990’s programs on BBC Radio 4 would periodically mention a phrase that was new to polite society, and that phrase was ‘Silver Surfer’. Silver Surfers were folk in their calm dotage who embraced the wonders of the Internet with open (and slightly wrinkled) arms. After each such mention the chap I worked for would get a few phone calls from elderly ladies and gentlemen and I would duly be dispatched to get them up to speed with ‘T’Internet’.
One day I made a house-call to an elderly lady who was keen to get up to her neck in all the info-goo the Internet had to offer. While I was in her lounge enjoying a cup of milky tea and a slice of highly alcoholic fruit cake, a small Cavalier King Charles Spaniel trotted into the room and parked itself on my toes in hope of catching stray crumbs. I complimented my host on her charming dog, and she surprised me a little by informing me that her hound was ‘a little bastard’. I’m a big fan of the animal kingdom as such I love to hear tales detailing strong characters of those within. And so I was told the ‘jumping, scratching, dog squirt story’, and I’m guessing you’d like to hear it too.
All dogs have certain personality traits and habits in common, and despite his snooty pedigree the Cavalier King Charles at the heart of this tale was partial to a bit of door scratching. While cats may scratch at a door to gain entry (or not), this dog apparently became so consumed in worrying the back door that when it was opened – and he was broken from his reverie – he would frequently have forgotten the aim of his mission, and would wander off.
My host told me with stern lowered eyebrows that the noise of her mutt’s absent minded scratching was an irritant beyond compare, and during one of her son’s visits she voiced her annoyance to him. This lady’s son was a professor of engineering (or some such) for Volvo in Sweden and while his visits were infrequent he liked to try and improve his mother’s lot while he was staying with her. Being an intelligent sort of cove he set about formulating plans on scraps of paper, and arrived at a method of modifying this dog’s tiresome behaviour.
At this point in proceedings my host struggled to her feet and shuffled towards the back door and asked me to follow her. Attached to the back door was a large sprung aluminium plate, and attached to the plate was a series of wires leading down to a small pond. Below the surface of the pond was a small electrical pump, and from the pump led a small plastic tube that fed all the way back up to the door. The idea was that each time the dog raised a paw to indulge in some door scratching he would unwittingly depress the giant aluminium panel, and set into a play a series of events that would result in a squirt of pond water being administered to his face.
I was throwing compliments around like confetti that day, and liberally commended my host for bearing such intelligent offspring. This compliment was met in much the same manner as the earlier one with the canine motif, “He’s a little bastard!” Naturally this piqued my interest and I made further enquiries. It turns out that this elderly woman is no longer troubled by the sound of claw on door, and her son had returned to Sweden with a light heart. The problem was that the sound of scratching had been replaced by the clang of aluminium on wood, followed by the whirr of a pump, and the sound of a dog being hit in the kisser with a jet of water. Said dog would then yelp as it jumped backwards out of the line of fire and invariably landed in a nearby pile of plastic plant pots. This dog was either a great lover of challenges, or slow to learn, either way a few seconds after regaining poise the animal would make another assault upon the door and find itself once again subjected to aforementioned string of co-incidences. This process would then fall into a loop that would continue until human intervention ceased it.
I can only apologise at this point if you were hoping to find a moral at the end of this tale, but alas I do not have one to offer you. Sometimes things just happen and we enjoy telling others that they’ve happened, and little more can be said.