Saturday, 19 June 2010

Pride Comes Before A Fall

The schedules were out for the Annual Village Flower Show and I was eagerly looking through deciding which categories to enter - I circled several before spotting the one I really thought I would enjoy, "The Heaviest Pumpkin".

The seeds were selected and planted, of the 10 seeds in the packet just over half grew; these were all lovingly nurtured and as the flowers grew, got fertilised and pumpkins began growing their progress was checked daily. I talked to my would-be prize winners a lot and after about a month I selected my favourite and gave her a name, "Patti". Patti responded to my chats and feeds by growing bigger and bigger - my family began to complain that I paid more attention to the growth of the pumpkin than I did about them....I discovered who else had entered the competition and through the course of the next few weeks we teased each other about the feeds we were giving our would-be prize winners, joked about the wheel barrows we need to transport our pumpkins to the show in but we didn't dare go to visit each others vegetable plots, for fear of having the label "spy" or "saboteur" attached to us!

Two days before the village show I went out to check on Patti and noticed a little damp spot on her side. I cut her that night and bought her into the kitchen. I cleaned her and imagined her with the winning rossette next to her - I patted her goodnight and went up to bed. The next morning when I came into the kitchen the first thing I did was to check Patti. Was it my imagination or had the damp patch grown overnight? The rest of the day was spent preparing the village green for the village day - I barely had time to think about Patti as I made sure my bread, cakes and biscuits were baked for the Cookery classes I had entered; last minute tweeks were made to the hanging baskets I was entering and the selection and measuring of my runner beans for the Longest Bean category. At about 9 o'clock that evening I went to check on Patti, the pumpkin I had lovingly tended all those months sat on the table in the larder, from a distance she looked a little lob-sided - I went to straighten her up......

The family rushed in when they heard my scream. There on the table before us all sat Patti - at my touch she had imploded! My family stared at me open-mouthed and saw tears rolling down my cheeks.....tears of laughter, the stupid pumpkin had imploded two days too soon!

The next morning I carried across all my entries to the show, including Patti. I placed her on the spot reserved for her and next to her I stuck "An Ode to Vain Lady called Jane", a short poem my daughter had written about a woman who allowed her love of a pumpkin to over-ride all else. My daughter won first prize for her poem.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Betchworth Dave

The quarry in Betchworth was owned by a big, loud, vulgar, bullying man - he amassed a fortune emptying it and then when it was empty he amassed another fortune opening it as a landfill site. He bought a farm, property, some race horses and lived the life a country gent. He had two children, a son and a daughter who he educated privately and then he wondered why they shied away from his vulgarity. The daughter ran away from him as soon as she could - the son stayed and got involved with the family business.

When I first met Betchworth Dave he was in his was in his mid thirties, he had moved to the village about six months before us and lived in the Old Rectory Cottage. The property had been gentrified with the addition of an indoor swimming pool and gym. Dave was a tall rugby playing man and liked the idea of keeping himself fit. He liked the idea of it but didn't really enjoy doing it. He was handsome, in a boyish way, but he was already getting jowly and his eyes were too often glazed. He had a tiny wife who was pregnant with her second child. He would come striding purposefully into the shop, booming out a greeting, snatching up two or three bottles of wine, flashing wads of money and then disappear. His son was born soon after our arrival - a happy round baby, lucky to be born into a wealthy family with doting parents and besotted grand parents - or so it seemed.

His wife came into the shop most days, she was a moody girl but pleasent enough and we became quite friendly. Her eldest son was already at school when the baby was born and they came in on their way home from school. The boy was a bright, friendly child - he would tell me what he had done at school each day, I liked him.

The landlord of the village pub was feuding with an element in the village and banned people for ridiculous infringements; big, loud, silly Dave got banned and transferred his business to the shop. We were forced to endure hours of his endless stories about himself and his father. Most days Dave worked down at the land-fill, but he often took time-off to go to the races, watch rugby and drink in the pubs of neighbouring villages. Every Christmas he would fly off, with his family, to join his parents in Barbados (His parents over-wintered there each year in their second home). One year he even took his mother-in-law with them. When they came back the eldest child would tell me long stories about the holiday and his mother would show me her new jewellry.

I watched the boys growing up, they adored each other and as soon as the baby could walk the two of them would come down to the shop to spend their pocket money. The older one laughing as the younger tried to work out what he could afford to have. When the younger one was about three years old they started coming down to the tearoom, often without parental supervision and always barefoot, they would sit and order cream teas - my waitresses would fuss over them and they relished the attention.

One Saturday afternoon Dave was involved in a traffic accident - he drove into a bus on the narrow lane that went through the centre of the village; he knew he was over the drink-drive limit so he jumped out of the car and ran home. He tried to persuade his wife to say that she had been driving - a hare-brained scheme considering the accident had happened in broad daylight, with a full bus of passengers to witness. Two days later she packed her bags and left him, leaving both boys behind - she came into the shop to say goodbye to me.

Dave was charged with drink-driving, he pleaded guilty and lost his driving license. He and his wife divorced, it was a messy affair - Dave and his family adament that the ex-wife should have nothing, but eventually they bought her a new house and hoped that would be the end of it. About a year later she started to demand custody of the boys and another lengthy battle began; eventually the eldest son went to live with his mother (Dave was not his natural father so it was unusual that the family thought they would have been able to keep him), Daves son remained with him.

The Rector came into the shop one day, he complained that he had started to get strange visitors in the night. The Rector lived in The Rectory and there was some confusion over the name of the houses - one night a call-girl arrived and mocked him for dressing up as man-of-the-cloth, until she realised he was one and she had come to the wrong address!

Although it was obvious to everyone that Dave had a problem the full extent of it was only just starting to be realised. A couple of months after losing custody the eldest boy the youngest one went to live on his grandparents farm. Dave stayed on a the cottage by himself - I ran past his home most afternoons with my dogs, he was often on the dirt track outside hiding empty bottles in the hedge, his next door neighbour complained about the number of empty wine bottles thrown over the wall into his garden. In a desperate attempt to help him his parents sent him to the Priory, an expensive rehabilation clinic used by the rich and famous. On his return home it was evident his stay had been futile. Daves father came to the shop and begged us to tell him if Dave was buying alcohol from us, we agreed to stop serving him. The next time Dave came in to the shop we told him we wouldn't serve him anymore; he left the shop quietly, within an hour he was back, drunk, demanding we serve him. I telephoned his father to ask him to come and collect his son. This scene became a daily ritual, sometimes Dave would beg us to serve him, other times he tried to bully us. I kept my word to his father and always turned him away empty-handed. Dave started to stand outside the shop approaching other customers to ask them to buy him wine or whiskey; when we realised what he was doing he moved a little further down the path, out of sight of the shop windows. Despite living in the big empty house with its indoor pool and gym Dave was reduced to begging passerbys to buy him his supplies. He always talked about getting better but couldn't make that first step on his own.

Dave was 41 when he choked to death, on his own vomit, in the office down at the quarry. The little boy stayed on at his grandparents farm but soon after his fathers death his grandmother died and then his older brother was taken into care (a story circulated about his mother but I didn't care to listen to the details). The last time I saw that little boy he looked at me as if I were a stranger - I wondered if he had any memories of the summers he had sat, with his chubby little legs dangling over the bench, eating his cream tea whilst everyone fussed over him making sure he and his brother had everything they needed.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

A Bee in Her Bonnet

It was a lovely warm July day and everyone was walking around in summery dresses or shorts and T-shirts. The Village Hall, next door, had been taken over by the "Best Village in Surrey" panel and they were interviewing (only pretending not to be) representatives of different groups within the village community. Everyone came into the shop on their way to or from the Hall to have a quick chat - or to go through to the Tearoom, we were all caught up in the excitement of the day.

Just before lunch one of the village ladies came into the shop - she was always charming and fun to be with, tall, well groomed and then in her late-50s. She was on her way into the Hall, looking cool in some tailored shorts and a pretty stripped T-shirt, representing the horsey fraternity. As she approached the counter I noticed a wasp on the collar of her T-shirt. I told her to keep still and I would flick it off but no sooner had the words left my mouth it disappeared into the the inside of her top and stung her - quick as a flash she pulled the T-shirt off and began to shake it so the wasp would fly off. We all stood open-mouthed, none of us quite sure where to look - she had obviously been in such a hurry to get dressed that morning she had forgotten to put a bra on. The lady who worked in our Tearoom calmly ushered her into the kitchen and applied some TCP to the wasp sting. She re-dressed the lady and sent her into the judging panel. We made no eye contact until the shop was empty. "Well" she said with a completely straight face "they were very brown weren't they?"

That year our little shop and Tearoom got second-place in the "Best Village Shop" category.