3 Apr


He stood in the vegetable patch at the back of the house, hoeing and weeding to insure bumper harvests. The king of cabbage surrounded by an empire of dirt, a cornucopia of utilitarian sustenance destined for the family freezer. Picked, bagged and tagged to be dumped and forgotten in sub-zero temperatures, only to resurface at Easter and Christmas dinners. 

Nothing like fresh green beans in December! 

You could taste their earthiness, the crisp juiciness of hand-reared crops, so much better than the store bought crap that had started to appear in the refrigeration shops up and down the high streets. Ice-blocked and deep frozen for perennial enjoyment – triangular fish alongside dubious meat and pastry products. The veg tasted like wood pulp – didn’t matter how much butter and gravy you added to the dish, it just wasn’t the same. It was worth the effort, standing out in all weathers making sure the plants were groomed and nurtured, insuring that the soil was tilled and sifted. It might have only been a common-or-garden neighborhood allotment but it functioned like a Swiss time piece. 


The wooden shed which housed the tools and ephemera of the backyard enthusiast was filled with calendars and ready-reckoners, almanacs and farmer’s digests -when to plant, when to sow, when to dig and when to harvest. Gardening advice by the bookbound bucketload lined the shelves; hand-written insertions insuring leafy greens and crunchy veg. 

It wasn’t just a storage shed but a sanctuary, a place where a man could escape the cares of the world; abscond from pressure and domestic drama. It was kitted out with all the necessities – no need to run back to the house should he feel the urge for a cup of tea. There was an electric kettle in the corner with a box of biscuits; the shed was siege-resistant. Should the proverbial hit the fan and the communist hoards suddenly decide to journey up the dual carriageway from York, Roger could sustain himself for weeks. 

As deadly as the Lorelei  to merchant sailors, the lure of the shed was siren song to amateur gardeners, seed sewers and potato drillers alike. Hours evaporated in mere minutes – life sucked through the worm hole of warped wood and cheap single paned glass. Under the pretence of having things to do, the faux emergencies of organizing the garden prior to the arrival of friends and family, he’d sit in an old deckchair and smoke his pipe. Curled in the skeins of freshly-burnt tobacco, a man could forget himself and ponder those thoughts he’d otherwise ignore. 

Despite the allure of the garden and the vegetable plot, Roger would always keep a weather eye on the horizon. It was good to be prepared – forewarned was forearmed. His knapsack hung on a nail by the door, ordnance survey map, binoculars, and camera safely stowed inside. With rapid-disappointment-team deployment he could be off in a second, speeding towards distant horizons. The hint of a breeze on a warm sunny day would have him scanning the skies, huffing and puffing as he vainly attempted to keep the pipe alive in his mouth. He knew they were out there; it was just a matter of time. Following the advice of Tsun Tzu, he’d studied his enemy and prepared for battle.

They’d come, they always did. Regular as clockwork, soon as the mercury started to rise on the old barometer by the front door. Like an angler wary to the wiles of his aquatic foe or a big game hunter eagerly waiting upwind in the hope of a rack with which to embellish his collection, he bided his time.

 No point in being hasty, no use in jumping the gun. The quarry would eventually find him – time and tide would have to wait. 


His wife stared through the kitchen window at the man bent double scrabbling for weeds. Of course it kept him out of her hair, and the vegetables were a bonus, however she sensed there was something else going on – who knew what debauchery went on inside that shed? She’d her suspicions of course that her husband’s keen interest in gardening had something to do with the young couple who’d moved in next door. Not exactly prudish when it came to shutting curtains or bedroom windows, their non conformist lifestyle revealed by the young wife’s penchant for wearing itsy-bitsy bikinis the second the sun appeared. She shook her head – not old Rog. Some young thing with her boobs hanging out may keep him entertained for five minutes but not for weeks on end. A dark shadow suddenly passed over the window, she felt the chill as the sun was momentarily blocked. 


There they were, he’d been expecting them! Roger dropped his rake, ran to the shed, grabbed his bag, and pounded up the cinder path towards the house. 


Mouth agape, she was amazed to see him move so fast; expecting the worst but hoping for the best, she was relieved to see the grin and the wave he threw her. All  was obviously well. 


Tucking his trouser bottoms into his socks he jumped on the old sit-up-and-beg bike and cycled down the pavement. An Englishman in the midday sun, Roger, like a bullet, shot away. 

It was balloon season – massive colorful globes of hot air pondering slowly over the countryside. 

Balloons were his first love – after the wife of course; he’d seen the neighbor’s wife and wasn’t impressed. He loved  how they floated like gentle giants, the bright colors, the creak of the rigging as they drifted above the housing estate. He’d follow them for miles down country byways, across rivers and fields. Snapping shots and taking wind speeds – compassing direction and correlating their positions on the ordnance survey map. Balls of color hanging above the drab agrarian landscape of  Yorkshire. 

Stalking balloonists or tilting at windmills; one man’s obsession was as good as another’s. Like a dog chasing cars, what would he do if he ever caught one? 


His wife checked the clock on the kitchen wall, he’d be back in an hour or so, he never stayed away too long. Loved his balloons did Rog. 

The neighbor’s wife leant over the fence, hanging out of her nearly-there bikini. The wife waved back and smiled – she’d need bigger bait than those if she was going to catch Roger’s attention!


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