You Do Forget Things
© Jon Horne
They think Im stupid, and that gets to me.
First, let me tell you the things I dont mind: I dont mind that they strut around the place as if they own it; I dont mind that theres girls living with them, or that they seem to be shared out willy-nilly between them; I dont even mind that theyre growing pot in the greenhouse, and that they go into the shed and come out giggling. I dont mind all that because if I was in their shoes Id be doing just the same. The worlds changed beyond recognition since I was their age - too much for me to tell you if its for the better.
What I object to is being part of the furniture. Does an allotment have furniture? Part of the landscape then. Old Frank Jackson in his cloth cap and braces; digging his furrow, planting his marrows and smoking his pipe. Only today, this lad - I forget his name, the tall one with the beard - comes onto the plot with some girl I hadnt seen before. Morning Mister Jackson, he says to me; then he says to the girl: Hes an institution, and the girl starts laughing.
Ill give him bloody institution.
Let me tell you something about myself: I was born into the Great Depression. Out-and-out bloody misery in fact. My Dad - or rather the man I called my Dad - he could never find work, not regular. He was an electrician. Yes, they had electricity then. The trouble was, no one could afford to have it put in. So he spent his time working the allotment. We always had food on the table.
He taught me how to work this little plot of land. Thats the thing people forget, I wasnt born knowing what I know, I had to learn it the same as everyone else. He was a good teacher, and to be fair, he wasnt bad as a Dad. My real father didnt come back from the Great War you see, but thats another story.
There they go: the lads taking the girl into the potting shed.
There was a copper nosing around here a couple of weeks ago. Little bloke, he was, with a face like a bull-terrier - and nasty with it, talking to me like I was a bloody half-wit, and going on about the next allotment and what he reckoned was going on in the greenhouse.
Listen son, I says to him, between you and me, Ive been using the greenhouse myself - you know, tomatoes and peppers. Bloody wasted on them kids it is. If the landlord finds out, Ill be turfed off of this plot. I gave him half a dozen tomatoes to be going on with as well, since there was a bit of truth in what Id said.
Dogface reminded me of a Redcap I knew in Cairo, during the war. He had Sid Green court-martialled. Sid was an oppo of mine who used to run hashish back to the army camp. The Redcap found out and took six weeks worth of backhanders off Sid - and then turned him in anyway.
I told them, casual like, about Dogface, so I hope theyve had the sense to shift their plants. I didnt tell them what Id done though - not that theyd mind about the tomatoes, its just that theyd take it the wrong way.
A familiar sweet smell is wafting over from the shed.
They havent had the allotment long: Alf Smith had the one that the kids are on now. In fact Im sure one of thems related to him - a great nephew or something like that. Alf was a kind man, which isnt a word you hear much these days. He was also a sad man, and thats a word you hear too often. Alf was born in the Depression just like me, but he never really climbed out of it. He spent his life pushing a pen, working till God knows what hour every day in an accounts office. I cant tell you much about his work though, because he never really talked about it. Something else about Alf, and this is where the young lad does take after him; he couldnt grow vegetables to save his life. I used to do half his work for him, or at least stand there and tell him what to do. Thats how my tomatoes ended up in his greenhouse, if the truth be told.
Cancer took Alf. He had no one with him. Too bloody proud to let anyone see him at the end: not even me. Or maybe he thought he was sparing me something, I dont know.
Hello, theyre back: the Bearded Wonder and his girlfriend, sunbathing. Topless. Its enough to distract you from the turnips.
We used to go to Rhyl for all that sort of thing - sunbathing I mean. Three motorbikes and sidecars in convoy through the north Wales hills, tents in the spare sidecar. That takes some beating. Ive got an old photo of us - you wouldnt believe it now; four strapping young men with a girl each on our shoulders. I married one of them, and Ill give you a clue: shes not sitting on my shoulders.
Wartime stopped all that. I volunteered and got sent to the desert, and if you want to know all about it, ask someone else. I got shot at, had grenades chucked at me, and saw my best mate blown up by a landmine. I killed people. Probably some of them deserved it.
I put off tying the knot till after the war. A lot of folk said I wasnt doing right by my Jane, keeping her on a string when I could have got myself killed any minute. The thing was, my Mum had got so much stick off her so-called friends for getting engaged when she was still in black - well, I wasnt going to let that happen. If I hadnt come home, thered have been men queuing up for Jane. In fact I know a few who werent too happy to see my face on VE day. Looking back, I still reckon I did the right thing. It wouldnt have been fair otherwise.
I never thought Id outlive her.
Bye Mister Jackson! calls the girl, and I jump half out of my boots.
I wave back at them and watch them saunter off. I should be getting back for my tea soon. Ill check the tomatoes first though. Im just about to go into the greenhouse when who should I see but PC Terrier walking along the road. Youd think hed have better things to do. I wait till hes safely out of sight, then go in. Theyve only gone and left their bloody plants in there.
The next morning, Beardy is looking worried.
Mister Jackson, are you sure that no ones been here?
Dont worry son, I keep an eye out for troublemakers.
Not just that, he says, has anyone been around?
I take my time lighting my pipe. After a while he bites the bullet and says: That policeman you talk to - has he been here?
Oh yes, I tell him, he dropped by just after youd gone. The lad turns pale, so I pile it on a bit more. He was telling me about some local lads whod been caught with drugs. I have to say, he was asking a few questions about you lot. Of course, I told him you had too much sense to get mixed up in all that malarky.
Im pushing my luck now, so I get the next one in quick: I hope you dont mind, but I let him have a look round your greenhouse.
You did what?
Yes, and I dont know how to tell you this...
...but Ive been keeping my tomatoes in there. Sorry son, Ive been meaning to ask for ages, but never got around to it. Alf - you remember Alf? He always let me...
Its a good job nobodys about: Id forgotten that dope makes me cry. Its been fifty years since Cairo, and you do forget things at my age. Theyll get their plants back tonight, and I wont be up here tomorrow. Ill be at the grave. Alfs too. Ive cut some flowers.
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