tagHumor & SatireOnce Upon a Time (Potting Shed)

Once Upon a Time (Potting Shed)


When I first retired, well, was forced into a spell of inactivity by redundancy and the lack of effort, both on my part and the employment office, I found myself kinda at a loose end.

I only had twelve months left on me mortgage plus the outstanding balance of a bank loan on the car and a couple of hundred on a washer drier, which was all covered by PPI. So I had a nice lump sum to put in the bank from the severance, plus all my outstanding debts were paid for me by the insurance, plus a monthly stipend from social security, so I didn't really have to work for a living any more.

I tried to call Wayne at the bank to thank him for selling that insurance cover to us but he never returned my calls. I keep getting calls on my mobile about PPI and I tell them every single time to keep it up, that they are doing a great job, PPI was the best financial product I ever bought. They never seem happy about my genuine heart-felt comments, they must just be extremely modest about having given me the very best advice I could possibly have had at the time I took out those loans.

Anyway, after a year on the dole I was still out of work, with just a couple of years to go before I draw my pension, so the employment people gave up trying to find me a job and put me on pension credit. This was just like unemployment benefit but I didn't have to go through the farce of applying for non-existent jobs. Apparently a lot of agencies don't like potential clients (or rivals) to know they've hardly got anything on their books so they invent hundreds of false jobs just to look as though they have business. All that does is give false hope and waste everybody's time. Just not mine any longer.

It still left me at a loose end with nothing much to do but sit around the house. To be honest, I would have been happy doing that. Working for a living loses its appeal after 48 years with your nose rubbing hard against the grindstone.

Mandy, my wife of long standing (too bloody long, I think sometimes) took the same view and immediately decided I needed a vegetable allotment halfway across town to keep me out from getting under her feet all day. She organised the allotment for me, as she pretty well organises my life for me in general. I never get access to the car since I stopped working.

Mandy needed the car during the day for all the shopping she does and socialising with her friends. She's never worked a job in her life but was usually kept far busier than me, even when I had a job. I suppose this all helps keep her looking young, well she's fifteen years younger than me to start with.

She has coffee mornings with other layabouts, sorry homemakers, then there's shopping and library/museum visits in the afternoons, charity and fundraising organisations, the women's institute and townwomen's guild meetings in the evenings. In between, she spends several hours a week down the gym. No wonder she keeps her firm hour-glass figure.

Damn it, what with weekend shopping outings, taking in a musical show and overnight stays with her friends in London and other places, other than our evening meal I hardly ever see her.

I hate musicals, so I count myself bloody lucky being able to watch match of the day in peace and quiet with a can or two of ale every now and then while she's away enjoying herself.

When I was home alone, in those first few weeks after redundancy, I kept getting calls from her friends to arrange meetings or invite her to certain places and times, or take messages. I was like her bloody appointment secretary. Our fridge was covered in yellow post-its. Some of her friend's husbands also kept calling asking her to ring them back. Bloody hell, I thought, if she got me doing her appointments diary, like these other guys were clearly doing for their wives, my bleeding life wouldn't be my own anymore.

So, even if I wanted to, I couldn't get out of going to the allotment every day. My life wouldn't be worth living otherwise. So I picked up an old push-bike with a basket on the front and wire rack over the back wheel. Didn't cost me nothing, cos I saw it in the local free ads. Had to take the front wheel off to fit it in the car to get it home though. And I had to keep pumping up one of the tyres, which had a slow puncture, every couple of days.

Well, I found a little potting shed on the plot that the gardening secretary allotted me, which was handy. Looking around the plot it looked like the previous holder only grew stinging nettles at one end and dock leaves at the other, no doubt to sort out any stings suffered by passers-by.

Them stinging nettles sure grew high and wide. Must be some great soil under there I thought. So I scrapped off some of them weeds and put them in the compost area at the end of the plot. Unfortunately I had filled up to overflowing before I got to the end of the first row of weeds.

Damn! I had by my reckoning twenty more rows to do. So, when nobody was looking, and fortunately not many people go down there during the week, I put the next row of weeds in my neighbour's bin. Dang! I thought. That was the solution. I ended up taking wheelbarrow-loads all over the allotments, especially early in the mornings when it was quiet and no-one about. I found that a little sure goes a long way!

I tried to burn some of it off, too, after lugging two gallons of petrol from the other side of town, one in the basket and holding onto the other can while I steered the bike one-handed. The cans were too big, they wouldn't fit on the wire rack.

The damn wind was fierce where it was so open and the flames soon cleared most of the dock patch plus three neighbouring plots, a shed containing at least fifty championship racing pigeons and a six-foot high boundary fence for about thirty-six feet or so, fortunately just missing the allotment clubhouse by barely six feet.

If the wind had been blowing the other way I'd've lost my damn potting shed! That would have been a complete disaster. Phew!

Anyway, I hid the petrol cans at the back of the shed, covered by some sacks, and blamed the fire on vandals. There was a lot of muttering goin' on, I can tell you, but I've got a thick skin, you need one when you've been married as long as I have, married twice as it happens. One thing though, helplessly watching them pigeons being roasted alive in front of my helpless eyes put me off KFC for almost a fortnight.

Anyway, I scraped off the rest of the nettles which the flames didn't touch. Then I planted a load of seeds in the spring sunshine and all that came up in the summer was nettles at one end and docks at the other. At least that damn plot was consistent.

I made a lot of nettle tea that year and have enough dried leaves to last me well into my seventies. I hope they're good for you, cos they taste like shit.

The next autumn and winter, Mandy forced me down to the allotment again every single bloody weekday, so I put a paraffin heater in the potting shed plus an armchair that I found in a skip down Shepperton Street. It had casters on three of the corners so I managed to push it down there with only three stops on the way to get my breath back. Anyway, I left the door of the shed open when it wasn't raining so the damp mildew whiff of that chair died down a bit.

Either it did or I just got used to it.

That autumn and winter I dug the plot over as thoroughly as old Arnold from plot 392, about five rows over in the other direction, showed me. He could see that I didn't have a clue. Nice old boy. So that second year I attempted to grow a few things but the only real successes were purple sprouting broccoli and butternut squashes.

Mandy soon got fed up with broccoli every day and neither of us like squashes all that much, I soon found out. Somebody had given me some squash and broccoli seedlings, they are generous like that up at the allotments, and those came up like bloody weeds. Most of the other seeds that I put in the plot simply lost the will to live.

Anyway, them broccolis don't need much looking after, do they?

"Can't I come home once in a while?" I asked the wife at tea one evening.

Mandy said I needed to keep myself occupied, not under her blessed feet all day. What bloody feet, I thought although I didn't say it, she was out with her friends nearly all day and when it was her turn to play host I could still have had a snooze upstairs with nobody being any the wiser.

So, the next idea she had to keep me occupied, down the allotment shed, was to buy me a tablet, she called it, saying I could use it to write a blog, an allotment blog.

"What's a bleeding blog when it's as home?" I asked.

"It could be anything you like," she said, "what about writing about your allotment or write some stories, keep yourself amused, sweetheart?"

Yeah, I could get all I know about gardening on one side of a tablet, I thought.

I remember back when we had them at school, learning to write our letters and numbers with chalk on a black tablet. My Mam used to moan because I got chalk all over me navy blue shorts. That chalk dust used to get every-bloody-where.

It didn't matter if I got chalk on my trousers anymore, though, they were getting pretty dirty every day from the allotment anyway, so that tablet couldn't be any more difficult now than they were then, could it? She gave it to me with a bright pink plastic cover round it, she said it was so I'd see it if I left it lying around. So thoughtful, my wife.

I cycled to the potting shed with sleet and snow forecast for later in the day. I was thinking of setting to and digging the plot over ready for the spring. It was bloody cold when I got there so I got the paraffin heater going first. I double-dug the first two rows (dropping shovelfuls of the nice compost that I had made with last year's nettles), so I reckon had learned something from my activities.

They also had a lorry load of stable manure steaming in the corner and told to help ourselves. First forkful turned up a horseshoe and thought I better quit digging. You never know I thought with the next forkful I'd get the saddle. Anyway, Old Arnold said, nail the horseshoe above the door to your potting shed, it'll bring you good fortune. Well, I did do so, but I'm not superstitious, I told him, touching the wooden shed for luck.

When it started to sleet halfway through the morning I retired to the potting shed. It was quite dark in there as it was so overcast and gloomy out and there was only the one window on the side. I thought I might have to invest in one of them there camping gas lamps or lanterns. Old Arnold had one, it was really bloody noisy but didn't smoke or smell anywhere near as bad as the paraffin heater did. I thought I'd make a shopping list note on my brand new tablet. Mandy would appreciate me using her present at the earliest opportunity.

I had a packet of chalks already that I used for marking slate labels. I was in the scouts once so I came prepared. When I say I was in the scouts once, I actually only went the one time, with Billy Merryweather, who was keen on wearing the khaki uniform and the short trousers. Well, we all wore short trousers in those days. Them scout leaders put me off straight away with all that cheerful bloody dib dib dib stuff and working towards getting badges and crap, so I never bothered to go again. That Billy Merryweather went all the bloody way though, venture scouting, Duke of Edinburgh Award for walking somewhere, the lot; even had his very own troop at one point, till he got caught for kiddy-fiddling. He wears a bright day-glo orange uniform nowadays, apparently, though I'm not sure if they come with long or short trousers.

Anyway, I unwrapped the pink cover and sure enough it looked like a modern equivalent of my old tablet, although a lot flashier and made of metal and glass rather than the wood and slate they used in my day. Bloody chalk wouldn't work on it though, the surface was too damn shiny. I could write on the pink cover, but then it rubbed off as soon as you bleeding well looked at it.

I rummaged around in my diddy box at the back of the potting shed and found the permanent magic marker I used to write on the plastic labels I got for last Christmas, so I could tell if that row were all weeds or only mostly weeds. That worked a treat, that marker, but a dark black on a dark grey background wasn't very readable, so I noted on the tablet that I definitely needed a camping gas lantern.

Then I wrote a sentence about my nettle compost and that was it, I had filled up the tablet. I hoped it hadn't cost much because it didn't contain a lot. I held it up, propped it up on a shelf, leaning at just the right angle against an inverted eight-inch terracotta pot, and admired it. I had done my best joined up writing on it, too. The wife would be impressed, I was sure of that.

"I've filled up that tablet," I told her that evening, while we were clearing the table after the meal.

She normally lets me back indoors about ten minutes before tea-time so I've a chance to rinse the dirt and sweat off and change into clean clothes before I'm allowed to sit down anywhere that shows marks easily. Every bit of furnishing in that bloody house marks easily, I reckon the shops look out delicate items just for Mandy when they see her enter their stores.

Mind you, if I'm late for tea she threatens to give my dinner to the dog, or she would do if we still had one. We did have a dog when the kiddies were little, but not any more. She loved that little dog, while I hated the annoying yapping little bugger. Only I was the one that had to take it out for walks and calls of nature. If mongrels were thoroughbreds that dog would still be a bloody mongrel, it didn't look anything like the pictures I've ever seen on any tins of dog food we bought.

That dog got really fat on beer and crisps, I remember. Towards the end I had to drag the bloody thing out of the house, it really didn't want to go. I don't get much chance go to the pub since, I really miss that little dog.

"You can't've used it up already, Solly," my wife Mandy yelled from the kitchen as she started washing the pots while I fiddled with the TV trying to find the sports channels. Our bloody TV reverts to the Hallmark Channel every bloody time I turn it on to use it, they must pay a bloody placement fee to Samsung or something.

I said "used up what?" I have a very short attention span and had forgot all about the tablet.

She said, "the tablet, I got one with the biggest memory they had."

"Memory? What the bloody hell you on about?" I yelled back. My Mam always made us tie a knot in a handkerchief to remind us to remember something. My wife switched me over to paper tissues years ago and my memory's never been the same since.

"Let me have a look at it" she said, all annoyed like, "while you do the washing up."

Blimey, that was a rare thing, she likes me just to dry up and put things away, she says that not only do I stretch her marigolds out of shape, I always seem to get them wet on the inside. Well, my hands sweat a lot in those bloody things.

When she found my best handwriting on my tablet, she swore long and loud. You can't please everybody, I guess, and I never please her, especially lately.

"Solomon Tree," she said, "Sometimes words absolutely fail me."

Well, that's what she said but that didn't stop her one little bit and I know from experience that it never had in the past.

She went on and on. Some of the words she came up with I had to look up later in the dictionary she got me for Christmas. I had worked with some roadmen who used nothing but Anglo-Saxon and she still stumped me with some of what she came up with.

At one point she went out into the back yard and screamed, I've never seen so many bloody crows in the air at the same time before.

When she calmed down, several frosty hours later, she showed me the switch on the side of the tablet. Bloody hell, it was like looking at a little telly when she switched it on. She showed me the diary where I could put my appointments. Yeah right, same old bloody thing every day. She had a similar tablet, she said, which kept track of all her functions and meetings on it.

Then she showed me where I could type things up on a notepad and she set up a file as a shopping list and another as gardening tips and another one where I could write some kind of blog, if I wanted. She pointed out where the electric plug went so I could charge it up overnight.

I thought I would like to write some stories, I said, perhaps come up with the great English romantic period novel and make our fortune, you know, the view of the world from the point of view of an idiot. When she calls you that often enough, it sort of sticks.

"Well, honey," Mandy said with a fair amount of feeling, I noticed, "if you want to write about romantic matters using the benefit of your experience, I think you better make 'em short and brief." She went off to the kitchen laughing at that. Female humour, I just don't get it at all.

Anyway, by the time she had explained how the tablet worked I felt my head spin and I was so dizzy that I had to have a lie-down.

Next day I cycled down to the potting shed, taking that fully-charged tablet with me. I did a bit of digging of the allotment until it started raining. The whole allotment site was pretty well deserted. Everyone had better things to do than spend their day on a windswept field in the rain. I made myself a kettle of nettle tea on the primus stove I installed last winter and had another look at that bloody tablet.

I found the switch and turned it on and up came the notes page. The keyboard popped up at the bottom as well and I could type away with one finger. Trouble was I couldn't see the screen very well because of the magic marker all over the bloody thing. I kept losing track of what I was thinking and typing the magic marker words that I could see instead.

After typing "camping gas" three times when thinking about Brussels sprouts and cabbages, I had a rummage around the back of the potting shed. I found a sheet of wet-and-dry, an abrasive glass paper which I use to keep my wooden handles nice and smooth. It worked a bloody treat, with the added bonus of taking that annoying shiny glare off the screen.

That's when Widder Madeleine Collins came over to see what I was doing, the nosy cow. She took over old McPherson's plot near the new fence this winter and has been digging it over for months now. McPherson never got over the loss of his precious birds and went downhill fast.

I was taught manners by my Mam so I offered Maddy a nettle tea and let her use my easy chair, thinking that green mildew looks bad at first when it gets on your clothes but it brushes off easy when it dries up after two or three days.

I didn't worry too much about the smell, I had put up with that potting shed for over two years, I could put up with her sweaty armpits for a minute or two. I pulled up an old wooden soap box to perch my butt on.

It gave me a chance to look her over while she looked at my tablet. God, that woman must have the thickest legs I've seen on a woman, most tug-rope team players would give their eye-teeth for those pins. She was about thirty, I think, rumour down the allotments had it that she had worn her last husband out well before she buried him. She was short, as wide as she was high and with huge tits. She needed thick legs with those breasts, if her legs were any thinner she'd keep falling over.

Maddy wasn't pretty, unless the term "pretty ugly" counts. When she smiled you couldn't help notice that she had lost both her upper canines and first molar on each side, giving her a huge overbite, and the colour of her teeth were nearer green than cream. Matched the colour of the fur on her tongue, though. Trouble was when you spoke to her you couldn't help notice her tits. Maddy's cleavage seemed to start at her throat and end around her knees.

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bySpencerfiction© 6 comments/ 5507 views/ 0 favorites

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