The Touch Ch. 29byGreenFingers2015©
WARNING TO READERS - This is a long, rambling, multi-part story and VERY British. The individual chapters will make more sense if read in sequence.
Sorry! This chapter may meander even more than usual as it is part of a collection of several short 'day in the life' journal style entries which have been linked together as each was too short to stand alone.
Chapter 29: Stormy Weather and April Showers
They say that the life of a farmer is driven by the seasons and the weather and the same is equally true for a gardener. By Monday morning the wind had veered from the south-west. Despite there being ominous looking black clouds about, the next few days were forecast to be mild with sunny intervals and mostly dry during the day.
As usual on Monday morning I was up early grabbed a quick mug of coffee and a cigarette and then took the Vespa and rode over to Caroline Brookes' house first thing arriving just after seven. I had hoped that she would still be there as I wanted to thank her for taking Maggie and I to the concert on Saturday, and show her the work we had completed on the patio area. Her BMW was not in the drive and I guessed that she had already left to return to London, either Sunday or very early that morning.
I dragged the tarpaulin away from the paved barbeque patio and was pleased to see that the grouting was fully dry and the crazy paving really looked very good, and so I got the hose from her shed and scrubbed the surplus cement and grout away with a stiff yard broom. I wanted to do some preparation before the guys arrived for the day and set to work marking out the outline shapes for the main flower beds with a long handled tar brush and a can of whitewash. If we had been making alterations to an existing garden I would probably have drawn the new outlines with sharp sand, but as the ground was only bare earth whitewash would do no damage and be more durable.
I rode into the garden centre shortly after eight; Maggie was just pulling out of the yard in the VW pick-up and wound down the window, "Good morning, Jamie," she said cheerfully. "I'm now off for the morning....I'm going out to do surveys and quotes for a couple of new jobs and take the hanging baskets into town to the bank and the Red Lion Hotel."
The bank had given us a regular contract to supply hanging baskets and floral troughs to decorate the front of their building throughout the year, and it was time to change the spring displays for the early summer planting of primulas and pansies. Maggie had managed to secure several similar contracts in the city but it was a bit unusual that she was doing the job herself; it was the sort of task we would normally send one of the trainees out to.
"See you later, and GOOD LUCK!" she called and drove away laughing.
Steve and Dennis were loading up the big lorry with pre-packed shed units using the fork lift and looked to have a fair number of deliveries to make.
"Morning guys," I called, "When you've done the drops, I'll see you out at the Brookes job, and we can start on the base for the summer house."
Steve grimaced and held up his clipboard to display a good half dozen job cards, "Don't think that's going to happen today, Jamie. I told Emma that was the plan, but she gave us a full day's deliver and erect schedule....best you see her about it, but I should keep that helmet on if I were you matey."
"I think you've got some stormy weather ahead!" Dennis added chuckling. I could hear him whistling a few bars of the old Billie Holiday song as I walked away.
I made my way to the office block and walked straight into a shit storm. It was obvious that Emma was pissed off about something but I was too stupid to realise that I should just shut up and let her tell me about it. Instead I waded straight in.
"What's going on with Steve and Dennis? I want them out at the Brookes job this afternoon to get on with ...."
"Well you can't bloody have them!" she stormed. "Not everything at this business revolves around your project for Miss Bloody Thunder-Thighs Brookes!" She slapped her hand hard against the big work management chart that she had pinned on the wall showing all the deliveries and outside contract work in hand and where everybody was working on a given day. She had put a lot of effort into it and it worked really well. Normally!
She was my sister so naturally we argued and squabbled a lot and she could be really moody at times but this was our first ever argument over work.
"Er, why? What's got your knickers in a twist this morning?" I tried to make a joke of it but Emma was not going to let me off that easily.
"If you bothered to come into the office before making your plans, you would know." I finally decided just to shut up and let her finish. She held up her spread fingers and started to count off her concerns; I sat down on the chair beside her desk and tried to look suitably cowed into submission.
"It has obviously escaped your notice that we have nine assorted garden sheds and greenhouses to deliver to customers before Wednesday, four of which need to be erected on site, so that is two full days delivery and erect work for Steve and Dennis .... I have given them their job cards and they WILL be doing that today and tomorrow!"
"OK, I'm sure we can......"
"Don't start making plans until I've finished," she snapped. "Are you aware that Neville and Mikey are both away until Thursday as they are taking their college exams? No? I didn't think you were." She paused for breath and then continued, "Colin has a full schedule for the week, Maggie will be out on jobs for the whole of today and then the two of you will be away to Salisbury for the day on Wednesday to see the solicitors......that just leaves Jack and David to look after all the greenhouses and growing areas and Kitty and me to manage the customers and the office.....that is if nobody takes their day off this week..."
"OK, OK stop.... I get the picture." I stepped up and took her firmly by the arms to try and calm her a bit. "I'm sorry Emms ..... so I'm an irresponsible arsehole," I joked and grinned, and was pleased to see her expression start to soften a bit as well. "So just tell me what you want me to do .... You're the boss."
"No you are the boss, Jay. I just need you to think like the boss sometimes, you can't just concentrate on the tasks that capture your imagination and leave all the rest and the shitty jobs to other people!"
She shrugged my hands away and snatched up a pile of job cards from her desk, but when she turned back she was smiling. She thrust the wad of job cards into my hands. "I really need you to pick up some of these other jobs for me," she said. Her tone was a lot less angry and a bit more cajoling. "Maggie and Colin have already taken a batch each, just pick out the ones that you think are the most urgent or can be meshed together and let me know where you are going to be and which jobs you are doing."
I took the cards through to my own desk and spend five minutes sorting through them. Most were only simple gardening tasks, or visit-to-quote calls and there were several small deliveries that could be fitted in between jobs. I sorted them into the order that I would do them and put them onto my clipboard. There were only about a half a dozen or so which I needed to return to Emma and she looked a lot happier when I went back to her office.
"Thanks Emms," I said seriously, "You were perfectly right and I was wrong... I needed someone to give me a swift kick in the balls to make me see sense."
I leaned over her desk and gave her a brotherly kiss on the top of her head and made for the door. "I had better get loaded up and away."
"Well don't think you are going to be swanning off in the Land Rover," she laughed, "Colin has it, and Maggie has the pick-up so you will have to make do with the old van." She hooked the keys from the key board by her desk and tossed them to me. I didn't really care I wasn't into cars as phallic symbols and besides I had driven the old Morris Marina van for so long that I was quite fond of it: I was glad that I had persuaded Maggie not to sell it on when we bought the new pick-up.
"Just hurry up and pass your driving test so that you can do some of these deliveries," I joked, her test was booked for early the next month and I was sure she would pass first time. I turned at the top of the stairs and although I knew that I was inviting trouble I couldn't resist teasing her. "Oh by the way," I started casually. She looked up. "Bloody hell Emms..... but you really are SO cute and sexy when you are angry!" I laughed.
I made a bolt for the stairs but she must have been jet propelled because just as I stepped off the bottom riser she smashed bodily into my back, spinning me round and trapping me against the closed door at the bottom. We were both breathless and I was weak with laughing.
"Fuck you, Jamie Riley!" she hissed at me, I wasn't sure if she was angry, upset or amused, "That was a bloody cruel thing to say.... If you only see me as sexy when I'm angry then you had better bloody watch out in the future, if it's anger you want, then it might be anger you will get!" She started to stump back up the stairs then paused at the top and turned back. "Do you really think I'm cute and sexy?" she asked quietly.
I slipped out of the door and literally ran across the arboretum. I took a few minutes to hide by the tool sheds for a quick cigarette, and then I packed my tools and all the stuff for delivery into the van and was on the road within ten minutes.
It was gone six-thirty by the time that I got back to the garden centre but I had made all of the deliveries and completed the small works jobs. None of them were terribly hard or difficult, planting up some floral container displays for a couple of pubs, erecting a small rose arch and planting in the climbers and then putting in a bed of lavender bushes, plus a couple of visits to customers to give quotes to remodel existing small gardens and one to put in a goldfish pond and water feature, but it was these smaller jobs that were our bread and butter.
I managed to get home just as Gwen was getting the supper out of the cooker, I could hear Emma upstairs in the bathroom taking a shower and so I slipped my arms around her waist and we indulged in the luxury of a soft deep kiss until we heard Emma on the stairs. She had cooked one of my favourite savoury dishes, it was her own concoction for a quick and easy but filling supper, we called it 'Piggy Pie', it was like a shepherd's pie but used ground pork instead of lamb, with sliced mushroom, black pepper, coriander and a rich gravy, topped with mashed swede and carrot instead of potato.
We had a nice quiet family dinner together; Emma was either over her spat or had decided not to bring it home with her and Gwen told us about her first day in her new job on the teaching faculty at the hospital. It was a big promotion with a much higher salary and generally better hours, mostly nine 'til five, but the hidden drawback was that she would now need to split her time between the Salisbury District Hospital, the Royal Bournemouth Hospital, the Royal United Hospital in Bath and the Great Western Hospital at Swindon, plus seminars and conferences. None of us particularly liked the idea that she would be away from home more frequently but I fully understood that her career was as important to her as mine was to me. They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, it certainly was going to make our quality time alone together more precious and meaningful and not to be wasted.
After we had eaten all three of us went out into the garden and the girls spent an hour tidying up and weeding whilst I got out the lawn mower and edging shears and gave the grass a haircut. I was a little bit surprised that Emma joined us that evening; it was normally Gwen and I that spent our evenings gardening now that it stayed light until nearly nine o'clock.
Gardening is a bit like golf, it takes over your life, although Maggie and I were professional gardeners working at it all day, every day we both went home in the evening and spent our free time working in our own gardens. I was lucky; Gwen liked messing about in the garden and so it was something that we could do together most evenings although sometimes we just sat in companionable silence reading or listening to music, often with Emma as well, we didn't need to always be alone... just together.
In was dusk about nine o'clock that week but suddenly the skies had darkened with heavy black clouds. I had raked up the grass cuttings and Gwen had a trog full of weeds and so we were both at the compost heap at the far end of the garden when the rain fell. The sky just seemed to open and the rain came down in floods. We started to run down the garden towards the house but by the time we had reached my tool shed we were both already soaked and I pulled her through the door, both of us laughing and spluttering as the water cascaded down our faces filling our mouths.
I looked out through the side window and saw that Emma was already safe and dry inside the house, standing at the French windows laughing and making rude gestures. As soon as the rain started she must have taken off like a frightened rabbit and was probably indoors before the first raindrops hit the ground.
The shower looked as though it was going to carry on for some time and so I snagged an old jacket from the hook on the door and wrapped it around Gwen's shoulders then found a piece of towel for us to dry our faces and hands, it wasn't particularly clean but it soaked up the rain water.
It was dim and warm in the shed, the rain outside and our bodies inside had already misted over the windows, and so I drew her to me, our lips meeting in a long, soft kiss. Not a kiss of urgent passion but more of mutual affection and the need to be together. We just stood for a long time her arms around my neck and my hands on her waist simply enjoying the closeness of our bodies and the nearness of our souls, our lips lightly caressing each other whilst I drank in the perfume of her damp hair, the rain having released a shadow of the scent from her herbal shampoo; it was one of the most erotic odours that I could imagine. It was a perfume that I had grown up with it was the aroma and essence of my mother and now of my lover, my very, very special lover.
The shower was beginning to ease off and I knew that we had to go back to the house but I couldn't resist teasing her a little bit. I slid my hands beneath her cotton jogger top and let them roam upwards until I found her gorgeous breasts, she wasn't wearing a bra and I could feel the little nipples firm against my fingers.
"Oh no, my darling....No!" she whispered, "We can't, not now.....not with Emma......"
"But you promised me we would make love in my shed," I whined playfully.
She pushed me away laughing, "No I bloody did not! That was your idea, not mine! You are nothing but a bloody pervert!"
"OK, but I am seriously disappointed," I chuckled.
"We seriously need to get out of these wet clothes," She looked at me and then went on before I could make the obvious facetious remark, "Don't even think of saying what's in your mind.... I'm going in to make the coffee whilst you put the tools away." She gave me a final swift light kiss on the lips and slipped out through the shed door and away down the garden.
When I followed her into the kitchen the coffee maker was burbling away cheerfully and Emma was putting mugs onto the breakfast bar.
"I suppose that you two have been pissing about as usual," she snorted, "I don't know what you and Mum and Maggie find so funny all the time that you are always messing about, joking or rolling about on the floor like kids."
"It's just having fun, Emms," I put my arm around her shoulders, "We don't exclude you, you know... you just don't relax and join in..."
"I know," she smiled and rested her hand on my chest. "Oh Christ, Jay! You are soaked, get upstairs and get changed before you get a chill ..... if you get sick and die on me... I'll... I'll bloody kill you!"
She sounded so serious that I simply scuttled away to my room before I burst out laughing at her grammatical phoo-pah, I had already wound her up enough for one day.
Work on Tuesday was more of the same except that Colin took the pick-up over to Craven Lodge for the day, he was due to start work on the garden areas around the front drive as I had promised Georgia Craven and we all agreed that that should be his priority task as I had taken another look and it was going to be a harder and longer task than I had originally thought to put the rough areas into order. Colin had also been looking after the garden maintenance at The Cedars whilst Kitty was on other jobs and those two contracts were absorbing most of his time although he happily took on anything you asked him to fit in.
The two other jobs that needed completing immediately were both to build rockery gardens from scratch, never easy and always hard work. We had tossed a coin for it and I lost both tosses and got to do both jobs, one in the morning with Maggie and the other in the afternoon teamed with Kitty, the winners got to spend half the day at the garden centre; I lost and got to spend all day on site. The boulders and broken stone for the rockeries had been delivered to the client's gardens the previous week so at least we were not going to need to load and unload a couple of tons of rock and Maggie had already been out to the gardens and prepared the bases by excavating the site, clearing it of weed and laying a moraine based compost which had been allowed to settle for several days.
The morning job was very much the smaller of the two at a house off the Waterloo Road to the south of the city near the new industrial estate. Steve had delivered and unloaded the rock, and the sacks of shingle and compost next to the site that Maggie had prepared the previous week and so we were able to get straight on with the job. To the amateur a rock garden may appear to be a simple job of just hurling a load of rubble in a pile, but for it to be successful it requires a lot of planning, preparation and hard work, it is an expensive undertaking best done by professionals. It can also be a hazardous undertaking; I have never yet laid a rockery without at least one, probably more, badly nipped or grazed fingers, even when wearing thick gloves, and it is definitely a job to be undertaken in steel capped boots, most of the sandstone pieces we were using that day weighed about 100 lbs each.
When it came to rock gardens Maggie was an expert and I had now laid several and we always worked well together as a team. I really enjoyed working with Maggie, each thoroughly understood the way that the other worked and we could just get on with the job in companionable silence and total confidence in the other's ability. Besides which I just enjoyed being in her company even if her honey blonde pony tail constantly bobbing in and out of my peripheral vision was driving me to erotic madness; I seriously had a real thing for that pony tail, it probably bordered on being a fetish.
Maggie had already surveyed the site, drawn up the design and plans, selected the rocks and boulders, painted numbers onto them corresponding with the plan and had been out with one of the students to do the preparation work. We made fairly fast work of getting the rocks and base compost in place and by late morning were planting in the miniature firs and heathers that the client had chosen and bedding them soundly each with a gravel cushion. Somebody would need to return in a week to top up the compost after settlement and check for frost pockets but basically the job was complete.