“I told them I’d be backup.”
Gardener and I had been hard at it all morning lifting and lopping tree branches to let more light into the garden and also to incorporate the pretty views outside the hedges into the picture inside. Borrowing the scenery comes free.
He looked over the wall into the square and saw the town hall clock showing the wrong time, as it usually does. Valley’s End follows its own time schedule. “We do things our way and we’ll have nobody from off interfering in our business, thank you very much”, is the friendly advice newcomers receive from the ur-inhabitants.
That doesn’t mean that said ur-inhabitants actually do very much. They are happy to leave town council and parish business to more recent incomers and if it weren’t for the latter, the town would have collapsed into a picturesque ruin long ago.
But back to gardener and the town hall.
“Do they do anything there now?”, he asked.
“They certainly do, it’s an interesting little museum exhibiting local history artefacts,” I said. In common with many other incomers, in previous years, both Beloved and I did stints as guides and brochure sellers on several days during the summer in the slightly dusty two-room museum. In years gone by the town hall also served as the lock-up, but that really was a long time ago.
“Forty year ago, when I were a lad, they had dances there on a Saturday. And all the lads from over Knighton way (in Wales) and the Castle (Bishop’s Castle - the next little town up the road) come over, looking for a fight. And when the Irish lads from Telford come, there was real trouble.” Gardener giggled his infectious, gleeful giggle, remembering the good old days. Then, just for a moment, he was serious.
“There were gangs in them days, all the lads from the same town and the villages along the valley belonged to their gang; and if you didn’t fight in your gang, you’d be called a coward. It wasn’t nice to be a coward; on the farms and in the towns they’d know you for it.” Gardener looked at me sideways, a crafty expression in his eyes. His small, wiry person all of a sudden seemed to be ducking and diving.
“So I’d usually stay at the back, a look-out like, and when the lads at the front had done fighting, and the police was on their way, I’d scarper like. Nobody could call me a coward for that. I’d kept their backs.”
He giggled again, quite proud of himself.
Then he sat down on the low wall around the half moon flower border, clearing his throat before taking another drag on his cigarette.
“Haven’t you forgotten to tell me something?” He exhaled through his nose and peered at me.
“Have I?” I was fidgeting a bit. A bad conscience makes cowards of us all.
“Where’s the ivy gone?”
“Ivy? What ivy?”
“On the stump.”
“Ah, that ivy.”
“So you got somebody for that, did you?”
I’d been pointing out to him for a year or more that
the ivy on the stump was swallowing and killing my
‘Wedding Day’, a beautiful climbing rose and
that I wanted it freed and the ivy trimmed back.
Lately, gardener has shown himself unwilling to do
much climbing himself. So I took a deep breath and
went behind his back to Paul, whom I had been considering as a possible replacement for Gardener.
As you can see, Paul did the job.
Gardener grudgingly admitted that whoever had done it, had made a good job of it. What he doesn’t know is that Paul has since done various other jobs for me and that he might become a regular over time.
Which means that I’ve gone from half a gardener to two gardeners in the space of a month. Because of Gardener’s long illness and absence a lot of work has been left undone and, for the time being, I’m going to let both of them come, on separate days of the week, to catch up. Paul is tinkering around the edges while Gardener is doing jobs he had earmarked for a long time.
I’m hoping that I’ll get away with it until the weather stops work anyway. If not, I’m in trouble.
Perhaps I could call Paul ‘gardener’s backup’?