Friday, 25 March 2011

Spring hath Sprung.

The last week in March, the clocks go foward; the sun shines; spring has arrived. Gardeners of the world, awake, for its down to the allotment we go. A 'gardening' story to amuse.

“We can live without our friends, but not without our neighbours.”
- J Kelly, Complete Collection of Scottish Proverbs, 1721

“Every white hath its black, and every sweet its sour.”
- 18th century proverb

Colourful Neighbours

In a peaceful village, in a row of terraced cottages there lived two old men. Mr White in number seven with the black front door, and Mr Black at number eight with the white front door. One, a retired blacksmith with long white hair and his faithful companion, an affable black Labrador called Satan. The other, a retired white-collar worker with short black hair and a placid white Bull Terrier called Whitey.
Mr White had arrived, many years previous, from Blackheath in Suffolk, or was it Blackmoor in Somerset. Followed not so long afterwards by Mr Black, retired after a working career spent in Whitehaven in Cumbria, though he claimed to be a true Cockney, his birthplace, Whitechapel.
They settled into the village amicably enough, joining in the various activities so typical of village life, even to the extent of acting in the Christmas pantomimes. Mr Black was excellent as Grumpy in Snow White whilst Mr White’s Sinbad the Sailor was much admired.
But their real expertise lay in their love of the land, bringing to the village horticultural skills both admired and envied.
Perhaps here were sown, literally, the seeds of animosity. For it became evident that both men had in their nature’s a competitive streak that struck stone dead the idealistic viewpoint, ‘It’s not the winning that matters, but the taking part.’ Mr White and Mr Black were both of the considered opinion, “ What a load of old codswallop!”
Keen gardeners, both had allotments and greenhouses and were gifted with green fingers, so to speak; therefore ensuring both vied for top position at the flower, fruit and vegetable show, the annual highlight of the Allotment Association’s year.
Meticulous gardeners, greenfly had no place on the pair’s allotments, though it had to be said, Mr White constant battled with persistent blackfly, whilst Mr Black waged war consistently against the assiduous whitefly. Mr Black’s celery was the whitest ever seen, whilst Mr White’s aubergines were the colour of coal, and his blackcurrants had no equal. Plus beans, carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, parsnips; potted plants, all were grown to perfection. Other locals could only envy their expertise. The dynamic duo were not as green as is cabbage looking.
The much- prized cup for ‘best in show’ see sawed between the two neighbours. In the early days of their arrival amicably enough, but as the years passed, the strain began to tell. Now in their seventies, both men showed early but distinct signs of paranoia, especially in the weeks leading up to the vegetable shows.
Each spied on the other, net curtains a-twitching, journeys to the allotments monitored and crops inspected. Carrots and leeks grown in chimney pots surreptitiously watered at dead of night. How you may well ask, but you don’t really want to know!
Until one Friday before the show was, for Mr White, the blackest of days. Inspection of his allotment revealed catastrophe. Languishing leeks and fading fuschias; poorly plants personified. Black rage enveloped Mr White. His thoughts turned in one direction only. Who would benefit from his demise, surely one person and one person only?
Mr White hurried home, as fast as a seventy year old can. He knocked on Mr Black’s white front door, barely able to contain his rage. A dog within raged also, as the door opened to reveal a bemused Mr Black.
“You need a whack, Black.” Mr White’s enraged greeting took Mr Black by surprise.
“You’re a sight, White. You’re definitely not right, White.” Mr White was taken aback at such accusations, definitely, he thought, a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
The two old men faced each other, years of frustration surfacing. Mr Black turned white with rage and temper, while Mr White’s black looks were intended to frighten his septuagenarian foe. The police were called, threatening both with a trip in a Black Maria.
Both were red in the face, though this matters little to the story. Neither for that matter is it important that the action took place in front of the village green. Or the fact that Mr White had yellow jaundice as a child and Mr Black once had scarlet fever! That the sky was blue, whilst grey smoke billowed from the terraced chimneys; or that grey doves sat on the red slates of the cottages and a blackbird sat in the cherry tree.
No, the important fact was that Mr White’s chance of success in the forthcoming show was no more. Equally important was the accusation that Mr Black was responsible.
The Allotment Committee called a meeting and discussed the issue in great detail. But there was no evidence that Mr Black was the culprit of so heinous a crime. Mr White of course thought their decision was a whitewash, but the committee could reach no other conclusion, the evidence was far from black and white.
The effect of the whole affair was catastrophic. Already somewhat unstable, the bizarre behaviour of the two old adversaries became the talk of the village. Mr Black painted his front door black, Mr White his front door white. Both gave up gardening, taking up other interests. Mr White studied accountancy at evening classes, learning how to stay in the black instead of the red. Mr Black studied the history of television, becoming an expert on The Black and White Minstrels.
Then a strange thing happened. Mr Green at number nine was taken ill, in fact very ill. He had been in hospital many years previously but had been given the green light regarding future health. Realising he had not long on this planet, he wrote a letter to the Allotment Committee admitting he was responsible for the destruction of Mr White’s crops prior to the show the previous year. Mr Black too was targeted, but Mr Green had lacked the opportunity of a second uninterrupted allotment visit. Mr Green had been a show winner prior to the arrival of the green-fingered duo, Mr Black and Mr White. Clearly a case of succumbing to the green-eyed monster, jealousy.
Shortly afterwards Mr Green retired to the allotment in the sky, where all the crops are prize winners and potato blight and the cabbage white butterfly are no more.
The two old men made up, after all those years of animosity. No more black looks or white lies. They visited each other, happy now in each other’s company in the twilight of their lives. Enjoying together Cilla Black on their black and white televisions, drinking White Horse Scotch Whisky, sharing black puddings and boxes of Black Magic and holidaying together in Blackpool or on the Isle of Wight.
Happiness at last, no longer in each others black books, two old men happy in each other’s company; an old white man and an old black man, Billy Black and Chalky White.

(From 'There's Nowt so Strange as Folk' by Ken Stevens.)


quilterliz said...

What a terrific story. I was captivated by it. I hope you put more on this site for us to enjoy.
Take care...

Pauline said...

Thanks for a cracking good yarn. Reminds me of the street next to where I grew up which had the families Black, White, Brown and Green. We called all the kids by the wrong name on purpose to begin with and then, after a few years, had no idea who was who.

An English Shepherd said...

Yes a great story. Has left me in the pink :-)

Andy said...

I'm just off to sort out the Kubota and mow the orchard. I will think about your story whilst I am going around. Excellent as always Ken.

Valerie said...

My face is quite red through laughing. Brilliant story, Ken.

Sueann said...

Love this story!!! Very cool!!

Nota Bene said...

ha ha...very good, nicely put together indeed and well worth a second and third read

the fly in the web said...

I did enjoy that.
Made me think of those classes years ago in land law....eternal Whiteacre and Blackacre....

Eleven's Ink said...

What a fantastic read! I equally write and post short stories and this one is superb. Can't wait to read it again!!

Pat - Arkansas said...

A black and white story that turned quite colorful. Well-told and very enjoyable.

Zarko said...

Spring has come in our part of the world too!

John Teal said...

As always an intriguing tale ! Reminds me of this poem I once read on a desk...


When I was born, I was black.
When I grew up, I was black.
When I get hot, I am black.
When I get cold, I am black.
When I am sick, I am black.
When I die, I am black.

When you were born, You were pink.
When you grew up, You were white.
When you get hot, You go red.
When you get cold, You go blue.
When you are sick, You go purple.
When you die, You go green.


by an Anonymous pupil of King Edward VI School, Birmingham, UK.

Found in The children's book of poems, prayers and meditations ed. Liz Attenborough (Element Books, 1989)

RJRDaydreamer said...

A great story of fun word play. Enjoyed it very much. Makes me long for spring even more.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't 'Mr Green', Mr Gilmore from David Dabydeen's erstwhile Caribbean Studies department? Who's the understudy nowadays then?

Bernie said...

A story of many hues! You are quite a writer. Have you ever been published? If not, you should be.

As you noted, my post was also about neighbors, but only a few incidents of my real life people. Yours is a story with great detail and length. I enjoyed reading it.

Canada said...

The story was very brilliant. And for me about the line, " You can live without a friend but you can't live without a neighbor".
these lines puzzled my mind. For me friends and neighbors are the same. And friends is very important to me. I treasure them as long as I am alive.

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online memorials said...

Great article, love your style!

Nida Fatima said...

Wow. Terrific piece of writing Grumpy Ol' Ken! Well written, crisp and fresh. Marvelous. :)

Grumpy Old Ken said...

Thanks everyone. RJR, thats a great little poem. You all encourage me to post another 'silly' one. Hope you don't regret it!

Bish Bosh Bash said...

The Scottish proverb is so true to life. Wonderful and engaging tale. All those worthy metaphors. We do so see everything in black and white whilst the truth all too often lies in the grey areas in between.

Darlajune said...

Great story!

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