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The Parsonage Plots

The Parsonage Plots

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The Parsonage Plots

Lunghezza:
282 pagine
3 ore
Editore:
Pubblicato:
Jul 2, 2018
ISBN:
9781386103899
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

Set in the 1960s, 'The Parsonage Plots' follows the antics of a group of allotment plot holders. Old Peter is set in his ways: a widow with an interest in home brewed wine and beer, and an allotment where he spends much of his time. The local riding stables provides sustenancefor his prize winning beans, and a mild flirtation for Peter until the owner catches him embracing his stable maid.

But life is about to change for Peter.

Editore:
Pubblicato:
Jul 2, 2018
ISBN:
9781386103899
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

James was brought up in Hove, Sussex, on the slopes of the South Downs, but with some of his childhood time spent in rural Huntingdonshire. From an early age he wrote fiction, including co-writing a well received comic pantomime for the local YMCA in his teens. James is best known for his humorous novels. Especially his series of four volumes describing life in Peckham, South London, in the 1960s. The Peckham Novels are set in a factory, staffed by idiots and run by an incompetent boss, until the beautiful Tracey Mulligan takes a hand in its management. They are quirky, comedic and highly improbable. One reviewer described them as ‘The Carry On’ team meet Tom Sharpe’. Book 1 - Strudwick's Successor Book 2 - Mulligan's Revenge Book 3 - Paint the Town Red Book 4 - Farewell to Peckham Also set in the late sixties is The Parsonage Plots, another comedic novel set around a number of idiosyncratic allotment plot holders. Set in Bournemouth in the 1960s, Percy’s Predicament tells the tale of lost love, and crime in the world of accountancy. But not everybody is what they claim to be, and bets on the colour of hippy’s nail varnish are an established office pastime. Moving back in time to 1955, Publican’s Progress is a Wodehouse style humorous murder mystery set in rural Dorset. The main character is a young man who has always wanted to run a pub. But, like the wishes granted by fairies to greedy children, when he does get offered a tenancy he quickly finds that having your wish come true does not always end happily, and life can get very complicated. Then the body count starts to rise... James’s humorous rural romantic two part novel, The Whitedown Chronicles, which is set in post-war Kent, describes an isolated community as it struggles to put tragedy behind it. James is a member of a group of writers who collectively form the INCA Project. The project is a set of like-minded authors who aspire to meet a simple criterion as set down by the late Oscar Wilde, who said, and I paraphrase here, "There are no such things as bad books. They are well written or badly written, that is all."

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Anteprima del libro

The Parsonage Plots - James Court

appearance.

Fire and Water

BUGGER IT! PETER HASTILY pulled off the Wellington boot he had just plunged his right foot into. He upturned the boot, grasped it by the heel and shook it vigorously. The flattened corpse of a field mouse dropped onto the wooden floor of the shed, and he slumped back into a deckchair to examine his sea-boot sock.

There were numerous telltale stains on the thick greyish-brown wool of the sole, mostly from spiders who had met a similar fate to the mouse, but there was scant evidence of fresh additions. To be fair, it would have been hard to detect further soiling of the garment, for it lived in his shed when not employed to pack out the excess space in his Dunlop Universal size tens, and rarely made its way to his home in search of the laundry basket.

He had inherited the boots from a cousin, and they had done him a decade of service on his allotment. Despite care and attention in the form of inner tube repair patches over cracks, they were not entirely water-tight, and water underfoot on his muddy organic plot was not exactly of drinkable quality. In consequence the colour of the foot end of his sock bore scant resemblance to that rich mix of white and grey marl at the calf end.

After a few minutes’ examination of his foot, he again shook the boot vigorously, with no further discharge. Having satisfied himself that his footwear was now empty, and there was no necessity for first aid to the foot, he again stood and pushed his toes down into the black rubber. Then he picked up the mouse by the tail, and walked to the door. With a quick swing of the arm, he tossed the corpse onto his compost heap, to be fought over by the rooks from the spinney that separated the allotments from the railway line.

As he stood there in the doorway, he spotted a thick coated ginger cat stalking a blackbird on the adjacent plot. He stooped to pick up a clod of earth, and tossed it at the animal. It was not that he was particularly fond of blackbirds, but he was certain that it was the same feline which had recently scratched up a row of his Little Gem Cos lettuce seedlings to cover its waste. The cat meowed grievously, and slunk away into the shade between the rows of runner beans. He threw another clod to expel the animal from the far end of the beans, then he turned, and went back inside to his deckchair.

Peter sat for a while, cursing himself for not having checked the boot for inhabitants before putting it on. He wondered if he was becoming slow to learn in his old age, for it had been less than a week since he had spent an uncomfortable afternoon digging, only to later find that the niggling ache in his heel was not a recurrence of his old foot trouble, but a somewhat flattened woodlouse.

Eventually he decided that the incident had been a shock to his system, deserving of appropriate treatment. He prescribed himself a remedial mug of his peapod and rhubarb wine, and rose to seek his medicinal brew from the rows of stone jars and glass flagons that filled the shelving along the back wall of the shed. He selected a three year old flagon. It was a fair vintage, but modest compared to what this year’s heatwave promised to bestow upon his current crops.

Returning to his seat with a generous measure in his battered enamel mug, Peter elected to have an early lunch before starting to hoe the rows of onions that he had set as his task for the day. He opened his metal Peter Rabbit lunch-box, a cast off from his seven year old grandson who refused to use it as all his classmates now had Snoopy boxes, and selected a Double Gloucester and pickle doorstep. He took a slurp from his mug, and carefully positioned the sandwich for his first bite.

This ritual process of precise alignment was essential if the pickle was not to squirt down his waistcoat and trousers, but Peter was a master of the art of eating over-laden sandwiches. His first bite was synchronised with a suck that drew the excess Branston into his mouth. He had practised almost daily for the past six years since his wife had died. Sometimes he had corned beef, but the pickle never flowed quite so well on the pressed meat, and the fatty compressed cow filling lacked the strength of flavour to compete with a half inch layer of relish.

As he chewed, the noisy squabbling outside told him that the inhabitants of the spinney had found the recently deceased mouse, and were contesting possession. He took another slurp to soften the rather stale bread, and set himself the mental task of deciding between putting the kettle on the paraffin stove, or topping up his mug with more of his home made wine.

After careful thought he eventually decided that tea would be the better option, since it would dilute the acid in his guts, and wash out the mug as well. From experience he knew that the residue from his wine attracted flies, and would necessitate him washing out the mug before further use. Peter was not inclined to perform unnecessary domestic cleaning if he could avoid it, and in choosing tea he could simply use the last half inch to swill and tip to clean the vessel. 

He carefully put down his sandwich, and got up to prime the stove. The squirt of lighter fuel burnt with a colourless flame to heat the feed tube for the main jet, as he waited a minute before lighting the vapour that would stream from the burner head. He tentatively pumped the pressure up to increase the intensity of the blue flame, before turning his attention to filling his kettle from the plastic jerrycan on the floor beside it.

As he stood at the window, he saw Harry Bartlett, the Chairman of the Allotment Society, arrive pushing a squeaky wheelbarrow. Steam rose from the heavily laden barrow, and Peter knew that Harry had come via the riding stables up the road. He looked wistfully at the barrow. Harry usually arrived at the crack of dawn, except on those days when he had been out drinking the previous evening.

Today, as Harry erratically pushed the barrow, he had the gait of a man who was struggling to maintain his stability and direction. Definitely a serious case of the morning after the night before.

Peter also used to have access to the stables, until a few months ago when the owner had found him in a loose-box, with his stable-maid. The facts that Peter’s braces hung from his waist, his shirt was unbuttoned, and the flushed looking woman who was hastily tucking her blouse into the waistband of her jodhpurs was the owner’s sister, were not looked on favourably by the man. Peter’s protestations that the attractive widow and he were just passing the time of day failed to convince the stable owner.

Harsh words had been followed by forceful ejection at the point of a pitchfork, and Peter had not had access to either the affections of the woman, nor the rich manure, since. This season his runner beans would have to struggle on the inferior encouragement of compost and green manure mulches.

A whiff of paraffin vapour was accompanied by the roar of the Primus stove as the blue flames licked the bottom of the camping kettle. Harry gave the pump an extra stroke, swilled a little water round inside his little enamel teapot, and walked out to the compost heap to tip out the old leaves. There was no sign of the recently demised mouse.

On his return, he added three spoonfuls of tea from the caddy, and left the pot’s lid hinged open, ready for the hot water. The stove would add to the heat that the day was already beginning to impart to the interior of the shed, so he opened the far window, and wedged it with a cane to stop it swinging and banging about. Having completed his preparations, he retired to his canvas seat.

Once settled, he took his pocket watch from his waistcoat pocket and examined it. He grunted, and slipped it back in the pocket, before returning his attention to his lunch. Four hours to go before he had to be at the village school to meet his grandson, Andrew. Plenty of time to have an after-lunch nap before hoeing the onions, and a short rest while the water came to the boil. He closed his eyes, as he waited for the kettle to whistle its readiness to make the tea.

Peter was woken from his snooze by the shed door opening to dispel the gloom, and a raised voice. As he came to his senses, he focussed on Harry, who was standing at the doorway and shouting at him.

Fire!

Where? asked a bemused Peter.

Behind you, you daft prat, explained Harry.

Peter glanced over his shoulder, to see the stove on its side, a packet of sugar in flames, and the shelf smouldering. Before he could get up Harry had pushed past him and thrown a bucket of liquid over the flames. As the fire quelled, and steam rose from the charred shelf, the air was filled with the smell of Jeyes Fluid.

Lucky I was passing, said Harry. I’d just been up to the standpipe to get some water for my carrots, and looked in your window as I came by. I’d seen that ginger cat sitting on your roof earlier. It must have came in, and knocked the stove over.

Jeez, Harry. I could have been cooked.

Or blown up if the heat got to your five year old plum brandy. Let’s see what the damage is.

The pair turned to examine the shelf. The stove, now extinguished, had continued to emit a fine jet of paraffin, and the smell mingled with the Jeyes Fluid as an oily stream dripped down the edges of the charcoal black wood, onto a stack of seed-trays below. Peter set the stove upright, and released the pressure with a hiss. The wooden shelf was blackened, and a packet of Borbon biscuits, now devoid of their wrapper save for a small charred piece that sat under the soggy mess like a doily, slumped in a heap next to the teapot.

You been washing out tomato boxes, Harry? Peter asked, as he sniffed the air.

No, I was going to spray the carrots. I’ve had the fly on one row.

I can smell Jeyes Fluid.

’Twas in the bucket. I always put it in before I go up to the standpipe. It mixes better if you put it in first.

Oh well, it will pass in time, said Peter, as he eyed his wet shelf and wall. It’s a good job it wasn’t my carrot fly mix. I always add some HLA to give them a boost.

So do I, Peter, said Harry quietly.

Peter gulped, and reassessed the damage. HLA, an abbreviation of household liquid activator, was the polite name for a human supplied nitrogen rich waste liquid, much valued by tomato growers. There was half an inch of the evil concoction in his teapot. Given Harry’s occupation the previous evening Peter knew he would never fancy using the pot for its intended purpose again. He’d order a new one tomorrow. He’d seen an insulated plastic one in his daughter’s mail-order club catalogue.

But until it arrived he’d stick with the peapod and rhubarb, and to hell with the washing up.

Moral Support

PETER WAS TALKING TO Harry about the best way to close a potato clamp when young Doreen arrived. She was accompanied by her two small boys, who both ran ahead to greet the older men.

Peter smiled at her, and held a grubby hand down to stop the youngest of the boys from rushing past to climb the compost heap. Both Peter and Harry liked Doreen. She and her husband had taken an allotment a year ago after they moved into one of the little new houses on the estate beyond the railway line. Occasionally they saw her husband working on their plot, but mainly it was Doreen.

In general they were well behaved children, as far as small boys with a limited attention span can be. Doreen, a novice gardener who had recently escaped from her upbringing in a tower block in town, was appreciative of the advice that the older men so freely gave. From her choice of crops it was clear that her budget was tight, and growing basic foods was a priority. Both Harry and Peter offered her spare seedlings and cuttings to help her along. In return she sometimes arrived at the plots laden with a cake or tin of cookies for an impromptu afternoon tea.

There were forty-two plots, with a small communal building that doubled as a shed for heavy equipment, and as an office, although there was no electric power on the site. The society owned an old rotovator, a grindstone and some specialised tools, of the sort that one only occasionally required. These were let out at a nominal charge to cover the costs of maintenance and replacement. The office was mostly used to keep records and perform what little admin was involved in running the Society.

Doreen’s comestibles were often taken in the building, with mugs of tea, as those present sat on an assortment of chairs gathered over time. Usually one of the more experienced holders would be expounding on techniques for the benefit of novices. Today it was the turn of Davey Hudson, who was talking about the art of indoor pot grown new potatoes for Christmas dinner, and about hot beds for forcing early ridge cucumbers and melons.

Don’t see your hubby much, Doreen. Left you to do all the work has he? enquired Hazel, the society secretary and a passionate delphinium grower.

He’s very busy at work. I often don’t see him myself until after the boys are put to bed. But he comes along some evenings on his way home, to pull some veg and water the beans. You retired folk are probably all gone home by then.

Harry lifted his head slightly as she spoke, and turned towards Peter, who instantly knew, by the expression on his face, that his friend was unhappy about something. Both men drained their mugs, thanked Doreen for today’s flapjack, and made their excuses to get back to their plots. They walked along the narrow paths, and stopped beside Harry’s French beans.

I saw him in the Dog and Ferret last night, said Harry quietly.

Who?

Doreen’s husband. He was with a group of men and women. Those louts who hog the dartboard, and shout to each other the length of the bar. Left with a little blonde woman on his arm.

Come to think of it, I saw him coming down the ramp from the station last week, when I was walking young Andrew back to our Janice’s. About six o’clock it was. He was walking alongside a blonde woman then, but he parted from her when he saw me, so I thought it was just a casual acquaintance. A fellow commuter, like.

Both men stood in silence. It was none of their business, but if Doreen was being cheated on then they felt sorry for her. She was friendly, kept the children neat and clean, and was obviously working hard to bring up her family.

They were still standing there when Davey came past. He paused, and sucked his lower lip pensively before addressing them.

Hazel might not have seen Doreen’s husband, but I have. I was here late last week, waiting for it to cool down a bit before spraying my runner beans against blackfly, and he came along to their shed. He wasn’t alone, neither. It’s not just lettuce he’s pulling of an evening.

Little blonde woman? asked Harry.

Davey’s eyes widened. I didn’t see you here then, Harry.

I wasn’t. Saw them last night in the pub.

Davey shook his head. Now that is a shame, he said.

Peter stood and looked across to the far end of the plots. Doreen was earthing up a row of Sharps Express early potatoes, and the boys were hunting in the loose soil for slugs and snails with a seaside bucket and spade. As they found their prey the older boy took them back to Doreen’s shed to throw on the roof. The afternoon sun had made the rusty sheet iron too hot for the slugs to move, and they were easy pickings for the thrushes and blackbirds that kept watch over the area from the hedgerows.

It was a fortnight later when Peter, having walked back to his plot after dinner to encourage a demijohn of elderberry that had refused to start fermenting, saw Doreen’s husband slip into his own shed. Some five minutes later a short blonde woman came walking through the plots, to also disappear into the shed. Even if he had not seen the man arrive he would have known that the high heeled woman tottering along the rough grass paths was not dressed for horticultural purposes. Peter watched the closed shed door for a while, and then chuckled.

He left his brew with an old hot water bottle bungee strapped to it, grabbed the can of Three-in-One oil that he cleaned his edged tools with, and stepped outside. Shortly afterwards he was liberally oiling the front wheel of Harry’s barrow until it no longer squeaked. Then he worked up a sweat shovelling some of Harry’s fresh stable manure into the barrow, and pushed it towards the far allotment. He left the barrow a few yards from his target, and silently walked forward. Very gently he closed the hasp on the shed door, and dropped a short length of pea stick in the staple. Peter listened for a moment before moving away. The sounds from inside suggested that the occupants would be busy for some time, and were definitely not potting on seedlings.

Slowly and quietly he emptied the barrow up against the bottom of the door of the shed, to form a less than friendly large doormat, then he quietly wheeled the empty vehicle back to Harry’s plot. Returning with a watering can in hand, he liberally doused the pile. He stood and debated with himself whether to remove the stick from the hasp, but decided to leave it in place. A spongy brown pool was forming in front of the door. As the water reacted with the semi dry manure, waves of ammonia fumes drifted up from the heap. 

Satisfied that he had done all he could, Peter then returned to his brew. The heat from the hot water bottle had brought a few bubbles up through the airlock, so he replaced the water in the bottle from his warm kettle, wrapped the jar in an old blanket, and left for home. As he walked towards the gate he glanced back, but there was no obvious movement from Doreen’s shed.

Next morning Peter arrived at the plots directly after seeing his grandson to school. The broken door to Doreen’s shed hung by one hinge, and a small group of men and women stood clustered around it. He wandered over to join them.

What’s happened? he asked innocently, as he eyed the trail of dried footprints that led through the slurry puddle and away from the doorway. One set was quite large, but the other was more like a size five with a narrow stiletto heel. Close to the threshold were two deeper, longer impressions in the muck, possibly the shape a pair of knees would make when landing.

Looks like vandals, replied a somewhat less observant young chap who had the allotment

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