Friday, 14 October 2011

Tomato Scandal

Tomato Scandal

The gunning up of a lawn-mower and the sound of a slurred voice belonging to an imbecile always takes me back to my Grandfather. Oh the smell of cut grass! Scraping the blades with an old dinner knife before returning the machine to the shed and the knife to Granny’s cutlery drawer. It was always dark as shoe polish in the shed and there was a glorious smell of petrol. Grandpa’s assistant was a hunchback called Len. He was bald as a coot and had gaps in his teeth that made his smile gummy. The teeth that remained were yellowed and had lost their definition. But never mind! None of these detractors from beauty made Len unhappy. He hummed away all day bent over his clippers and more often than not had a fat roll-up hinged to his lip. It moved around with his mouth when he spoke. In winter time he wore a donkey jacket. He wore it summer time, too. He wore it with his baggy trouser cuffs clamped in by bicycle clips and he never remembered to take them off.  Oh these modern-day Lycra bikers with their day-glo vests and helmets like tortoise shells clamped to their heads! You should have seen Len wobbling down the road dressed in black on winter evenings with his bald dome shining in the night - sometimes losing concentration and wobbling further as he messed with his rollie to get it going. Old Holborn it was. In the old tins with the black and white Tudor framed building for a logo. He mixed it with pipe tobacco and when he parked the mower in the rich grassy smelling petrol-perfumed shed the general ambience was divine…

Sometimes his humming would drive Grandpa batshit. ‘Len, for chrissakes stop that humming.’

Nder nner, nurder ner nah…

To no avail. Grandpa’s remonstrations couldn’t penetrate Len’s mystic clipping trance.

Tea breaks were best. They were fitted in to the otherwise gruelling schedule on an hourly basis. Len and Grandpa liked the greenhouse best because the panes were whitewashed to keep the heat in. They were shielded from the eyes of their employer, Mr Barker the Headmaster of the school. So they’d sit among the hanging green tomatoes and the seed trays sipping tea from a tartan flask and Len would give Grandpa a slice of his wife’s home-made cake. They might moan about ‘the boys’ – the pupils who boarded at the school or some bloody nonsense reported on the front page of The Sun. I was too young to worry about the bloody nonsense but by God it’s bothering me now by the spade full. Len would smoke his fragrant tobacco and as it was still 1973 it was okay for me to be kippered with the cloud that haunted the greenhouse. Len would often run his hand over his dome as if to re-arrange his hair. He would always look slightly startled and wistful when he discovered it wasn’t there.

Eventually the sun would gather force and the green tomatoes turned red. Grandpa would sit in his string vest and Len would soldier on his donkey jacket. I didn’t know they were smugglers until I blew their cover.

I also wanted to tell you about the dirty calendar from 1968 that was still hanging from a nail behind the shed door.

As this is a participatory story, you can cast your votes now.

Text TOMATOES if you’d like tomatoes

Text SMUT if you’d like the calendar.

The concluding part of this drama will be broadcasted next Saturday evening somewhere between Come Dancing and Match Of The Day. Oh what a night that will be!


  1. Very enjoyable. And it reminds me of something I read to my wife just yesterday evening as she was putting the finishing touches on our supper — the opening of Dylan Thomas’s “The Outing: A Story”:

    If you can call it a story. There’s no real beginning or end and there’s very little in the middle. It is all about a day’s outing, by charabanc, to Porthcawl, which, of course, the charabanc never reached, and it happened when I was so high and much nicer.

    I was staying at the time with my uncle and his wife. Although she was my aunt, I never thought of her as anything but the wife of my uncle, partly because he was so big and trumpeting and red-hairy and used to fill every inch of the hot little house like an old buffalo squeezed into an airing cupboard, and partly because she was so small and silk and quick and made no noise at all as she whisked about on padded paws, dusting the china dogs, feeding the buffalo, setting the mousetraps that never caught her; and once she sleaked out of the room, to squeak in a nook or nibble in the hayloft, you forgot she had ever been there.

    But there he was, always, a steaming hulk of an uncle, his braces straining like hawsers, crammed behind the counter of the tiny shop at the front of the house, and breathing like a brass band; or guzzling and blustery in the kitchen over his gutsy supper, too big for everything except the great black boats of his boots. As he ate, the house grew smaller; he billowed out over the furniture, the loud check meadow of his waistcoat littered, as though after a picnic, with cigarette ends, peelings, cabbage stalks, birds’ bones, gravy; and the forest fire of his hair crackled among the hooked hams from the ceiling. . . .


    A shame I don’t have a cell phone. Maybe in my next life.

  2. Thanks William. I must read 'The Outing.' 'A Visit To Granpa's' made a mark on me. Your depiction of your uncle and his wife is fantastic. Every word and line of it. You're a fine writer William.

    How on earth did you manage to escape a cell phone?

  3. I wish I could claim the passages about “my uncle and his wife,” but, alas, they are Thomas’s, from “The Outing.”

    The few times I’ve held a cell phone I did not know what to do with them. I feel much more at home with a shovel, like the one in your earlier entry. I despise regular telephones as it is, and am in agony each time one goes off.



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