Comes in threes.
Everyone said Jock was a great guy. With his large back garden always being a beehive of activity. He had a converted coal house and a tool shed that was used by local kids for electrical and mechanical tinkering. Full of parts, components, bits-and-bobs of used or in-repair gadgets, bikes and the like. Kids would come round to learn how to use the array of tools, or take them out to those in need of DIY, maintenance, quick fixes or odd jobs in the neighbourhood. At intervals in the year, except in winter when the soil suffered from its very own frostbite, kids could be seen sowing or picking their own fruit and veg in his – typical for the village – large family garden. Right down the back of the garden Peter Pan or Goblin-like dens and tree houses had been built around and in the two fruitless trees. Perhaps from a kids collective intuition, they knew to leave the others alone for better scrumping from August to mid-September for Bramley and Cox apples, likewise Williams pears scrumped from mid-august to October. Simon found the Coxes and Bramleys a little bit too bitter. The juicy speckled green pears though had moreish pale insides with a fleshy feel to them when you bit down hard and the sappy, pulpy, yummy juices dribbled onto your chin. One late Indian summer, under the heat of weighted adolescent thoughts he wondered just why fruit insides were called flesh. He could only just about imagine what it would be like to be a cannibal, but as he fathomed it, human flesh surely must be a bit tougher than the soft fruit flesh, especially if the person was well built or plump as a plum.
Number 1; flicking fresh peas from pods. Simon had delicate hands that he did not mind getting dirty in amongst the weeds and roots of the garden, but the excitement built when pea-picking time came around. Pinching the pods from the vine, tracing his thumb nail down the middle of the pods and splitting, spreading the pods ready for the pick. For him nothing beat holding the edge of the pod in a thumbs-up shaped hand, then taking that thumb and running it along the length of the pod to flick the peas into the metal colander. The bonus encore was a tenner pod; full of small, succulent fresh peas, that ended up chasing each other round and round the metal wide funnel like outer rim until they settled in a heap with their pod-buddies. He even trimmed and manicured his nail to be the best tool for the job, and this would serve him well when he used it later in life to pluck guitar strings for his Indie band, Slug Bucket. Most of the young kids loved to get dirty, digging the spuds out of the ground, or fishing out the grubs from the full-headed broccolis, caulis and cabbages. But for Simon nothing beat picking peas. Jim showed him how to sneakily hide from beady eyes the smaller ones in the cup of his hand to snack on later.
“Keep tha’ fresh uns, get rid o’ tha’ shriveled up, bitter, bad an stale uns, kiddo”.
For Simon the garden was not only an educational playground, but one for the rough and boisterous battles fought out with his toy soldiers, his action force figures and even between the smaller more expensive Transformer armies of the Autobots and the Decepticons his family could barely afford and which he saved up his paper and milk round money for.There was a no man’s land near the back wall, where the hose pipe tap was, an upturned crate and the seasonal, varying-in-size soap bars. Only as he got older did he wonder just why the soap was there, even at the bitter cold snap and thaw end of winter.
In his Uni years Sam, his estranged Uncle told him “Jock, now he is a proud man, probably washed and scrubbed up at back o’house after a hard graft down mines, so no speck of grime and dirt could be seen on him when he came in ‘ouse like“.
This ticked off one of the many open questions that were left unanswered and cut short by Jim’s cancer.
Number 2; catching snowflakes on the tip of your tongue during the powder dusting of a second or third snowfall. But even before that, in autumn, the top of Orchard Avenue was the scene of an interesting activity. There, the neighborhood boys and girls took up a child’s version of ‘parachuting’ – if you will. A bunch of the kids would ‘borrow’ the anoraks or such-like winter coats of their larger relatives, unzip them and opening them arms-length chute-wide, would perch themselves on the edge of where the road met the hill on the curb. Toe-teetering, waiting for the wind to pick up enough gust to lift them off their feet, they used this force of nature to topple over or, if they were lucky, get themselves carried off and drift their laughing, wayward fall down the hill.
But in winter the hill was mainly used for sledging and for Simon, things completely different. In his childhood it seemed that there was more and ever more snow all around him, deeper, thicker, and whiter but maybe it was because he was smaller, more easily impressed by a thick white carpeting . Running out of snow for his snowman was never a problem; even when he needed a stool assist for his short round legs so he could top off the head with the makeshift stuffed carrier bag hat, there was always enough. And yes, he had coal for eyes and a three button jacket, a mangled carrot for the nose, and pebbles for the grinning teeth of the mouth. In his later teens, however, he turned from snow men to snow castles, taking cues from the ones he built in sand at the beach on the East Coast, trying to outdo each by a larger scale every time and then go all the way back down to the wee miniature ones. Using cardboard, wood, lollipop sticks and his Uncle Jed’s windscreen wiper scraper as tools, he would sculpt the turrets, moats, drawbridges, fortifications and towers.
Back on the hill, at the peak of Orchard Avenue though, he would hold his arms out, exposed palms so his body formed an arrow pointing towards where the snow came from, his head tilted back and with his tongue stuck out waiting for a snow flake or two. Once, when doing this, he nearly bit the end of his tongue off. A heavy adult hand tapped him on his left shoulder, but no one was there. Automatically his first thought was fear of being in the wrong, but as Simon turned his head to the right he saw Jim playfully mirroring his stance. They stood there for a few fleeting moments, waiting for the cold tingle on their tongue tips, and for Simon it seemed like those precious and perfect minutes elongated into an eon, time like the Granddaughter clock in their house, her hands perennially stuck at quarter past nine.
As Jim brought him under his wing and taking him back up Orchard Avenue he rounded off their winter-wonderland Narnia moment with,
“Ya know, each an every flake is different an unique, but just like us each an every ones made ‘e tha’ same stuff son”.
Number 3; finding solace under a weeping willow. This old tree was like a honorary auntie or godmother, cocooning him in her trailing to the floor branches in times of trouble. As dinner was waiting for him at his folks house at the other end of the village, he knew he would be in the dog house if it got cold, but he couldn’t really care less right then and now. Sporting a black eye and a bloodied nose he sat with his school tie loosened and his satchel curled as much in a ball as he was. His thoughts dragged on and tugged along for what seemed like forever in his small shut off world. But all the thoughts, despite getting messy and lost in the maze of memory, rushed back to the simple and woeful question of why?
As he drew a hedgehog’s face with a stick in the top soil underneath the widow willow, that distinct pungent soap smell hit his nostrils, bringing him back to Jim’s garden. The willow vine like branches were drawn back like a bamboo porch bead curtain in summer, his companion sitting next to him, sighing as if almost understanding. Sitting their quietly, Simon did not quite know what to say or do, so he remained stum. Jock started to whistle, three bars in and right away he recognised the ditty. Not a brazzle dazzle day for Simon, but a smile came to his face when he recalled the song from the film Pete’s Dragon. How great it would be to have a Dragon or a Peregrine Falcon as a buddy, a protector. If he had a bird of prey it would be Perry the Peregrine. His Dad would have said:
“Ya need no one, boyo. Pick ya sen up, dust ya sen off, an slug em back”.
Picking his satchel up for Simon and putting it on his shoulder Jim broke the silence,
“Ya ready”. He led him up the garden towards the back door.
“Ya know, kiddo, kids and adults can be cruel”.
The taunts and the beating was enough for Simon to not question this.
They passed the dens, the scrumping trees, the vegetable patch bare of caullis, cabbages and picked peas. Just as they got to the upturned crate with the glistening wet soap bar, Jim stopped, turned him around slowly by the shoulders and clenching and unclenching his fists said,
“Nor war ya use these for”
Touched his head, “Nor wa’ pops out of ‘ere”.
And tapping Simon’s uniform blazer breast pocket with his worn and weathered middle finger,
“Bur what ya free from there, and hold in there”.
You could never say Jim held true to the norm of a real man’s man, not really macho in that hard man’s way. Toughened up from hard graft, but none of the working class need to prove yourself with your fists. For Simon he was more than a real man. Remaining in memory at his side, way past the tender age of twelve when he passed from the onslaught of crippling cancer brought on by decades going down the mine shafts. Imbedded, engraved and if somewhat foggy in Simon’s mind was that triptych:
One; “Keep the fresh ones, get rid of the shriveled up, bitter, bad and stale ones”.
Two;”Each and every one is different and unique, but just like us they are all made up of the same.”
Three; “ Not What you use your hands and fists for. Nor what comes out of your head. But what you free from and hold in your heart.”
©2015 – Stewart Tunnicliff
Read on with No 4 Soup Food…