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What it means to be green

Submitted by webmaster on Fri, 08/28/2015 - 18:57

Shortlisted at the 2015 Gwaun Writers’ Festival

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I live in a kettle. I have a brother who lives under the bonnet of a clapped-out Morris Minor, an auntie who resides in a fallen hanging basket, and a cousin who inhabits a smelly boot. But I live in a kettle. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not just any old kettle. It’s made of copper and was regularly steam cleaned by its previous owner. I’ve fitted it out with the latest mod cons and, all in all, it’s a rather cosy kettle. It’s an ideal home for a robin.

    My kettle is hidden away in a forgotten corner of a forgotten shed. But if the shed is forgotten, the property in which it is found is most certainly not forgotten. It is the home of one Blodwen Lewis. An unremarkable lady in many respects, she would be accounted thus if it was not for her obsession with collecting garden gnomes from every corner of the globe. Her ample front lawn is full of gnomes. She has travelled from Patagonia to Pontypridd, from Canada to Caernarvon, each time returning with a carpet bag full of gnomes. She has hundreds, nay thousands. I could flit from gnome to gnome everyday for a hundred years to get across the lawn and not take the same route twice.

    If you wish to write to me or send Mrs Lewis an unwanted gnome, the address is Number Four, Blueberryapplepiecustardvalley Road. It’s a long name for a road I grant you. Over the years the locals have shortened and shortened it. First they dropped the valley, then the custard, then the pie and then the apple. They couldn’t drop the whole of Blueberry otherwise they would have no name at all. So, they just got rid of lueberry and kept the letter B. But we don’t say Four B because that sounds too much like a class at school. So we like to say that we live at B Four. But this story is not about Mrs Blodwen Lewis in B Four. Nor is it about rich Mr Markos, who owns a shipping company and lives at B Two. Nor is it about Mr Keep who owns a fridge factory and lives at B Six. No, this story is about Mr Price who lives opposite in B Three.

    Mr Price has made his money from running a very successful odd-job business. If you need anything repairing or fixing, Price Odd-Job Limited is at your service. His employees number three; Harry Boyle, Bert Smith and Fred Howes. It is generally agreed by all those who have made use of their services that they are the most hapless, hopeless and useless odd-job men ever. The only reason why Price Odd-Job Limited is so successful is that there is no other odd-job company in the valley. They have no competition and everything they repair usually needs even more repairing afterwards. The odd-job business is booming in Blueberryapplepiecustardvalley Road.

    On the day our story starts, I was flitting from gnome to gnome when I saw Mr Price talking to Harry, Bert and Fred in his driveway. Being of an inquisitive disposition I flew across the road to listen. ‘Now, you three apologies for odd-job men,’ he said, as he put his bag of golf clubs in the boot of his car, ‘I am going away with Mrs Price for a few days. I shall return on Saturday. I know it’s short notice, but you can all have the rest of the week off.’

    ‘Do you mean it, boss?’ asked Harry.

    ‘I certainly do, Boyle,’ he said.

    ‘Do you really mean it?’ asked Bert.

    ‘Yes, Smith, I really mean it.’

    ‘Thank you, boss,’ they all said.

    ‘Upon my return,’ said Mr Price, ‘I have an important decision to make. I intend to appoint one of you as my Chief Assistant, with the hope he will run the business after I retire. However, I’m not exactly spoilt for choice. It’s a question of damage limitation. It is not as though any of you three have the potential to be a shipping magnate like Mr Markos at B Two or an entrepreneur selling fridges like Mr Keep at B Six.’

    ‘Duh, given the choice between being a shipping magnate or a fridge magnate, I’d rather be a shipping magnate,’ said Harry.

    ‘I’d like to be like that Welsh car entrepreneur,’ said Bert.

    ‘You mean, Dai Hatsu?’ said Fred.

    ‘Aye, that’s the one.’

    ‘Like I said, I’m not exactly spoilt for choice,’ said Mr Price, with a sigh. ‘Now, if you gentlemen will excuse me, I must finish packing.’

    ‘Will you be playing much golf boss?’ asked Fred.

    ‘I shall indeed, Howes,’ he said, as he took his putter out of the bag and pretended to hit a ball. He then put the club back in the bag and closed the boot. He leant on his car and gazed at his house and garden. ‘You know, this isn’t a bad place where I live,’ he said, with a wistful look, ‘but if I could make one change, do you know what I would like?’

    ‘No, boss,’ said Fred.

    ‘I would like a ...’

    Now, admittedly, I was perched on a tree several metres away, but even so, I heard clearly what Mr Price said. Or at least, I think I did. As the three odd-job men walked down the drive to their vans, I flew back to B Four. I thought nothing more of it until later that evening ...

    I was relaxing on my sofa in my kettle with my wings behind my head and admiring my domed ceiling, when I heard the roar of a distant engine. Annoyed that I had been disturbed, I flew out to see what was going on. There, in the drive of B Three, was a white van. None other than Harry Boyle got out. He went to the back of the van and opened the doors. In the van were lots of metal strips of various lengths and lots and lots of panes of glass.

    ‘The Chief Assistant job is mine!’ he said, rubbing his hands together. He then unloaded the van and carried everything to the garden at the back. For the next few hours he worked and worked. I stayed to watch. It was good entertainment.

    By morning light he had finished. He loaded his tools into the van and closed the doors. ‘Mr Price will be so pleased with what I’ve done,’ he said.

    But I wasn’t so sure he would be pleased.

    The following evening I was having some serious relaxation therapy, with a stick of incense burning and pieces of cucumber over my eyes, when once more the kettle shook with the sound of an engine. Not Harry Boyle again, I thought. I flew out to see a van once more in Mr Price’s drive. But it wasn’t Harry, it was Bert. He went to the back of the van and opened the doors. Inside were lots of plastic panels, metal tubes and what looked like propellers.

    ‘The Chief Assistant job is mine!’ he said, rubbing his hands together. For the next few hours he worked and worked. He built a contraption on the lawn and even got a ladder and worked on the roof of the house.

    By morning light he had finished. He loaded his tools into the van and closed the doors. ‘Mr Price will be so pleased with what I’ve done,’ he said.

    But I wasn’t so sure he would be pleased.

    The following evening I was listening to my favourite light music on my ipod, when, once more, the sound of a van engine reverberated through the kettle. This was getting too much. I switched off the ipod and flew out to see yet another van parked in the drive of B Three. It was Fred Howes. He went to the back of the van and opened the doors.

    ‘The Chief Assistant job is mine!’ he said, rubbing his hands together. He then unloaded some paint brushes and loads and loads of tins of paint. He spent all night painting the walls of the house.

    By morning light he had finished. He loaded the brushes and tins into the van and closed the doors. ‘Mr Price will be so pleased with what I’ve done,’ he said.

    But I wasn’t so sure he would be pleased.

    I was doing some circuit training on the gnomes when Mr Price returned on Saturday afternoon. He got out of the car and stood open-mouthed as he surveyed the scene. His wife burst into tears and ran into the house. He got his mobile out and sent a text. Within half an hour his three assistants were there. They had shared a lift and come in a van.

    ‘WHAT is the meaning of all this?’ said Mr Price.

    ‘Uh, meaning of what?’ asked Harry.

    ‘Well let’s start with that thing at the back.’

    ‘That’s the greenhouse you wanted,’ said Harry. ‘I made it for you.’

    ‘I can see it’s a greenhouse!’ said Mr Price. ‘Why would I want a greenhouse?’

    ‘You can use it to plant your tomatoes and ...’

    ‘I loathe gardening!’ said Mr Price. ‘And I did not ask for a greenhouse. Anyway, never mind that, who built that thing on the front lawn?’

    ‘It’s a wind turbine,’ said Bert. ‘It will give you electricity in a much more eco-friendly way. I also put solar panels on the roof. You wanted a green house and now you’ve got one.’

    Mr Price’s face was now redder than my red breast. ‘And I take it Howes that you are the Van Gogh,’ he said.

    ‘Uh?’ said Fred.

    ‘The green paint. You’ve painted my house green.’

    ‘You asked for a green house, and you’ve got one,’ said Fred.

    ‘For the final time, I never said I wanted a green house. My actual words were, I would like a putting green, Howes.’

    ‘Uh, no boss,’ said Fred, ‘you never mentioned putting, you just said, I would like a green House or ... Howes ... or ... ah, I ... think ... there might have been a small, teeny weeny, itsy-bitsy misunderstanding.’

    Mr Price’s face was now twice as red as my red breast. ‘I am going to take my wife out for an evening meal,’ he said. ‘When I come back, I want this house and garden like it was before. In fact, no, I’ll state it even more clearly for you so there is no room for misunderstanding. I want this house exactly, one hundred percent, absolutely like before. Have I made myself clear?’

    ‘Yes, boss,’ they said.

    ‘And as far as the Chief Assistant post is concerned, I have given up on the idea!’

    With that Mr Price drove off with his wife.

    ‘Well, we’d better start work,’ said Bert.

    ‘Let’s go to the van to get the tools,’ said Fred.

    I flew to a gatepost near the van. ‘Ooo, look,’ said Fred, ‘it’s a robin.’ He went to the front of the car and came back with a biscuit. They all threw me crumbs and let me stand on their hands to eat more. I decided that these three weren’t so hopeless after all.

    But then, as I was eating some crumbs on the path, Fred said: ‘Well, you heard what the boss said. He wants his house exactly like B Four.’ They all looked across the road to B Four.

    ‘Where are we going to get that many gnomes?’ asked Bert.

    ‘We’ll have to improvise,’ said Harry, ‘just like we do on all our jobs.’

    ‘The more gnomes we get, the more Mr Price will be pleased,’ said Fred.

    I flew back towards the forgotten shed, convinced beyond all doubt that he would not be pleased.

    What did Mr Price say upon his return? I heard an anguished cry that shook the kettle to its very foundation. I don’t know what Harry, Bert and Fred had done, but Mr Price was not happy. But I could take no more. That night I packed my suitcase and flew off to spend a week with my brother. At this very moment I am typing this story with his laptop as I sit perched on the carburettor of his Morris Minor. Hopefully everything will have calmed down by the time I fly back to Blueberryapplepiecustardvalley Road and come home to my forgotten cosy kettle.