It all started about fifteen years ago, and I suppose that's where I'd better start. My wife and I had had a bit of a rough time, losing our business, then our house and in amongst all those problems we lost all four parents in a two year period. Bad luck or what? Well we ended up renting a cottage on a farm, back to both our roots really because neither of us are townies.
We had, over that period, become very depressed. Now if there is one thing that is recommended as being therapeutic for that condition it's gardening, and particularly growing plants. This was alright for my wife, but I personally find gardening even more depressing. You work like stink to get everything looking good, and then a day or two later it looks just the same as it started. Like I say, depressing. But there she was, growing and propagating and generally creating lots of stock, and selling it from the gate.
She did pretty well, and got a reputation for good healthy plants. Of course when she was out I had to do the selling, but that wasn't too bad because most of the customers were ladies, and some of them were pretty nice.
And it's how I met Jane. I was immediately attracted to her; she had that kind of spark that I go for. She might have been skinny when she was a girl, but to be honest with you I rather doubt it. She certainly wasn't fat, but nice and cuddly, a middle aged lady, in retrospect I can say in her middle fifties, with a very attractive face. And as I said, just something about her, some sort of indefinable spark that just got me interested. She turned up in the middle of one sunny morning and started looking at the stock. I wandered out to see if I could help her, and in a few minutes she had picked up what she wanted, and was preparing to leave. A gambit was required and there it was before me, she was wearing a blue sweatshirt with yellow stars on it that could only mean one thing.
"That's an interesting sweatshirt," I said. "What have you do to with Brussels?"
She laughed. "My son gave it to me, he's a journalist working at the European parliament."
I realised that in my haste I had run into troubled water, troubled for me anyway. Any right thinking Englishman looks upon the Common Market, or European Economic Community, or whatever they are calling it this year, with utter horror. The whole thing was created to keep the Krauts and the Frogs from each other's throats, and since there is no way that the English can contribute to this separation, other than to applaud the aims and ambitions of such an organisation, why the hell are we contributing vast sums of money to their peasantry?
I say I applaud the aims, because every time they start fighting we have to go over and separate them. It's like living next door to a lot of badly brought up children. Just rather more dangerous. And invariably we have to ask for help, which is always unstintingly provided and gratefully received. I suppose it's typically English charitable generosity that we, and of course our American friends, keep picking up the tab for their petty arguments.
So there I was, confronted by a minefield...
"That's very interesting, does he work for a newspaper?"
Apparently he didn't, and after a few minutes with me spent making a tactical withdrawal, discovering in the process that it wasn't one of her favourite organisations either, disorganisation more like, and that she only wore the thing because her son had given it to her, she left. But I felt that I had made a mark, and the lady seemed to display some interest.
Now I know what some of you younger fellows are thinking, hells teeth mid fifties, she must have droopy tits and one foot in the grave. But you've surfed the net same as I have, and whilst there's loads of pretty young girls on show there's a fair number of older ladies too. Most of 'em don't have floppy bits and pieces, they're very much alive, and they'll often teach the young ones a thing or two. Not always though. There is one other point. I'm only five years younger than the lady in question, and y'know, when you get a bit older you really appreciate the charms of a woman of about your own age. There is also the very valid point that Antonio Stradivari's 'Golden age' was from 1698 to 1720. That was a long time ago and the fiddles he made then are still the best ones to knock out a tune on.
Jane lived, I discovered, in the next village, and over the course of the next few years we met on a number of occasions at different events, as well as returning to buy the odd plant. And then we had to move.
I always say that there are four classes of people in England. First are those who own their own houses. They are wooed by credit companies, banks and the like, candidates in elections and that kind of thing, and generally respected. Second, there are those who are buying their own houses, but almost everyone still loves them too. Then third, come those who live in what used to be council houses, but which are now owned by housing associations. Most people look down on them. Finally, fourth, comes those in private rented accommodation. They rank along with the homeless. Everybody looks down on them. Losers.
As you will have surmised, that is where we were. So when the landlord wanted his cottage back, his son was getting married, we were on the hunt for somewhere to live, and fortune smiling on the bold, we ended up in the next village, the one where Jane lived, in a really nice cottage surrounded by gently rounded chalk hills; the sort of place where you can save money on holidays by simply staying home. On the one side, in the other semi-detached half were a young couple, and on the other an old and very decrepit bungalow occupied by an old lady. Except she wasn't. She was in fact a bloke, something which everyone knew because when he moved there he was a bloke called Dave, and at a point in time put on a wig, frock, and high heels and called him, or her, self Elsie. You can, by the way, usually tell a transvestite because they mow the lawn in high heels. Aerates the grass too.
The young couple were very pleasant, locally born and bred and worked on local farms. He was a horticulturalist, of a kind, the kind that the police usually like to know about, and she, according to what I was told, was fairly free with her favours, as in, "who's next then?" On Friday evenings they would come back from the pub, dash upstairs and the bedsprings would squeak for a few minutes before you knew they had finished. You knew because he grunted, and she had seen 'When Harry met Sally' a few times. Often enough to get the sound effects right anyway. I'd like to think that she was really enjoying it, but I did sometimes wonder if it was done for my benefit.
So there things stood. When we moved we gave up doing the plants and went on to other things. From time to time probably more often, I met Jane, I also met her husband, and the dog, and they were both very nice, all three if you include Jane, and my wife and I would wander around their garden when they occasionally opened it to the public. But whilst the public got tea and cake, Jane would always find a glass of wine for us. Nothing is more pleasant than wandering around a well kept garden with a glass of wine in your hand, looking at the results of other people's hard labour. No, I never said I didn't like gardens, I just said I found gardening depressing.
But things change, things always change, change is inevitable and irresistible, whatever you may think. You just have to brace yourself, and hope for the best. In this case Elsie died. Since he. Or she, was alone, it fell to her solicitor as executor to dispose of the property and send the proceeds to the charity as specified in the will. And you can imagine his surprise when he discovered his client was a him not a her. We were somewhat apprehensive about what would take place next door, but in the event there was little we could do to influence whatever outcome there was.