Nanowrimo is a compelling challenge to write 50,000 words during November: that’s an average of 1667 words per day. My plan is to write a set of 30 short stories each 1667 words long instead. Each story comes from a prompt, a lot from fellow bloggers.
The Great Cattle Trough Raid at the Cooley Road Allotments
Cooley Road allotments have seen many battles but the Battle of the Cattle Trough has gone into legend. It started one May with the wedding of Maeve Connacht to Eric A. Hill. Maeve and Eric met, as many people did in the once prosperous now somewhat down-at-heel town of Cooley on the edge of Leeds, at the allotment holders AGM.
The year before Eric, an accountant by profession and vegetable grower by passion became treasurer. His first act was to announce a loss and the need to make financial changes to ensure the Allotment remained viable. You see Cooley might have been yesterday’s town but forces were circling with plans to make it tomorrow’s suburb; the allotment was prime land, ripe for development.
‘We need funds. I propose either higher subs or a sale of the western corner.’ The western corner comprised the sprawling compost heap and one of the two water troughs, old galvanized zinc baths previously used for cattle. Eric knew how controversial such a sale would be but without it he also knew he’d never win the vote to raise the subs.
Maeve Connacht had no interest in vegetables and only attended the meeting because her father Dennis, Cooley Cricket captain had a clash. ‘Don’t vote to pay more, girl,’ Dennis intoned. ‘Don’t give the little Brutus that satisfaction.’ You will gather that Dennis was the deposed treasurer.
Maeve watched Eric’s masterful performance mixing numbing statistics with eye-widening Biblical prophesies of doom if the subs were not raised. As the evening wore on, it became clear the vote would be tight. Maeve could see Eric was right but dutifully she abstained. On a count the vote was split.
‘Maeve Connacht, you need to get off your fence. Now, we all know how your dad would vote, don’t we?’
Maeve detested Simon Splendid. As Clerk to the Town Council he had a lot of local power and an unhealthy amount of patronage. Maeve glanced at Eric. His body language showed his resignation. ‘Increase the subs. We need to.’
‘Eh?’ Simon’s complexion mirrored his famous beetroot (best in show, 1971). ‘Your father will not be happy.’
‘That’s as may be, but Eric is right and we know it. Why are you voting against, Mr Splendid? You want to help them developers?’
Maeve had gone too far. The collective intake of breath left the other committee members gasping. Whether it was such lack of oxygen that made Eric A. Hill lightheaded or the surge in his authority we will never know. Whatever the cause, Eric asked Maeve to join him in a gin and bitters and the rest was soon history.
In fact the only blot on the landscape for these two young lovers was Dennis. On hearing the news he said, ‘Right, lass. Yon allotment’s yours. I want you to show it’s worth the extra money or yer out of my will.’
Maeve looked at her mother; Sheila Connacht knew when not to interfere and this was one of those times. ‘How dad?’
‘How? How?’ A grin spread across his lips. ‘Win us the best in show fer yer marrow. Bring glory to the Connachts.’ Mr Connacht had grown marrows for as long as he’d had an allotment and for the last six years he hadn’t won. Eric had.
Maeve told Eric. Eric shrugged. He loved Maeve even if she liked to put her tongue in unexpected places but on the subject of vegetables his love was not so strong as to concede. ‘I’m sorry love, but I cannot drop me standards just to appease yer dad.’
Eric did agree to give Maeve lessons and soon enough they both had strong and vigorous plants. It was then Eric confessed to his secret. Once the best baby marrow had been identified he pierced the stalk with a thread that connected directly to the nearest water supply and fed sugary water into the plant.
‘Is it legal?’
Eric momentarily considered calling off the wedding but since the night before Maeve’s errant tongue had done things which had caused him to revise his views, he managed to squeak. ‘Rule 13(d) subsection (vii)(c) to whit, any watering system for competition vegetables is permitted. That’ll be your problem.’
Eric was right for Eric had foresight. His plot was separated from the Connacht’s by one belonging to Fred Dongle. Eric did Fred’s books at a discount and thus Fred allowed Eric access to the trough that sat on his plot. Dennis had no such arrangement; he and Fred had fallen out when Fred was barred from the cricket team for ‘abusing a stump in a manner conducive to undermining team morale’. Since then Dennis had had to use the trough in the western corner.
Maeve wasn’t a fool. She knew any attempt to soft soap Fred wouldn’t work. However Fred’s son, Eustace was a different proposition. Eustace and Maeve had been in the same class at Cooley Primary. While Maeve had gone to the local grammar school and was now working her way up the greasy pole that was the Cooley branch of Lloyds Bank, Eustace worked for his father, beheading chickens with both glee and efficiency. Eustace would do what Maeve wanted. On condition.
Thus Eustace made a pact with Maeve: three times a weeks, he allowed her to affix a thread to her marrow while she allowed him a kiss (no tongues) and a feel of her breasts (clothes on).
After three weeks, Maeve regretted her plan. In an aberration with far reaching consequences, Maeve overdid the cocktails and let slip her arrangement with Eustace.
Word got back to Fred who demanded the deal be forthwith broken. Maeve felt humiliated, if relieved and Eustace furious and vengeful.
As the happy couple set up home the cloud of the marrow hung between them. And with the rumours swirling, Maeve couldn’t ask her husband for help. She needed water but the forces of Fred and Eustace lined up against her. She would arrive in the first light and Fred would be there; at night Eustace would loom out of the gloom. She tried running a pipe for the western corner trough to no avail. Simon Splendid evoked rule 17(c)(vi) ‘Only watering cans and buckets to be used to take water across paths to avoid trips’.
Time was running out. Maeve needed a miracle which appeared in her branch in the guise of Tony Large of Large Builders. Tony wanted the western corner; he also wanted a loan. It was Maeve’s job to consider his application. Against her better judgement she liked Tony and decided to retain him in her imagination as a figure to be called to mind if ever Eric’s love making became routine. She listened to his plans and saw many benefits. He offered a deal: ‘Give me the western corner and my company will build state-of-the-art compost bins and provide individual taps for each plot’. He didn’t the allotments; rather he wanted them to succeed: ‘The view would be ruined if anyone built on them.’
Maeve put a proposal to Tony. In return for her support for the sale – she was fairly sure she could persuade Eric of the logic and she knew weasels like Simon Splendid would go for it anyway – she wanted his help with her marrow.
Thus on the 23rd June a lorry delivered a large full water tank to the Connacht plot.
Consternation! Tuts became grumbles, begat moans and procreated an almighty whinge. Simon Splendid appeared, rule book in hand. His moustache twitched: ‘Rule 2; no structure to be placed on allotments (other than a shed measuring no more than five by seven) without committee approval’.
Maeve smiled and went on watering. ‘What about Rule 13(d) subsection (vii)(c)?’
Simon looked bemused and flicked through the rules. He hesitated. He harrumphed. ‘But… there’s a conflict.’
Maeve looked up. ‘What happens then?’
Eric spoke from his plot. He was fiddling with his thread, trying to fix a blockage. ‘It goes to the next meeting. That’ll be after the show in August.’
‘And in the meantime?’
Maeve nodded. At least she would have a level playing field now until the show. She turned to Simon. ‘Can I offer you a cup of tea, Mr Splendid? I need a word.’
If Simon was surprised the other allotment holders were flabbergasted. They watched Maeve and Simon disappear into her shed and reappear an hour later and shake hands. She looked across at Eric sure she was going to have to explain but his face was wreathed in worry.
‘What is it, dear heart?’
‘I fear accidental sabotage.’
‘Your water tank is sitting on the water supply pipe to Fred’s trough. It runs under your dad’s plot.’
Maeve looked carefully at her husband. ‘You knew and didn’t say?’
He nodded. His guilt was apparent. Maeve said sternly, ‘I think you had better come in for tea.’
After another hour the loving couple emerged, arm in arm. Maeve was a little flushed, Eric stunned. An hour later the truck reappeared and moved the water tank onto Eric’s plot. The workman then dug up the water pipe and installed a standpipe together with a brand new water trough. Eustace watched with bemusement.
When Fred appeared Maeve called him over. ‘I’ve fixed my supply. You’ll not need your trough now as this is the trough for the allotments going forward. You’ll have to talk to me if you want to use it.’
So Maeve Connacht won? Well yes and no. A week later, in a scandal that made the local TV, Maeve’s marrow was vandalized. The culprit wasn’t found but Fred and Eustace Dongle were asked to leave at the next AGM. Eric won as per usual with a marrow of unfeasible proportions. And Maeve was reconciled with her father when she announced she was pregnant with his grandchild. Sometimes an hour in the shed is all you need.