Bert Harding was proud of his little garden. He and his wife, Hetty, had lived in their ‘two-up, two-down’ cottage for the last thirty years. It was one of a row to house the original railway workers who had built the line, which ran along the bottom of their garden. Since retiring from his job as the local butcher Bert had spent every day, weather permitting, in his garden. If it were warm and sunny, he would sit on the back doorstep drinking a mug of tea, surveying the neat regimented rows of vegetables. He would listen to Hetty singing to herself as she prepared their lunch and he was content.
One day, after handing Hetty his empty mug, he wandered out to the front of the house. He stood at the gate looking back and appraising the neat lawn with its border of scarlet Salvias and the round bed, a riot of colour in the centre of the tiny plot; not a weed in sight. The vicar and his wife, who were passing, stopped to admire his handiwork.
“I don’t know how you do it, Bert.” The vicar was effusive with his praise. The vicar’s wife was envious. An understandable sin, she consoled her conscience when she reflected on the size and tangle of the ground around the vicarage.
Bert usually revelled in the admiration. On this occasion though, after they had gone their way, he surveyed the neat garden path that led to the snow-white front step and felt a slight feeling of dissatisfaction; something was missing. The feeling persisted all through lunch. Hetty’s suggestion of a small statue was rejected. “No,” he told her, “not colourful enough.”
“What about a garden gnome, then?” she laughed.
“Mmm…that might be an idea…they’re certainly colourful. Leave the dishes, we’ll nip down to the garden centre and see what they’ve got.” Hetty was a bit taken aback that he had cottoned on so readily to her light-hearted suggestion but was glad he was still taking such an interest. She had been worrying about his retirement, wondering how he would spend his time. Would he be forever under her feet? Not that it would bother her too much but one had one’s routine.
He’d always been a man dedicated to his job. “It’s not everybody’s cup of tea,” he would say, “but some-one’s got to do it and I pride, myself on doing it well.” He prided himself on doing everything well. It sometimes made Hetty feel a bit inadequate.
The array of gnomes at the garden centre posed a problem, there were so many to choose from. Bert decided they would just take two for now, but which ones?
Later, over tea, he was rather quiet. “I wish I’d bought that one with the wheelbarrow, it would look a treat planted with pansies…then, that one with the long white beard and Wellington boots was nicely sculptured, almost a work of art.”
“They’re not sculptured Bert, only moulded. They’re alright, I suppose but hardly a work of art.” Hetty was dismissive.
“Well, I like them, they’re cheerful.”
Over the next few days, he dug up the central flower bed and made it into a pond. Then he set one of his new acquisitions, a gnome with a fishing rod, on a small rustic bridge which spanned it. He felt the bridge gave the garden a Japanese touch. He called Hetty to come and see. “Hmmm…it makes a change,” she remarked, dashing indoors to attend to the dinner. The next day, he came home with four more. “Couldn’t resist them,” he explained.
“It’s getting a bit crowded, I don’t think you should buy anymore.” Hetty was perplexed and a little worried by her husband’s sudden attachment to these garden accessories. She’d been warned about a man’s mid-life crisis. Some of her friends’ husbands had gone through it. At sixty-five she felt, Bert was having his a bit late. She’d kept herself looking good and cooked all his favourite dinners in an effort to ward off any extra-marital fascinations…but garden gnomes?
That evening, he took Hetty to stand with him in the front bay window. He wanted her to watch the reaction of the evening strollers who gazed in admiration at the spectacle in the front garden of No.8 Railway Villas. The ‘oohs’ and “aahs’ floated across to them and Bert’s heart filled to overflowing as he squeezed Hetty’s hand.
That night he slept the sleep of a man fulfilled but contentment did not last. Despite the local appreciation of his skills, Bert was downcast. Hetty couldn’t understand it. As she made the bed, she thought about it. All his working life he had been happy. Now, when he should be relaxing, enjoying his well-earned retirement, he was discontented. She didn’t know what to make of it. She plumped his pillow extra hard as she straightened the bedspread.
A few days later, he said, “I’m just nipping down the road…won’t be long.” ‘It’s unlike him to go off, like that, without saying where he’s going,’ she thought. ‘I hope he’s not going to the pub. Oh! I hope he hasn’t taken to drink. Mrs Bolton’s husband did when he retired.’ But those fears were unfounded as, on his return, he was stone-cold sober and clutching another couple of gnomes. For a fleeting moment, she would have preferred the drink but she pushed the idea away. After a few more lone trips to buy more gnomes despite her pleas, she began to get really worried. The front garden was getting far too crowded and even Bert could see it was spoiling the effect.
That evening, after supper, he startled her with, “We’re going to have to move.”
“Move? I don’t want to move.”
“We need a bigger garden. This one’s cramping my style. I’ve got to expand Het…I’ve got to have more scope for my creative talents, don’t you see, Love?”
“Creative talents, my foot! All I see is that you have gone stark raving mad over garden gnomes. There’s so many now, that soon, we won’t be able to get to the front door. The milkman and the postman are already complaining. We’re not going to move and that’s that. If you want more space, put them in the back, there’s more room there.”
“But no-one will be able to see them.”
“And, another thing…” Hetty had built up steam. “If another gnome comes in that gate, I’m walking out.”
Neither of them slept well, that night. The icy cold of disagreement crept into their bed and wedged itself between them and at four o’clock, Hetty was wide awake.
Next morning, they were disturbed by a loud knocking. Opening the door, they were confronted by a policeman carrying the fisherman. Outside the front gate stood a police van, unloading its cargo of gnomes. The garden was bare.
“Is this your property, Sir?” the policeman enquired.
“Yes, it’s mine. What’s happened?”
“It was found, fishing in a kerbside drain, causing a hazard to passing vehicles.”
“What? Where are all the others? “They were found, lined up at a nearby bus stop, Sir. The driver of the early morning bus drew up and as they made no attempt to get on, he reported the incident to us. A youthful prank, might I suggest, Sir? Might I also suggest that you keep your gnomes under control or we may have to arrest you for wasting police time. Now, where do you want them?”
Hetty was adamant, “Around the back, they’ll be safer there…and thank you, Officer.”
The police van departed and Bert, head in hands, groaned, “They can’t stay there, Het, no one will be able to see them.”
“No one will be able to steal them, either,” his wife replied.
“But, Het, I want people to appreciate what I’ve accomplished there’s no point in doing it, otherwise.” She took pity on him.
“I know, Love, but think on it. There’ll be more room to landscape in the back…and maybe a little stream down the middle?…and just a few more gnomes? They won’t be so crowded and with your skill, you’ll make it beautiful.”
“But who will see it?”
Hetty put her hand on his arm, “The people on the train, of course. They’ll look forward to it. I shouldn’t wonder if it doesn’t become a tourist attraction.”
“Oh, Hetty, do you think so?”
“I’m sure of it.”
As she went back into the kitchen to put the kettle on, she grinned to herself and wondered what the neighbours would have thought if they had seen her, in her dressing gown, at four o’clock in the morning, going backwards and forwards to the bus stop.
© Marion Sharville


I feel it is behove of us
to learn to love the octopus.
To demonstrate its fishy charms
it loves to take you in its arms.

I’m sure no harm is meant, at all,
when groping with its tentacle.
This creature, as it drags you down,
has no idea that you will drown

and if you should, this octopus,
with slurp and suck, would then rescus-
itate your still and lifeless form.
Its kiss of life might make you squirm.

I’m sure t’would be a great surprise
for it to witness your demise.
I bet you, ten to fifty quid,
It’d be a most unhappy squid.

Its grip is such a tender trap,
for it’s a most endearing chap.
We shouldn’t really make a fuss
but learn to love the octopus.

© Marion Sharville

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