This is an edited version of a story that I wrote for a Leeds Savages writers meet with the theme of 'winning', and the second story that I've based in the imaginary English village of Winfordshire.
It started with a marrow. With the girth of a tree and weight of a child, Teddy Ward’s pride and joy was certainly not the bog-standard squash you might pick up at your local greengrocer. This beast was far beyond the capacity of a shopping-basket, with two sweating flat-capped gentlemen and a large metal wheelbarrow employed in order to transport it to Winfordshire village green for judging. Young Eric Marmaduke had never seen such a thing before, but from the moment he first laid eyes on Teddy’s glorious green triumph he knew that he wanted in. Over the next few years he learned from the master everything there was to know about cultivating giant vegetables. When Teddy passed away everyone, Eric included, assumed that the lad would step into his shoes and win a clean sweep of rosettes at the next village fete. It was therefore a huge disappointment when he failed to cultivate anything greater than a distinctly average 18 incher the following summer, and saw the honour he had always dreamed of being his bestowed on smugly grinning Frank Porter.
As the years passed Eric became a husband and father but never faltered in his devotion to the giant veg cause. Mrs Marmaduke always said size isn’t everything, to which Eric would scoff “What? Of course bigger is better!” She would also tell the girls that winning isn’t important as it’s taking part that counts; this provoked indignant huffing from her husband who would respond that only losers could speak and believe such ridiculous sentiments. At the time Eric had accused Maureen of not taking his passion seriously, but looking back he realised she had only said these things in the hope that she could protect him from the disappointment that would inevitably hang over him like a dark, thunderous cloud for the months between judging and planting season. Now that she was gone, Eric decided to have one more stab at glory in her honour before hanging up his gardening gloves forever.
The spring weather had provided perfect growing conditions and Eric was optimistic that after fifty years of failure this would be the summer that he would steal the Vegetable crown from Frank’s bald head. He had always wondered what was the secret of Frank’s success but would never stoop as low as to actually ask his advice. There were countless rumours circulating including speculation that he watered his marrows with single malt whiskey and would play the mandolin to his tomatoes for hours on end. Eric had tested these methods, albeit on a slightly tighter budget with Best-Buy Brandy and a cassette recording of Cher, but to no avail. Eric’s vegetables were larger than most, but nothing compared to Frank’s progeny. With only a week to go before the Fete, Eric surveyed the allotment with tears in his eyes. Since Maureen had died he had kept himself going by imagining ascending the podium and dedicating a prize to his wife, but it was becoming clear that that was never going to happen - he would be lucky to scrape a bronze, let alone the coveted best in show. Frustrated, he kicked the marrows, tore down the creeping runner bean vines and threw handful after handful of tomatoes and strawberries at the greenhouse.
When Eric’s youngest daughter turned up at the allotment intending to catch the sun for a few hours along-side her Dad she was shocked to find him sat on the ground surrounded by a scene of vegetable carnage. Initially she thought that it must have been the work of vandals, but as she moved closer the stains all over his clothes and skin revealed the truth. Claire took his hand and gently helped him to his feet. “Let’s get you home. I think what you need is a nice cup of tea. Don’t worry, I’ll tidy up later.”
A week passed and Eric did not return to the allotment. As far as he was concerned, his life’s work was over - he’d had enough, and after years of labour his knees were knackered anyhow. It was time to put horticulture behind him and spend some quality time with his family. It was what Maureen would have wanted.
The day of the fete came around and Eric had no intention of leaving the house let alone going to watch Frank Porter gloat once again. It came as a surprise therefore when all three daughters turned up on his doorstep along with his four grandchildren demanding that he accompany them to the village green.
“Come on Dad, you’ll enjoy it;” Claire pleaded.
Reluctantly Eric pulled on socks and shoes. “Can’t we just go down by the river instead? You were never interested in the fete before, why the sudden change?”
“You’ll see;” Claire replied.
As the family strolled across the green a loudspeaker crackled to life.
“Great, sounds like we’re just in time for the judging;” his eldest, Susan, squealed enthusiastically.
“Brilliant” he mumbled in sullen reply as they took their place in front of the stage where the Mayor stood in full regalia.
“Today is a very special day for Winfordshire;” the Mayor began. “As you’ll know there is always a very high standard of entries here, but this is the first year that a villager has won seven gold medals in a single year, crushing the record of five previously held by Frank Porter. Mr Eric Marmaduke has for many years been growing fruit and vegetables, but little did we know just how wonderful they tasted. I am delighted to present Mr Marmaduke with the Best in Show award for his Marrow Cake – so moist, I’ll certainly be asking for the recipe! Mr Marmaduke has also won gold medals for his chutney, jam, carrot scones, tomato juice and berry pie, along with the photography prize for a most unusual image entitled Allotment Massacre at Sunset. Please put your hands together as Mr Marmaduke makes his way to the stage.”
Eric looked around at the smiling, appreciative faces of his family and felt on top of the world, ascending to an even higher state of nirvana when he saw Frank Porter’s ruddy face scowling at him.
“Go Grandad” urged his grandson. “Get your prize.”
As Eric ascended the steps he imagined this must have been how Bobby Moore felt when he lifted the World Cup back in 66. Having spent his entire adult life trying to grow obscenely large vegetables, it had never once crossed his mind to actually taste the things – he’d always been more a meat and potatoes man.
“Thanks, thanks;” he stuttered. “I’d like to dedicate my awards to the memory of my wife Maureen, the most wonderful woman in the world. And to three equally wonderful ladies, my beautiful daughters who I’m proud to have with me today.” He looked from one beaming smile to the next before winking at Claire.
“Thank you girls. I couldn’t have done this without you.”