My Life – Part 1 – “Cabbages, beans & genes…”

They say one desert, looks very much like another. But on this one, were several holes dug by British soldiers. The year was 1942, and for many, the last time they’d seen any real “conveniences”…was 1941! So, they dug holes and trenches, and more holes. In particular holes, ragged soldiers sat, awaiting the coming onslaught of the German army. But, behind the front lines, were smaller holes, and for the sake of geographical awareness…were each named “Libyan crap-hole”! Here, the more nervous soldiers, also sat awaiting the coming battles! So, thanks to nature’s gift of the “bowel movement”, we can assume this was Libya…!

And right there, in Libya, my great-uncle Sid, brother of my maternal grandmother, was getting patronised by a senior officer…

“That was a damned fool thing to do sergeant! Did you not think before you acted?”
“Yes sir, I did indeed. I thought about letting the Tiger tank come straight over and blow your balls off…but then considered that other lives may be at risk from the random shelling and machine-gun fire, particularly when given how long it would take anyone to actually find your balls. Now, if you don’t mind sir, I’m off to find myself a cigarette.”

Sergeant Sidney Wood paced away with an arrogance that would prove to be somewhat genetic, at least as far as I was concerned.  There are few men whose sub-ordination would have been tolerated, but it was due to one reason…he was always right. Heroic perhaps, brave, stubborn, stupid…? Maybe all…but always, always right.

During the battle, he’d run from his hole and up to the tank, that had threatened to over-run the positions that Sid and the boys had vigorously defended for days now. He clambered up, shouted something in German, and the hatch opened. Sid slipped in the grenade and lay across the hatch door. Nothing! He pulled the pin on another, opened the hatch, and shouted “Terribly sorry, think that was a dud. Wait, try this one…!” This time, as Sid lay over the hatch, there was a deafening boom, a surge of air, the hatch opened violently, and Sid flew straight off the tank and into the air, landing head first into the sand. As he picked himself up, he muttered, “Well, that’s not going to solve my vertigo!”

Around that time, my maternal grandfather was winding his way home from a factory in Coventry. Having had polio as a child, Ray Smith was not only unable to join the forces, but was also finding it typically difficult to ride his pushbike.  Polio had meant he had been having to wear special footwear, with one foot being particularly heavier than the other. This meant that riding his pushbike resulted in him almost going from point A to point B…in a series of curved lines, rather than straight ones! On this evening, the air-raid sirens had sounded just a few minutes before the shift was due to end. Unlike the other workers, who hastily made their way to the air-raid shelters and safety, my grandfather had decided he would use the time to get as far away from the factory as possible. Reaching the main road out of the city, Longford, he began the long arduous ride home to Nuneaton. Overhead, he could hear the planes, and hear the whistling of falling bombs, but undeterred, he pedaled harder as the bombs began to explode behind him. Feeling himself safe, he took a hand from the handlebar of his bike, and waved his fist vigorously at the planes overhead, shouting “Yeah, you bastards…you missed me!” The comic timing apparently could not have been better, as right at that moment, a bomb fell just behind him. The blast wave pushed him forwards, rolling him off the bike and down the road, the bike itself flying over his head and landing someway ahead.

Back in Nuneaton, my grandmother, on a night off from working in aeroplane fabrications, was in her garden with a neighbour, watching as the burning of Coventry lit up the distant night-sky. Commenting that she hoped her husband was safe, she heard the gate open. My grandfather limped through, throwing down the mangled bicycle, and cursing his way into the house, slammed the door behind him!

He was not a very humorous guy. In fact, he was not a very nice man at all. Though he adored animals, he hated most people, particularly “foreigners”. I’d visited him when I was very young, and found him having a meeting with his local executive membership…of the National Front…England’s answer to the KKK! My grandmother, out of old-fashioned loyalty to her husband of over 40 years, seemed to tolerate this behaviour, though not in any way approve. In fact, she had a friend called Ken, a Jamaican who lived close by. The ladies of the “close” would all call on Ken and he’d charm them with old stories, whilst plying them with very strong white rum! But, this was something she was always sure to hide from her husband! Ken had taken me as a kid to the Jamaican clubs, where he and his friends would teach me dominoes and cards…though not allow me any rum!

As for Sid, I last saw him in his nineties. He was funny, even at that age. Visiting him, he offered me a cup of coffee. Following him into the kitchen, where he repelled my efforts to help him, he turned to me and said “You know, I would have offered you tea, rather than coffee…but I don’t have any tea cups…!”

Sid was also a man of justice. He’d spent many years “righting wrongs”, as he saw them, which could often lead to him getting into all kinds of trouble. A few years before, he’d walked through his garden, proud of his vegetables. The cabbages were triumphant, the peas were regal…and the potatoes…masterful! But the runner beans were his pride and joy. They reached into the sky, the plants pulling at the long canes, the weight threatening to snap them. Of course, the residents of neighbouring gardens would often be seen, looking in envy at the produce.

One night, envy turned to greed, and a couple of local men decided to relieve Sid of some of his veggies…and so, climbed over the back gate. They collected peas, carrots…and beans. Yes…they touched the glorious beans! Sid, standing in the dark kitchen, smiled as he watched from the window. The pair had filled half a dozen carrier bags, and turned back toward the fence…

Sid touched the nail over the contacts on the device in his hands and the garden turned into a fireworks display! Sparks and cabbages flew into the air, raining down on the two men who dived headlong into the mud, their heads pushed into the mud by low-flying cabbages, and several dangerous cauliflowers! Sid walked out of the back door, shovel in hand and approached the men…who upon seeing him, hauled themselves up and over the fence in a manoeuvre that some Olympians would get gold medals for! Sid chuckled, collected the carrier bags up, and turned back towards the house. “Well, that saves me picking that bloody lot..!”

He was never bothered again, other than by the police…who were bewildered by many reports of flying vegetables!

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