Alan was, like me, a Bude resident and a huge Bob Dylan fan. He was also one of my earliest gardening clients and would soon become a good friend too, but sadly it wasn’t to last very long, as within two years of our initial meeting he would be dead from a heart attack.
Occasionally, if I drive down Killerton road, (mostly on my way somewhere else), with its beautiful red brick Edwardian three storey town houses, I catch sight of his house. The memories all come flashing back. How I wish he was still around. I could stop by for a coffee, or perhaps something a little stronger, and catch up on what he’s been up to, where he’s been, who he’s recently met, and listen to his latest music purchase. (He always had such diverse tastes). Perhaps, in some other alternate dimension, he really is still in there, maybe in the front room, and he’s probably still wearing that awful kimono that he had on at our first meeting! Sometimes I feel the urge to pull up outside his old escallonia hedge, (worse for wear these days without my care), and his little wrought iron black garden gate. I will slide my car door window down, recline my seat a little, put my head back, shut my eyes for a few minutes and listen…… really listen, and i’ll swear I can still hear Alan singing along with Bob…..
Alan was in his late sixties, perhaps even his early seventies when I first met him. His face and build were as you might imagine the classic ‘Coca Cola’ style Santa Claus. Although Alan was at least twenty five years my senior when our paths first crossed, we had immediately bonded. It was a bright, sunny early spring morning and I was a bit early for our initial ‘face to face’ meeting to discuss the gardening job, which we had set-up a few days earlier on the telephone. Having rung the doorbell I had politely stood back a little and waited. I was not really sure if he had heard the ‘ring’ and was contemplating ringing the door bell again. I could hear the unmistakable nasal sound of Bob Dylan blasting out of his opened front room bay window, and I do mean blasting. His speakers were obviously turned up to eleven. Bob was being accompanied by a much deeper, bassier voice. Was it Johnny Cash? Well no, it wasn’t. Was it Tom Waits? No. Was it Ramblin’ Jack? Err, no, it wasn’t him either. It was, of course, yes, you’ve guessed it, Alan! They were singing together and sounded (almost) as good as any other musical duo. Simon and Garfunkel, the Everly brothers, the Milk Carton Kids, Frank and Nancy Sinatra. O.K., so they weren’t really that good, but with a little practice, who knows? Bob of course had no knowledge of it, he was probably sitting in a log cabin in a forest somewhere at the time, perhaps he was reading very old newspapers from his local library to gen up on ideas for new songs. The brilliant line….. “She opened up a book of poems and handed it to me, it was written by an Italian poet from the 15th century”, floated out of the window. Genius. Shakespear? Who’s he? I already liked the guy! Anybody who likes ‘His Bobness’ is O.K. by me. Now, if it had been Whitney Houston’s “I will always love you” I might well have got back into my van and driven away fast. Very fast. My wheels spinning and tyres screeching along with Whitney.
I was later to realise that Alan had some serious hearing issues, but as with the chicken and the egg story, I don’t know which came first. Did Alan need to have the music very loud in order to hear it, because he was a bit deaf, or was it the constant loud music that had actually caused his deafness?
Just as I was about to push the little white button again the deeper, bass voice stopped singing, and a bloke that looked like an off-duty Santa Claus had opened the front door. He stood there, almost filling the door frame. He was a very big man! He took a long, hard, serious look at me, before, after about ten seconds, his expression had changed to a warm welcoming smile. I think he had decided that he liked me! There was already an unspoken bond. He was wearing a Japanese silk kimono, open at his ample waist, with his pallid, saggy stomach hanging over his baggy boxer pants. The boxers had clearly seen better days, (probably back in the late nineties judging by the state of them). They were emblazoned with two large caricature head portraits. On my left was Tony Blair and on the right was George Bush junior. (Junior? As if one George Bush wasn’t enough for the world.) They reminded me of the ‘Beavis and Butthead’ cartoon characters and looked as if they were deep in conversation. (Maybe they were dreaming up excuses to invade more oil rich, strategically located sovereign countries, who knows?) I had involuntarily giggled at this odd, unexpected sight. Alan, following that age old actor’s wisdom, ‘Unexpected laugh? Check your flies’, had looked down and quickly realised that the cause of my sudden mirth was the silly pants that he was wearing.
His smile was put on hold as he looked down intensely at the two cartoon heads, as if he was only now seeing them for the very first time. “Oh, the boxers.” He said, now smiling again. “That’s nothing, you wait until you see my backside!” I quickly protested that I really had no desire to see his backside, that it was far too early in our ‘relationship’, and told him that it was not that long since I had digested my Cornflakes. But Alan was far too quick for me and had already done a ‘twirl’ that would have put Anthea Redfern to shame. He now had his back to me, facing away from me towards his stairs. He bent forward theatrically and with a flourish he raised the kimono up and over the rear of his boxers. Now you are going to have to take my word on this, but it really was not a pretty sight. At that precise moment Dave the postman had sauntered by behind me on his Killerton road round. He was an old pal of Alans and was used to his odd ways. He stopped for a moment, wolf-whistled and said, “You’re not still showing those bloody pants off are you Alan?” Before walking briskly off, giggling like a five year old.
Emblazoned on the rear of Alan’s boxers was the slogan. ‘A right pair of assholes!’ He stood back up and turned back towards me laughing, shaking the Kimono so it fell back down his legs, and he tied up the waist-band. “Hi!” He said, (we shook hands), “You must be Mark? I’m Alan. My missus bought these boxers at the quayside in Bristol, what do you think of them?”
”I love them Alan, and I have to say that I totally agree with your backside”. Alan laughed. “Just the one question Mark”. He looked me deep in the eyes. “Do you like Dylan?”
“What’s not to like?” I responded quickly with a grin.
“Well then my new friend in that case I think that we are going to get on just fine. The job’s yours! (There were no questions about my gardening qualifications or ability to do the job.) Well don’t just stand there grinning like a village idiot, come on in, shut that door behind you and follow me. There are some nice new foreign bottled beers in the fridge, ‘three for a fiver’ from Sainsburys, have you bought any yet? We’ll grab one each on the way through to the back garden”. I walked through his very long ground floor, (these Killerton road houses were like Dr Who’s Tardis, far bigger than they appeared from the outside). I followed his swishing kimono, carefully side-stepping piles of old newspapers and other old clutter as I did so, (Alan was a compulsive hoarder). Soon we dropped down a couple of concrete steps and arrived in his long galley-style kitchen. He stopped for a moment by the back door and opened up the huge American style fridge door. He handed me a cold bottle covered with condensation, took one for himself, grabbed a bottle opener, and then led me out into the rear patio area. It was a beautiful, traditional, very long cottage-style garden. We both sat down at an ornate wrought iron and wood patio table in the sunshine. Alan took the lid off of our bottles, and then raised his bottle above his head. It glinted in the morning sunshine. “Up yer kilt!” Alan toasted.
“Don’t you mean up yer Kimono?” I replied. Working for Alan was going to be a lot of fun. Up until meeting him that morning even getting a coffee and a biscuit on a gardening job had been a bit of a rarity, but now here I was not only getting free beers, but also getting great music thrown in too, and…… being paid for it! Life was good. Real good……….
This was written in memory of my old mate Alan, see you again sometime….. if I make the grade!
Written by Mark Anthony Wyatt, of Bude
February, 2015. (Edited Dec 2015)
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A BIG “Thank-you” to ALL of my other friends who have supported my writing…but especially to the late Maurice Willmott, (R.I.P. Maurice, we all miss you), and my lovely friend Chrissie Sullivan, another gardening client who also became such a good friend. She used to tell me to “write it all down, people will love your stories like I do!”
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