Things Return to Normal(ish)

It was early September, and it seemed everything was finally going back to normal after the Covid-19 lockdown. Will and Eleanor were back at Warwick Prep (much to their parents relief), Dave was back in London working for Banana when he wasn’t in Pret, Simon was back preaching in St Gerald the Damned to a slightly smaller congregation than normal, the Hangman’s Noose was back up and running after a successful Eat Out to Help Out run, and visitors were once again returning to the famous Lower Strangling Botanic Garden.

Jo had been busy making the garden look somewhat acceptable during the first month back after putting herself on furlough, and now she felt everything was as it was before March. The borders were de-weeded, the plants were pruned, the hedges were trimmed, the ponds were removed of algae, and honey coloured paving were cleaned and removed of weeds, and the model of Cornish fishing village Portwenn was looking immaculate as always1, everything was ready for the visitors.

Of course, the Botanic Gardens had fewer visitors at the moment than it did before March, but Jo was glad to see some other people who weren’t residents from the village.

“This is all looking rather lovely”, an elderly woman said to Jo, who was busy weeding in a bed next to her, “it’s quite incredible how you manage to look after it all by yourself.”

“Well, I do have help from my girlfriend and the daughter of the owner of the pub when she’s up here from London,” Jo replied whilst flinging a Dandelion into a trug bucket.

“Oh how modern”, the old woman responded before hobbling down the stone path.

Jo didn’t know whether the woman was referring to the fact she got help from her friends and relatives rather than paying gardeners, the fact she was in a sexual relationship with a woman, or the fact that the botanic gardens was run entirely by women as being particularly modern, but she didn’t care, she had similar responses to the way she did things in the past so she was pretty used to it by now.

The one thing Jo noticed was the lack of overseas tourists enjoying their English fantasy. She sort of missed being complimented by Americans, Australians, and Japanese, but she thought it was nice talking to people from the local area who were just dropping by for a bit of fresh air.

That was, of course, until Edward Wilson from Marton came round for a visit. Edward was the Conservative MP for Kenilworth and Southam during the infamous Thatcher years, and was one of the last few remnants of that government still alive. He was a man in his early sixties, and always wore a sharp suit, long black coat, and black wide brimmed hat.

The residents of Lower Strangling knew Edward well, as Marton and Lower Strangling were two of the twenty five villages in the Knightlow Hundred which had to give wroth silver to the Duke of Glasgow every year in November. No one particularly liked Edward, least of all Jo, who represented everything that Edward stood against.

“You, girl”, Edward said whilst looking down on Jo whilst she was weeding, “you work here by yourself, do you?”

Jo sighed, then stood up to face Edward, “Most of the time, yes, but I get help from my friends when I need it.”

“I know who you need”, Edward sneered at Jo, “have you ever heard of the media gardener Laurence Brown?”

“Yes, and I don’t like him”, Jo responded to Edward, “he’s a racist, misogynist and homophobe, everything I stand against.”

“He’s also an expert on weed identification”, Edward sneered back.

“Why would that matter?”, Jo answered back.

“Oh, I would think you would know”, Edward replied, “just keep the name Laurence Brown in mind, it may come in handy. Goodbye.”

Edward then slowly walked down the path towards the rest of the Botanic Garden, Jo watched him fade from view, then continued to weed.

“He suggested that?”, Janet Foster said to Jo when the end of the working day had finally come and she was back in her house.

“Yes, he did,” Jo responded.

“Bastard”, Janet replied in her strong Yorkshire accent which made Jo laugh.

“Just ignore him. Edward’s a Dinosaur, a dying breed”, Janet replied before getting back to the crime novel she was reading.

“He’s also an expert on post-reformation English architecture”, Jo answered.

Janet looked at Jo confused, before they both broke into laughter.

“Shall we have a meal at the Hangman’s Noose”, Janet asked her girlfriend.

“Yes, I think we shall”, Jo replied.

And so Janet and Jo got out of their armchairs and got ready to go to the pub. Lower Strangling was back in action…. at least for now.

1The model was created in 1928 after Monty Swift, the garden designer responsible for the Botanic Gardens and the then inhabitant of number one Economy Drive, was commissioned by the then Vicar of St Gerald the Damned Hubert Norridge to celebrate the new fangled relationship between Portwenn and Lower Strangling after Mike Granger, the owner of the Hangman’s Noose, struck a friendship with Ian Small, the owner of the Crab and Lobster in the fishing village, whilst on holiday in Cornwall.

The only problem was that Monty himself had never ventured further than Leamington Spa, and so had no idea what Portwenn actually looked like, which meant that the only resemblance his model had with the actual village was that it was a series of houses, some boats, and a harbour next to a stretch of water.

After the village had been complete in 1930, the inhabitants of Portwenn visited Lower Strangling, where they would join the Lower Stranglians for a short ceremony around the model, followed by wine on the front lawn of no 1 Economy Drive and a meal at the Hangman’s Noose, which became an annual tradition which is still going strong despite a major pandemic. For seventy four years, no one from Port Wenn dared mention that the model looked nothing like their village, until one Dr Martin Ellingham became the GP in Port Wenn. “It looks nothing like Portwenn!”, Martin shouted at the first ceremony he attended, followed by exasperated sighs of the other villagers.

Since then, nothing has been done to the village to make it look authentic, much to Martin’s annoyance.

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