SHORT STORY FOR THE WEEKEND: The Vegetable Growers of Ven Ottery by Lynne Stone
The Gardening Club - vegetable branch '“ met once a week in the village hall, come rain or shine.
As the day of the annual show approached, gardeners proudly showed photos of their still-growing entries.
Members marvelled at the magnitude of the marrows, went potty over the length of the parsnips and cooed over the colour of their carrots.
It was the same every year.
Competition was fierce and fights almost broke out over much-coveted rosettes and the cash prizes.
Preparations for the show were well under way but at the meeting a couple of days before, members were despondent – most of them had lost their prized entries.
Reports of missing mange tout, lost lettuces, and culled cauliflowers were rife.
Faces were long and there were shouts to cancel the show.
Bert, the chairman, tried to call order to the disarray and banged his fist on the table, startling the room into silence.
‘Now, speak one at a time so as I can hear what you have to say. It’s no good you all shouting at once’ he said.
One by one the vegetable growers of Venn Ottery told their sorry tales of vanishing vegetables.
Old Tom had tears in his eyes as he told how he had lovingly lifted his tatties and put them on the rack in his shed.
‘Them were the best tatties I’ve ever growed. Taken from me. Three months I looked after ’em and now - nuffin.’
Ollie said: ‘I lifted my onions at the weekend and they went overnight.
‘Got up in the morning and all I got left was me photograph.’
And so it went on.
They all had a similar story to tell.
It was clear that there were no prize-winning vegetables left in the village.
The show would have to be cancelled.
Bert stood up, pushed his flat cap back and scratched his bald head.
‘Oi think that on hearing all this we have a spy amongst us.’
A hush fell over the room and Ollie exclaimed: ‘Don’t be daft Bert, who would spy on us?’
‘Clearly someone is’ answered Bert. ‘Who’s missing tonight?’
‘Patrick’ the members replied in unison.
‘Why ain’t he here?’ asked Bert.
‘He’s at home protecting his prize parsnips. I heard he was sitting up all night watching them,’ called a voice from the back.
‘I suggest we stop talking about it and go out into the village and see what we can find out.
‘Someone must know where our vegetables are. Meet back tomorrow and let’s see what we can salvage from this catastrophe.’
With that, Bert stomped out of the hall leaving the vegetable growers of Venn Ottery sitting in silence, a rare occasion, and all eyeing each other with suspicion.
This gave them less than 24 hours to get to the bottom of this heinous crime, the village was almost in a state of mourning.
No one could remember a year without a vegetable show.
The fruit-growing branch of The Gardening Club were gloating that no one had touched their offerings.
Raspberries were ready, strawberries were safe under nets, melons were magnificent and they prepared to take over the empty tables.
The next morning the vegetable growers of Venn Ottery walked into the hall to find that instead of empty tables, the tables were groaning with their missing produce.
Bert stood in front of them and said: ‘I think you will find all your prize-winning veg here.
‘Colin, your cabbages might need covering.
‘Trevor, your turnips might need trimming.
‘Apart from that I think everything is in order.
‘Now, if you would be good enough to put your names against your own produce and photos alongside please.’
Bert made to leave when Ollie called out: ‘So come on, where were they? Who stole them?’
Bert remained quiet and they all waited for his response but he refused to answer.
At this point the door of the hall swung open and Annie Kent walked in holding her son’s hand.
‘I am sorry, it was my Tommy here, he was the thief, but he did it for a good reason.’
She paused and looking round at their incredulous faces she went on: ‘He thought he could enter the veg as his own, just like his dad did.
‘He didn’t mean any harm.
‘Times have been tough since his dad died and he thought he could win some money to go on a school trip.’
She paused again and wiped a tear from her eye.
‘He is the only child in the school not going.’
She turned to go and Tommy spoke loudly: ‘I am really sorry. I didn’t mean to upset anyone.’
With that they walked out, leaving the vegetable growers of Venn Ottery once again in silence.
Ollie broke the silence and said ‘Well, I don’t know about you but I am only interested in the rosette.
‘We should give our winnings to young Tommy.
‘His dad was a good member and a good mate. What do you think?’
Bert started to clap and everyone joined in.
It was agreed that whatever it took, Tommy would go on his school trip.
‘Now, let’s get ready. The judges will be here in an hour.
‘We have a show to get ready and money to win for young Tommy.’