Advantages Better than an indoor bar
Disadvantages Tendency to be cold in winter
As a child it was a matter of curiosity to me that my elderly relative's green house was just that - "green". All the other greenhouses around had conventional glass, you could see inside, rows of little plants in pots, elderly gentlemen lovingly tending their seedlings. But not Great Uncle Bill's!Mysteriously he had painted all the glass green; roof, sides, door - the lot. If anyone asked, he told them that it was to protect the tender plants from the suns rays, as a small boy one did not really question this, but surely the same rays also beamed on Uncle Bill's neighbours greenhouses too?
Unfortunately Bill was a dipsomaniac, everybody knew about it, largely it went unspoken, but Great Aunt Gwen had a certain "station" in life and spent most of her time one way or another making excuses for his outrageous behaviour or alternatively just walking away from it. In many respects this was a pity because we did not get to hear about some of Bill's wilder antics until after his death - the greenhouse story being one of them.The breathalyser was in its infancy then, but poor Uncle Bill rapidly proved the ideal and most indignant guinea pig. He is the only person I ever knew who drove to a police station (to report a minor accident) and then spent the rest of the day in the cells to sober up, but that's a story for another day! Needless to say his driving licence "remained in custody" for a substantial period of time. However the car, now rarely used as Gwen had her own and did not like driving a "big" car, soon turned into a bottle bank, re-cycling only involved Soda Syphons in those days and Uncle Bill did not approve of watering the booze!
Drinking took place everywhere, but in the latter years mostly in the green house at the bottom of the garden. Gwen turned a blind eye, getting on with the coffee mornings, unhindered by her always embarrassing husband. Uncle Bill was well set up, he even had an outside toilet so did not need to enter the house between 9.00am and lunchtime. Officially at 6.00p.m the "sun came over the yard arm" for some unknown reason etiquette then dictated that it was socially correct to drink in-doors, more often than not Gwen would then start knocking it back too.In his younger days Bill had been a keen gardener - or so he would have had you believe. In actual fact it was merely a hang over from the Second World War when, like millions of his generation, he had had to "Dig for Victory". In those days, presumably, the alcohol intake was matched by food. As the years went by the meals became progressively more liquid, until eventually it was not a teasmade that provided the first drink of the morning but Johnny Walker.
Through the drink Bill collected an extraordinary bunch of friends, male and female. All had extraordinary eccentricities, as a boy of less than ten they seemed far more exciting than anything in an adventure book or on TV!On my very last visit to Uncle Bill and Auntie Gwen's place in the summer holidays, a strange thing caught my eye. Instead of being green, the greenhouse was now completely black, there were also several panels of glass missing from the roof. This went unmentioned, like lots of other strange things about this place, but Bill had taken to spending a very long time in his outside toilet - like most of the day!
Eventually the inevitable happened. His body reached, amazingly, its four score years and ten and then packed up very rapidly. Due to the huge alcohol content, and continued intake, I genuinely believe he went through the aggressive cancer and then the one and only heart attack without feeling a thing. From being an amazingly fit, if drunk, 73 year old, a few months after his 74th birthday he was gone.The funeral was extremely well attended. There were dozens of people standing outside the crematorium chapel, only the family and closest friends were inside to see the coffin wheeled into the flames. Years later the thought occurred to me that those outside the chapel were the sensible ones - in fear of being incinerated by the explosion when Uncle Bill reached the fiery furnace.
As always at such occasions, circumstances bring together many people who have never met before and who have many different recollections of the deceased. Notes are compared, food and drink consumed and then they all depart never to meet again. It was just such a chance conversation that enlightened me as to why the greenhouse was in its current state.At the age of sixteen, I was standing on the edge of a group - one of the coffee morning set - whom Auntie Gwen thought were ignorant of Bill's escapades - recalled the following story.
"It was a cold sunny morning, we arrived here as usual at 11.00 for coffee. Gwen was in full swing (she loved entertaining provided Uncle Bill was not under her feet), no sign of Bill of course, but we rarely saw him, only when he left the greenhouse for the short walk to the toilet. This day was a little different though. We were in the lounge, admiring the frost on the grass and trees, it was barely above freezing outside, Gwen was in the kitchen (which also had a view of the back garden). Suddenly there was a large Bang!""We watched in horror as the greenhouse exploded in flames, a couple of panes of glass shattered high into the air, there were empty plastic plant pots bouncing over the garden onto the patio. The strangest thing was the way Gwen reacted, she merely came into the lounge and started pouring cups of coffee as though nothing had happened. I guess we were just so shocked it took us a few moments to realise that Bill was INSIDE the greenhouse."
"By the time our brains had actually registered what had just happened, a blackened figure came striding through the greenhouse door. By this time the patio door was open and we rushed across the lawn. Bill, upright and proud, walked past us and uttered just one word - BUGGER!"Gwen was remarkably unperturbed; "oh darling are you alright?" was here only comment"
"Whilst not actually on fire, he was smouldering all over. His hair was badly singed, his clothes completely black and smoking. He defiantly refused to go to hospital or for Gwen to call in their own doctor."During the winter in the greenhouse it was too cold, even for Uncle Bill, to drink without any heating. He used a paraffin heater to keep the inside of the greenhouse warm. On this particular morning he had managed to drop his nearly full bottle of scotch on top of the heater, hence the rapid explosion!
Whilst at the time he may have appeared unaffected by this incident, to my certain knowledge poor old Uncle Bill never set foot in his greenhouse again.
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