Humour - Runner Up

Pippa Dore

Runner Up
Green Fingers


Pippa is a full-time carer for her son, having moved to the West of Ireland in 2021 where she has a small flock of sheep, a polytunnel of unruly plants and a roomful of homemade wines that she foists on visitors! She also makes leather craft pieces which she sells in a couple of local craft shops. She hadn’t written anything for years when she entered the competition, so it was a lovely surprise to come second.

Green Fingers By Pippa Dore

My sister rings me exactly two seconds after I’ve filled my mouth with an unladylike quantity of salted peanuts, so I stand, frantically chewing and gulping like a lizard, while the latest ringtone that my dear children have set my phone to blares across the kitchen.  By the time I’m free from choking hazards, the phone has stopped ringing.  Typical.  I know that I should return the call, but my sister only rings me to gloat or mock and I suspect this call will have something to do with the post I put on social media last night, when I’d drunk too much of Archie’s homemade wine.  For the record, I don’t drink his wine because it’s nice.  It’s foul!  I drink it as an act of charity to future guests who will have it foisted on them if I don’t destroy it first!  
Where was I?  Oh yes, social media.  I feel the creep of embarrassment crawling up my spine as I recollect the smugness of my wine infused nonsense.  “Going to be 100% self-sufficient in tomatoes this year.  #implantittype  #greenshitthespot”.  Alice from the pharmacy showed me how to add hashtags, apparently you don’t put any spaces in between the words.  I can’t help feeling that some hashtags need them.  Anyway ….
The idea to live my greenest life came to me at a dinner party early this year.  Unfortunately, I was seated apart from Archie, which meant that I could see him making a prat of himself but could do nothing to prevent it.  No sharp forks under the table sadly.  Beside me was a U-tuber.  I think that’s how you spell it, or was she influenced?  Oh, I can’t remember, but she certainly was an expert on growing her own food.  When I say food, I mean vegetables. Archie wouldn’t class that as food, not unless it was walled in with bacon and ketchup with a sausage on top.  She was very knowledgeable and inspiring and the diners at our end of the table (the sensible end) quizzed her all evening on every kind of gardening quandary and she had an answer for all of them.  I was so engrossed that I didn’t even worry about what Archie was doing at the other side of the room.  Not until someone asked if tomato plants needed support and my expert friend boomed, “Oh everything needs a bit of encouragement to grow up!” did I spot him balancing drink coasters on his nose, which is not as easy as you think and requires a certain shaped nose.  The children should thank me for my dominant genes.
On the way home, I told Archie about my intention to grow tomatoes, excited to hear the plans forming into words and filling the taxicab.  I actually sounded like I knew what I was talking about!  “We’ll be completely self-sufficient….. It’ll save us a fortune in tomatoes…….. Organic of course ….. Tomato chutney, tomato ketchup and bottled tomatoes….. Tomato sauces for Winter stews ……. Tomato salads!”  Archie, more than a little sloshed on proper wine, snuggled up beside me and nuzzled my neck, “Tomato wine ..” he whispered before falling asleep.  For the record, there will definitely be no tomatoes left for tomato wine!  I will make sure of that.
The polytunnel needs a bloomin good clean to start with, as it’s been used as a dumping ground for all Archie’s discarded hobbies - the ones he tried doing before settling on producing his botanical petrol.  There is an enormous bundle of willow from when he fancied becoming a basket maker, a heap of wood off cuts from his failed career as a spoon whittler and lo and behold, the smoker, fancy suit and wax frames from his short-lived (very short-lived) foray into beekeeping via the A&E department.  I shouldn’t snigger, at least there’s always something to buy him for birthdays and Christmas presents, even if these days it’s just corks.  He gets so enthusiastic about everything he sets his heart on, it’s a shame that it all ends up here eventually.  Compared with Archie’s hobbies, my tomato growing ambitions are actually very cheap, just compost and seeds and a few seed trays.  I’ve also bought garden canes and twine for when the plants need support, plus a shiny, new watering can, garden trug (for transporting the tomatoes back to the kitchen in a social media photo-friendly way), a subscription to a couple of gardening magazines and some diamond edged secateurs.  I’m all set!
Imagine my excitement when, exactly two weeks after planting the seeds, a little, green shoot appears!  After another week, it has doubled in size and is responding gratefully to all the love and conversation and tomato food that I’m lavishing it with.  Unfortunately, it is the only seed to have germinated which does come as a disappointment I’ll be honest.  But after tweaking my self-sufficiency plans a little, I decide, like any good parent, to pour all the love that was destined for forty-eight children, into one, precious child.  After all, I can still be 100% self sufficient in tomatoes if I don’t intend to eat that many tomatoes!  It’s all about perspective.
The garden centre gave me a special, shiny loyalty card for being such a valued customer and I’ve made sure that I’ve flexed my plastic in all the important places.  Like the PTA meeting recently when my card tumbled accidentally out of my purse and landed right-side up in front of Heather Gotobed, the secretary of the local gardening club.  She’s been bragging about how many toilet-roll tubes she’s donated to the kiddies in the Montessori pre-school since Christmas.  Apparently, they use them for crafts on a Thursday or something.  You should have seen the look on her face when I told her that she should have planted her runner beans in them instead as the cardboard tubes allow for a much longer and healthier root system than regular pots. Talk about a face like a slapped backside!  I find these little nuggets of gardening wisdom all over the place.  Apparently, you can attract slugs away from your precious plants by luring them into jam jars filled with beer where they drown.  I don’t have any beer in the house, just bottles of Archie’s dreadful wine, so last week, I tried using that instead.  Not surprisingly, even slugs have standards and the wine is about as welcome in the polytunnel as it is in my glass!  
Today is the day when I tie the tomato plant to the bamboo cane.  The remaining ninety-nine bamboo canes that I bought off eBay (it’s cheaper if you buy in bulk) will come in handy for something, I’m sure.  I’ve got my brand-new gardening gloves which came free with my subscription to the gardening magazine, along with twine, plant labels and a poster of Monty Don!  I’m picking my delicate tomato plant up between finger and thumb, taking care not to hold the stem as this is basically like picking someone up by their neck as opposed to their arms.  I like that analogy.  In fact, pretty much all gardening rules can very well be applied to humans as well.  Warmth, support, a comfortable and sunny location, plenty to drink, no disturbances – I can relate to all of that!  I am at one with my little tomato plant, we both have the same, simple needs in life.  
Suddenly, I am interrupted from my meditative musings by Archie, crashing open the polytunnel door, letting dangerous draughts in and full of curiosity over what I’m doing in here.  I show off my little, potted star pupil, standing back like a proud parent letting the world see its newborn baby.  Who says I can’t grow tomatoes!  
There is a pause while Archie surveys the plant and then stoops a bit lower.  At first, I think he’s having an asthma attack, but I quickly realise that he’s laughing!  Laughing!  He straightens up and lets out a roar of mirth, he slaps his knee!  He looks as if he’s about to wet himself when I enquire as to what is so funny through gritted teeth!  “It’s a nettle!” He cries, before being consumed by another wave of helpless cackling.  He points at my little tomato plant and gasps, “It’s a common old nettle!  And you’ve been feeding it and………. Oh, this is too funny!”  
Tell me, does Alan Titchmarsh have to put up with this kind of rubbish?  “It is NOT a nettle,” I reply with patience that’s fast expiring, “it’s a tomato plant!  It says so on the seed packet!” But this only serves to refresh his amusement further until he’s doubled over.  There’s nothing for it, the man clearly needs to look closer, so I oblige by picking up the plant and pushing it into his face!
It turns out that my tomato plant is, in fact a nettle.  A very healthy and vigorous one, Archie’s vintners’ nose is testament to that and the swelling will go down in a day or so apparently.  So ……. you may be forgiven for thinking that this is the end of my adventures in gardening.  But when the bug bites, it bites hard and after a bit of online research, I have discovered that nettles are much maligned and are very valuable for making nettle tea! Nettles flush out all sorts of toxins it seems (they’ve certainly put Archie off invading my polytunnel again!) and can be good for sore muscles and pain!  And as luck would have it, I seem to be blessed with a talent for cultivating them.  The world and his mother are growing tomatoes and tomatoes just squirt permanent stains all over your shorts.  No, nettle tea is the way to go and I really am going to be self-sufficient in it!  If you need me, I’ll be in the polytunnel.


Judges Comments

All the humour in Pippa Dore's 'Green Fingers', the runner up in WM's Humour Short Story Competition, comes from the voice of its first-person narrator. In Pippa's hands, her voice is at once witty, self-deprecating, optimistic, observational – Pippa definitely has a way with words and the ability to weave a captivating tale from the seeds of a comic premise.

The tale is one of the triumph of hope over experience in the growing of tomato plants, but from this basic premise Pippa has created a wonderfully funny story where the narrator refuses, in the face of all the evidence to the contrary, to admit defeat. There are so many recognisable foibles in this piece, too, that will strike a chord with readers: the detritus of the failed hobbies; the crazy spending of cash on something that's supposed to save money; the wild enthusiasm about a new project; the way husband Archie sees though the narrator's delusions. There's slapstick, with the nettle, as well - in fact, the whole tone of the piece leads the reader to understand that they're in safe hands and that they can read through 'Green Fingers' in total confidence that it's going to tickle their funny bone.