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Monday 10 October 2022

The Prisoner - A New No.2 - Chapter 11


Chapter 11

The Horticultural Fete

    “Good afternoon citizens, good afternoon. The recent spell of cool temperatures, cloud and rain is set to clear away as a belt of high pressure moves in bringing clear skies, sunshine and a warmer temperature. Ice cream will be on sale later in the day. Here is a special announcement for the gardeners amongst us. Your local Council is organizing a great new event, the Village horticultural fete which will be held three weeks today. Competitions will be held, and Prizes will be awarded for the best flower displays; the best rose, for the biggest vegetables, the funniest vegetables. Demonstrations of hedge trimming, and flower arranging, private gardens will be opened up to visitors. There will be a tea tent, side stalls, and our gardeners will be on hand to give expert advice on horticulture for all you growers, and the event is to be opened by Number Two himself. Be seeing you.”

    The pair of steel doors opened as the black globe chair rose up through the hole in the floor behind the curved desk. No.21 marched smartly down the ramp, steel doors closing behind him, he approached the desk.

    “Good morning Twenty-one, what of your investigations of yesterday?” No.2 asked.
    The steel doors opened again and the butler pushed a breakfast trolley down the ramp towards the desk.

    “I questioned Number One-one-eight and he said he didn’t do it. But I didn’t just take his word for it.”
    “I’m glad to hear it” No.2 said watching his manservant lay out his breakfast for him, consisting of a pot of tea with slices of lemon, two pieces of toast, marmalade, and a slice of quiche with a poached egg on top.
    The butler bowed and pushed his breakfast trolley across the floor up the ramp and through the opening steel doors.
    “I questioned a number of people who know Number One-one-eight.”
    “And” No.2 said pouring out, and adding a slice of lemon to his tea.

    “All of them were of the same opinion.”
    “Which is…”
    “They told me that if Number One-one-eight said he didn’t do it, then he didn’t do it!” 21 reported.
     No.2 put down his cup and saucer and picking up his knife and fork cut into the quiche and poached egg “Nicely done” he said.
    “French” No.21 remarked.


    “International” No.2 replied, realizing what he had just said “but do

go on with what you were saying.”
    “There’s really no evidence against Number One-one-eight and yet you know what gardeners are like.”
    “No, what are they like?”
    “There is always a great rivalry between them.”
    “I always thought the gardeners who tend the lawns, hedges, and flowerbeds are our own gardeners.”
    “They are sir, but certain citizens have been given permission to occupy themselves in things horticultural.”

    “But someone clearly broke into Eight-two’s greenhouse in order to steal his marrow!”
    “The marrow was Eighty-two’s pride and joy.
    “Perhaps it was rebellious youth” No.2 remarked.
    “Number One-one-eight is sixty-five if he’s a day.” 21 replied.
    “That makes it worse at his age, he should know better.”
    “I hope we all know better by the time we reach that age sir” 21 smiled.
    “What do you mean by that?”
    “A former prisoner promoted to Governor of the prison, I’d have expected you to attempt to bring the system down from within.” 
    “Perhaps I’m biding my time!” No.2 told him in hushed tones.
    “And yet I admire the way you have taken to the position sir.”
    “I’ll have you know that this is not the first time I have held it.”
    “Really sir?”
    “Yes sir.”
    “You may recall I was elected by the people as a new Number Two.”
    “Yes I do remember now, I voted for Number Two!”
    “I admire your loyalty, and now you are loyal to me.”
    “Loyal to the Village sir.”
    “Well quite. Now what about this horticultural fete, what do I know about flowers, cucumbers, tomatoes, vegetables and the like?”
    “All you have to do is turn up, say a few cheery words in your own….unique style, visit a few stalls and that’s it.” 21 explained.
    “I don’t have to do any judging do I?”
    “No sir, that’s down to the awards committee, all you have to do is hand out the prizes.”
    “Well done Number Two-four-one for a quite magnificent Betty Uprichard and I hand over a rosette I suppose.”
    “Yes sir, that’s the sort of thing.”
    “Right, apart from an act of horticultural theft, what else is on for today?”

    “A meeting of the local town council in the chamber in half an hour” 21 said.
    A sudden chill ran up and down No.2’s spine, usually he wasn’t prone to chills running up and down his spine.



    “You should attend the meeting sir, you are Chairman of the local 
town council.”

    “Yes, I suppose I am. What is likely to be on the agenda?”
    “Oh I’m merely administration, and not privy to the workings of the town council who are previous Number Two’s who have been co-opted onto it.”
    “What I remember of them is that they are brainwashed imbeciles!”
    “Of course, you went before the town council before. But now the tables have been turned…wouldn’t you say?”
    Having finished his breakfast No.2 rose out of his chair “I think I shall walk to the Town Hall” he said.
    “It’s perhaps more convenient by underground passage” No.21 replied.
    “But not as scenic” No.2 said.
    “Its unseemly for Number Two to go walking to the Town Hall, let me order you a taxi sir.”

    “I want to stretch my legs, and besides if I cannot enjoy the Village, who can? No.2 stated putting his scarf on and picking up his shooting stick “hold the fort Twenty-one I’ll be seeing you later on.”

    Leaving the Green Dome No.2 paused at the balustrade of the balcony and gazed out over the Village. There was an industry this morning as sweepers swept the cobbled square, as gardeners cleared planters and flower borders in readiness for fresh planting. But not only gardeners, citizens tended any piece of garden their cottages possessed. He descended the steps to the road and walked along to the steps leading down to a cobbled lane, descending those he walked on. Through turquoise wrought iron gates he stepped down three steps and crossed the road, he paused at the entrance to the imposing building that is the Town Hall.
   A gardener in dove grey overalls and cap was busy planting out new plants in two concrete planters.
    “Anything wrong sir?” the gardener asked.
    No.2 looked at the gardener “Nothing’s wrong, why should there be anything wrong.”
    The gardener shrugged his shoulders and returned to his work.
    No.2 still hesitated before mounting the three steps and walking through the archway and entering the Town Hall. He knew the way of course, not up the stairs, not straight on, but to the right through a pair of French doors, which he pulled open and stepping through the doorway stood at the top of a steep staircase leading down to the orange walled chamber floor. It had been a while, but it was just as he remembered it as a candidate in an election to elect a new No.2, and he had won by overwhelming majority. Slowly he descended the staircase. Below eleven members of the town council stood at their individual podiums, leaving one vacant place. No.2 crossed the chamber floor glancing at the blank and expressionless faces the persons wearing black Top Hats and either striped or plain coloured
jerseys. He looked at the witness box, or rostrum on the central disc, then at the small curiously ‘V’ shaped desk, and grey chair behind it, and he ignored them. Instead he walked between two councillors and mounted the steps up to the curious two grey toned chair, the back rest of which was pointed, as were the wings. And there was an electronic eye set into the backrest which intermittently blinked a blue light. It seemed to No.2 that the chair would have been better suited in a German 1920’s expressionist film.


    “So who sits in this chair, does Number 1 sit in on these council meeting on occasion. Well as he’s not here, I’ll sit in the Worshipful Masters chair” and he plonked himself down.
    The chamber fell into absolute silence.
    “I bring this meeting to order” No.2 said “what is the business of the day? I see there is a spare rostrum, are we to co-opt a new member to the council?”
    The councillors remained as silent as the brainwashed imbeciles they appeared to be.
    “Isn’t anyone of you going to speak?” It was then that No.2 began to study the faces of the members of the town council to his horror they were faces well known to him.
    A statesman whom he once stood against during an election, now reduced to a subdivision of that title.
    The former No.58 the housemaid, who spoke no English, but later spoke it fluently and with no accent.
    A former sadist!
    Another was wearing steel rimmed spectacles; there was a glass of milk on his podium.
    A retired No.2, brought back into service, and the blonde haired former No.2 whose fate was sealed at the failure of Plan Division Q.

    A stoutly built gentleman who once tried to steal the mind of the former No.6! Along with the Judge of Harmony who like No.2 cared only for the good of the Townspeople. But even in his current state of mind, this No.2 was no cardboard cut-out!
    The face of Napoleon Bonaparte, the mad scientist who played his role in one of No.6’s fairytales!
    They were accompanied by two former interim No.2’s, a tall man with a goatee beard, such was his moment or two of fame and failure. The other a woman “What did you say?” was all she had said, but both appearances as interims were enough to seal both their fates.
    Was he eventually to share their fate, to end up standing at that vacant lecturn?
    “Will no-one talk, is there not one of you who has something to say?” he waited for an answer, a glimmer of hope that not all of his old adversaries had been completely reduced to being nothing more than a tailor’s dummy.
   But the tailors dummies just stared unblinking, how sad.
   “I declare this meeting closed” No.2 announced and leaping out of 
the throne off office dashed down the steps, across the floor and back up the staircase into the foyer of the Town Hall. Once outside he stood in the sunshine and breathed in the good clean air of the Village.


    Returning to his inner sanctum of the Green Dome he saw No.21 sat in the black globe chair, he began to rise out of the chair as No.2 walked down the ramp, the pair of steel doors closing behind him.
    “Making yourself at home Twenty-one?”
    No.21 stood up “I didn’t mean…”
    “It’s alright” No.2 said waving a hand “going by what I’ve just experienced you’re welcome to it!”
    “Did the meeting go well sir?”
    “Are you trying to be funny?”
    “No sir.”
    “Do you know, no I expect you don’t know, but I met up with some old friends today” No.2 said “well met up is something of an exaggeration, I saw the remnants of some old friends, and if I’m not very careful I shall share the same fate, to be co-opted onto the local town council!”

    “Can I ask sir, which chair did you sit in?”
    “I don’t know how the town council is expected to get any work done!”
    “It doesn’t sir, do any work that is. You are the Chairman of the local town council, so it’s all up to you.”
    “Which chair did I sit in, what difference does that make?”
    “It might make a tremendous different. You didn’t by chance sit in the Worshipful Masters chair did you?” 21 asked nervously.
    “Yes I did, and not by chance!”
    “You deliberately sat in that chair?”
    “Yes, I did so in order to gain a reaction from those brainwashed imbeciles!”
    “Believe me sir, there will be a reaction!”

    And so the day of the horticultural show arrived, opened by No.2 himself whose speech was short and given from the balcony of the Gloriette.
    “It gives me great pleasure to open the Village horticultural fete. Please wander freely through the gardens, and visit the side stalls for an exhibition of flower arranging, where seeds and garden implements are for sale, and where you can receive advice about all things horticultural. Judging of the vegetable and flower growing competitions will be carried out by the awards committee in the show marquee on the Village green. And a prize giving will be held towards the end of the afternoon.”

    The few citizens who actually paused to listen to No.2’s speech were unenamoured by it.


    “What does he mean” No.68 said “we can wander the gardens any 
day of the week!”

    “Yes, yes, yes that’s true” No.90 agreed “but I’ll take the day with my enormous marrow.”

    “It’s a pity Number Eighty-two could not show his marrow!” someone remarked.
    “Yes” No.90 said “a great pity, there’s no-one here to give me a run for my money!”
    “It’s not marrows that count, it’s my massive leaks which are bound to take first prize” No.231 said proudly.
    “I’ve seen your leeks” No.34 said “they’re more like spring onions!”

    It’s fair to say that there was a healthy competition between growers. And the three members of the awards committee took their time in judging as standards were very high. Meanwhile outside the marquee citizens wandered the Village judging for themselves the gardens, the newly planted flower borders and planters, as well as the new rose garden. The whole Village was looking crisp and clean, perhaps too crisp, too clean!
    “I wonder” No.2 said as he and his assistant walked back towards the Green Dome.

    “What about sir?”
    “I wonder if the Village will ever lose that lived in look?”
    “Oh I shouldn’t think there’s much danger of that sir.”

     Citizens mingled about the Village in glorious sunshine, all discussing the gardens and privately voting for the best one, which turned out to the garden belonging to the Georgian house behind the turquoise gates. Whilst others sat on benches and in deckchairs as they gazed about the Village as though they had never seen it before, or seeing it in a new light, perhaps through rose tinted spectacles. The stalls were busy with a steady throng of people wanting to share their gardening problems with one of the gardeners.
    “What can I do about the mildew on one of my roses?” one asked.
    “When’s the best time to prune roses?” asked another.
    “Which plants are better suited to growing in the shade?
    “How do I split red hot pokers?”
    “Can you grow tomatoes and cucumbers together in the same greenhouse?”
    The tea tent had been set up on one of the lawns, organised by waiters and waitresses from the café all busy serving tea and cakes, Ice cream was also on sale from a kiosk.

    A photographer No.113b and reporter 113 were on hand for The Tally Ho to cover the horticultural fete for the broadsheet. They took photographs and interviewed entrants with their prize blooms and vegetables, as well as walking the gardens. “The Village In bloom” would be the headline of the next edition of The Tally Ho.

    Later that afternoon, No.2 was occupied with giving out awards. No.81 received first prize for the largest and best looking leeks in the group, while No.90’s marrow was disqualified as it was discovered that he had used an artificial growing agent to enhance the size of it. No.146 took second prize for her Dahlias, but it was No.38 who took first prize with her magnificent Delphiniums. For the funniest vegetable it was No.243’s turnip which had grown in the shape of a face, with two ears and a nose which took second price. But taking first prize in that category was No.50’s carrot which appeared to have grown two legs and a “Thingy!”


    It had been a glorious village day, and everyone returned to their dwellings having thoroughly enjoyed themselves. The only disappointment being is that it was all over, the day had passed by so quickly, and now the marquee, side stalls, and the tea tent were all dismantled and taken down, and tomorrow, well tomorrow would be another day in the Village!


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