Friday 22 March 2024

Gladys’s Neighbourhood Watch by Dawn Knox, sherry

‘Are you sure this is legal, Gladys?’

‘Legal? Don’t be ridiculous, Elsie. This is my garden. I’m allowed to stroll about in it if I like.’

‘But we’re not strolling, dear. We’re peeping through the fence.’

‘A mere technicality. It’s my garden. I can do what I like.’

‘But it’s spying.’

‘You call it what you like, Elsie. I prefer to call it “Neighbourhood Watch”.’

From the rear, the two elderly ladies looked like ill-matched bookends; both bent from the waist, each peering through a hole in the fence. Stocky Gladys, aware that bending over might raise the hem of her tweed skirt to unseemly heights, tugged at it periodically, although the only pair of eyes that might have observed her sensible underwear, belonged to Robert Louis Stevenson, the dog. And he wasn’t interested in grey knickers.

The sight of Elsie’s plump leg encased in soft, pink tracksuit trousers, however, was a different matter entirely. It was reminiscent of the dachshund who lived next door. Robert Louis Stevenson pounced.

‘Get off!’ Elsie shook her leg vigorously. ‘Gladys, get your crazed animal off.’ She whipped off her sunhat and swiped at the pulsating dog.

‘Shh! Someone’ll hear.’ Gladys hadn’t even turned around. She batted at the air; her arm extended behind her.

‘Gladys! Do something. Robert Louis Stevenson, get off!’ Elsie finally dislodged the mop-like dog, which rolled into the bushes. ‘Anyway, so what if someone hears? You said this was all right.’

‘Well, of course, it’s all right, it’s just that I wouldn’t want any of the neighbours to know we’re looking into Mr Johnson’s garden. Especially Minnie Pegwell from number 6. She’s such a gossipmonger.’

‘You still haven’t explained what we’re looking for, dear. Please tell me we’re not spying on Mr Johnson.’

‘Certainly not! Anyway, we’re “neighbourhood watching”, not spying, Elsie. And we’re not looking for Mr. Johnson. I happen to know he’s not at home at the moment. But there’s definitely someone in his garden.’

‘Perhaps it’s that grotesquely large cat of his, dear?’ Elsie crouched and placed her eye close to the hole she’d been peering through.

‘Horatio? Oh no. He tends not to stay in Mr Johnson’s garden when Robert Louis Stevenson’s about.’ Gladys pulled her skirt straight.

‘Perhaps Mr Johnson’s got a friend staying or a relative. He must get lonely living on his own,’ Elsie said.

‘He didn’t mention anyone to me.’

‘Why should he, dear?’

‘No reason…’

‘So, what makes you think there’s someone in the garden? Perhaps that ghastly boy, Cyril, from number 12, climbed over the fence to get a ball.’ Elsie peered over her shoulder, keeping an eye on Robert Louis Stevenson.

‘No, the person I glimpsed was tall with long hair.’

‘Cyril’s mother? She spoils that boy terribly. It would be just like her to climb over the fence to get his ball to save him the effort, dear.’

‘No, this was a man. A tall, dark stranger with long hair.’

‘Did you see him in a crystal ball, Gladys?’

‘Oh, very funny, I’m sure.’

Elsie stood up, put her hands on her hips and pushed Robert Louis Stevenson back into the undergrowth with her foot. ‘Bad dog!’ she said, wagging her finger.

‘Get down, Elsie, he’ll see you!’ Gladys hissed.

Elsie sighed and bending over again, she applied her eye to the hole. ‘But where is he, dear?’

‘It’s hard to see through the bushes, but I think he’s behind that tree trunk.’

There was silence for a few minutes, broken only by the rattle of beads in the next garden and rustling in the undergrowth in Gladys’s garden, as Robert Louis Stevenson got into position for another assault on the pink-clad leg.

‘Can you see anything?’ whispered Gladys.

‘Not really, the bush is in the way. No, wait! I can see a pair of feet. Perhaps Mr Johnson has a new gardener.’

‘I suppose it’s possible. He hates mowing the lawn.’

‘Well, if he is a gardener, Mr Johnson might want to think again. I don’t know much about health and safety, Gladys, but I do know it’s unwise to do the gardening barefoot. Are you sure Mr Johnson hasn’t returned home without you knowing?’

‘I suppose he could have nipped home briefly. Oh my, Elsie, just look at that! No, on second thoughts, don’t. Well, it’s not Mr. Johnson, that’s for sure. Look at those legs. There’s not a varicose vein in sight. Mr Johnson’s legs are almost purple. Oh, my word, he’s bending over. Avert your eyes, Elsie.’

‘How do you know Mr Johnson’s got varicose veins?’ Elsie stood up and looked at her friend with a puzzled frown.

‘Get down, Elsie, he’ll see you.’ Gladys’s ears turned pink.

Elsie peered over the top of the fence ‘Good grief! That man is only wearing beads! And they’re round his neck.’ She ducked down beside Gladys, her back to the fence, eyes wide in disbelief. ‘D’you think he’s one of those naturalists?’

‘Aren’t naturalists people who are interested in animals and plants? I think you mean nudalist.’

‘I mean one of those people who doesn’t wear clothes, dear.’

‘He’s got bangles on.’

‘They’re not going to keep a stiff breeze out, are they?’

‘Well, he might be wearing pants. I can’t see. Can you?’

‘No, but if he were to move out onto the lawn, we’d be able to see.’

‘Does he look like he’s the sort of man to wear Y-fronts?’ Gladys’s voice had risen slightly.

Elsie pressed her face closer to the hole. ‘What sort of men wear Y-fronts? Oh, my goodness, he’s moving onto the grass. Should we phone the police?’

Gladys gasped. ‘I think we’d best keep our eyes on him and see if he gets up to no good.’

‘Of course, he’s up to no good, Gladys! When was the last time you saw a naked nudalist dancing and wailing in a suburban garden? Even if it turns out he’s wearing pants?’

‘Yes, it does seem quite odd.’

Elsie moved further along the fence to another hole and put her eye to it. ‘Shall we knock at Mr Johnson’s door, he may be back now, Gladys?’

‘No, if he nips home, we won’t need to warn him something’s going on in the garden. He’ll only have to look out of the window. That chanting is awfully loud.’

‘Yes,’ agreed Elsie. ‘I suppose it’s not the sort of thing you can miss.’

‘And Mr Johnson has very good hearing.’

‘You seem to know a lot about Mr. Johnson, dear.’

Gladys blushed. ‘No, not really. I’ve just noticed he seems to be able to hear… things.’

‘How very unusual. Fancy being able to hear things.’

‘That was said in an unnecessarily sarcastic tone, Elsie. Have you been gossiping with Minnie Pegwell from number 6? I admit, Mr Johnson and I may have enjoyed the odd glass of sherry together. But that’s no reason for you to go jumping to conclusions.’

‘As if I would, dear. Still, you kept the sherry-drinking very quiet.’

‘It was nothing,’ said Gladys. ‘It was all Robert Louis Stevenson’s fault.’

‘Why doesn’t that surprise me, dear? So, what did he do?’

‘Well, he got into Mr. Johnson’s garden and tried to make friends with Horatio. Mr Johnson called round to complain. He said the cat had been traumatised and that I’d have to make sure Robert Louis Stevenson didn’t escape again. Of course, I asked him and Horatio in for tea and cake to make up for it. Then Robert Louis Stevenson came in through the dog flap. Horatio didn’t understand he was only trying to make friends. But for a dog, he’s such a determined little chap, isn’t he?’

‘Yes, isn’t he. I’m afraid to say, Gladys, Robert Louis Stevenson is completely unmanageable. He’s far too frisky for his own good. Perhaps you could get some pills for him from the vet to calm down his libretto. Anyway, you said you had tea and cake with Mr. Johnson. That’s not sherry.’

‘Oh well, we may have met up a few times after that for sherry. Only to discuss fences and how to keep Robert Louis Stevenson under control, you understand.’

There was a shriek from Mr Johnson’s garden.

‘Oh, my word, Elsie! He’s moved onto the lawn. And he is definitely not a man who wears pants.’

‘He’s got rather large…’


‘What? I was going to say he’s got rather large muscles.’

‘Oh, I see. Yes, you’re right. They’re positively bulging.’

‘I say, dear, I wonder if he’s one of those health and fitness gurus. Mr Johnson might have got himself a personal trainer.’

‘No, I don’t think so. Mr Johnson suffers from lumbago when he exerts himself, you won’t get him pumping iron.’

Elsie’s eyebrow arched. ‘Really? And how do you know that?’

‘Well, that’s what he told me, anyway.’

‘Over sherry?’

‘Sherry or cocktails, I can’t remember which. Anyway, does it matter?’ Gladys turned her head sideways and pressed her face closer to the hole in the fence, hiding her burning cheeks. ‘You know, I don’t think he can be a personal trainer. Just look at those dreadnoughts, they’d be sure to get caught up if he was lifting weights.’

‘Well, I expect he wears pants at the gym, dear.’

‘What are you talking about? His dreadnoughts are long, but I don’t think they’re long enough to tuck in his pants, Elsie.’

‘Oh, I see what you mean, dear. Dreadnoughts. Yes, you’re talking about those stringy lengths of hair. I thought you meant his…’

‘Good gracious, Elsie! I haven’t been looking at his… well, not much, anyway. Although looking through this hole, his manly ensemble sort of fills your vision, doesn’t it?’

‘Indeed, it does.’

The two women were silent for a few minutes.

‘He seems to be working himself up into quite a frenzy, doesn’t he, dear?’


‘You know, Gladys, I’ve had another thought. He’s got a white painted stripe on his forehead and he looks a bit dusty. Do you think he could be a decorator?’

‘Well, Mr Johnson’s bedroom is rather in need of a coat of paint. The skirtings are really quite discoloured, and the wallpaper is a disgrace.’

‘Gladys! How on earth do you know that?’

‘Oh, er, well, Mr. Johnson told me, of course. Anyway, you could be right. But that still doesn’t explain what he’s doing dancing “au naturel” in the garden. Why isn’t he upstairs painting?’

‘More to the point, dear, what’s he holding over his head?’

‘It looks like a football, Elsie.’

‘No, it’s not round enough for a ball. It looks like… Hmm, it’s no good. I’m going to have to stand up. I just can’t make it out through that hole.’

‘Be careful, Elsie.’

Elsie peered over the fence, gasped, clutched her throat and sank to her knees. ‘Gladys,’ she whispered hoarsely, ‘we need to telephone the police. That… that… person is holding a skull over his head!’

‘A skull? Should I tell Mr Johnson?’

‘Gladys, that skull could be Mr Johnson. But what d’you mean, should you tell him? You keep telling me Mr Johnson’s out.’

‘Well, he is, unless, of course, he’s nipped home.’

‘So you keep saying, dear, which makes me think that you think he’s somewhere quite close.’

Elsie followed Gladys’s gaze to her bedroom window.

‘Gladys Winterbottom! You hussy! No wonder that dog’s so rampant! What an example you set for him. And no wonder you took so long to open the door when I knocked this morning. You and Mr. Johnson? I just don’t believe it. And to think I told Minnie Pegwell from number 6 there was no way you’d ever…’ She swerved nimbly as Robert Louis Stevenson sailed through the air, missing her leg by nanometres, and crashed into the fence.

‘Oh no. You bad dog. You’ve broken the fence again,’ Gladys said, wagging her finger.

‘Don’t change the subject, Gladys!’

‘Quick! Grab Robert Louis Stevenson before he gets into Mr. Johnson’s garden. Poor Horatio won't’ stand a chance.’ Gladys dived for the dog, but he’d already slipped through the fence.

The ululation from Mr. Johnson’s garden stopped abruptly and was replaced by a surprised screech, followed by cries of indignation, canine grunting and rattling of beads.

Elsie and Gladys stooped to peer through their holes and were just in time to see the skull drop to the ground. Robert Louis Stevenson, having been thrown from the well-muscled leg, bounced twice and came to rest against the shed. The blow had obviously done nothing to reduce his ardour, and he gave chase to the dusty, beaded figure with swinging dreadlocks, who was scrambling over the fence towards number 6 – Minnie Pegwell’s house.

‘He looks like some sort of witch doctor,’ said Gladys. ‘Well, let’s see what Minnie Pegwell makes of him.’

Gladys placed her forefingers in her mouth and whistled shrilly for Robert Louis Stevenson.

‘You’ll be lucky,’ said Elsie. ‘That dog does exactly as he likes.’

A screech from next door cut through the air, silencing the birds.

‘It sounds like Horatio is out of luck,’ said Gladys, wincing. ‘I really must take Robert Louis Stevenson for obedience training.’

‘It may be a bit late for that,’ said Elsie, looking up into the tree where Horatio teetered on a high branch. ‘I hope Mr Johnson’s in a good mood.’

‘Well,’ said Gladys with a self-satisfied smile, ‘the last time I saw him, he was.’


About the author

 Dawn’s three previous books in the ‘Chronicles Chronicles’ series are ‘The Basilwade Chronicles’, ‘The Macaroon Chronicles’ and 'The Crispin Chronicles' published by Chapeltown Publishing. 'The Post Box Topper Chronicles' is coming soon. 
You can follow her here on
Amazon Author: 
Did you enjoy the story? Would you like to shout us a coffee? Half of what you pay goes to the writers and half towards supporting the project (web site maintenance, preparing the next Best of book etc.)

No comments:

Post a Comment