I wrote this some years ago, originally for a radio play competition run by Leeds Writers Circle. I have hesitated to put in on the site for a number of reasons, some of which are explained in Pangolin 6. The cliches, like the puns, are deliberate. This version has stage directions. If any dramatist out there is interested in getting the play up to standard, I’d be very interested to hear from you.
Jack Dawson’s Plot – An Allotment Drama
Cast in order of appearance:
Carol Parker Hon. Secretary Greenside Allotment and Gardens Association. (40+)
Bob Parker Carol’s husband (50+)
Frances Kay An allotment holder (40+)
Arthur Mansfield Chairman, Greenside Allotment and Gardens Association (60+)
Miss Diamond An allotment holder, (Late 50s)
Milena Jones Solicitor, 30s
OFFPLOT Inspector – a “walk on” part (can be either female or male)
ACT ONE – SCENE 1
The shed of the Greenside Allotment and Gardens Association, Leeds. A Saturday in late October 2007
There is a counter behind which Carol, who faces the audience, is busy checking lists and putting bulbs into packets. Behind her are some wooden shelves with various gardening-related objects on them. There is a small sink and an electric kettle next to it on a work surface.
To Carol’s right (stage right) is a short passageway leading away from the audience towards the back of the stage. There is a window on the right side of this small passageway, opposite the counter.
In front of the window, at the front of the stage, are two basic wooden chairs. There is a door, opening inwards, stage left.
Between the counter and the door is a cupboard with some notices pinned to it. The lighting is fairly dim and the sound of gentle rain on roof can be heard. A radio football commentary can also be heard faintly in the background.
Carol: Bob, are we right out of “Cheerfulness”?
Bob emerges down the passageway, transistor radio in hand
Bob: Yeah, we gave out the last “Cheerfulness” this morning
Carol: That’s a pity. Frances had ordered some and she could do with something to cheer her up. I wonder if she’d be happy with some “After All”?
Bob: But we haven’t got any!
Carol: No love, but there’s another variety called “After All” and I think we’ve got some of those left.
Bob: You’ll have to ask her, do they look the same in the brochure?
Carol: Well they’re both white daffodils, I don’t suppose she’ll mind, can you get a couple of bags from out the back? Ta, love.
Bob goes back down passageway, radio in hand. Frances enters through the door, shaking rain off her waterproof coat. She is wearing Wellington boots and carries a medium sized rucksack.
Carol: Miserable weather, Frances
Frances: Tell me about it. They say it’s going to clear up later. I could really do with sorting out my brassicae for the winter, but I don’t want to be out in this. Do you have my order for spring bulbs?
Carol: Just about. You’re one of the last. Unfortunately we’ve run out of “Cheerfulness”, would you be happy with some “After All” – here they are
She shows Frances the brochure
Frances: (wearily) I haven’t got my reading glasses but I’m sure they’ll be fine. What’s in a name anyway – as long as they’re white daffodils.
Bob returns with two brown paper bags of daffodil bulbs. Carol adds them to the contents of a larger brown paper bag and pushes them towards Frances.
Carol: There you are, that’s your bulb order, that’ll be £13.50
Frances rummages in her coat, finds her purse and pays. Carol takes the money and puts it in a tin behind the counter. Frances takes off her rucsac and puts the bag in it, starts to lift it and then leaves it on the floor
Frances: I can’t take much more of this.
Carol: Bob will drop them off later if you like.
Frances: No, I mean work, life, everything. We’ve got the JAR inspectors coming.
Carol: Eh? Come again, what sort of jars exactly?
Frances: The flippin’ JAR inspectors – Joint Agency Review – it’s like OFSTED for social workers.
Carol: Oh ….
Frances: It’s hard enough being a social worker without having to jump to attention for the JAR inspectors. I mean I’m all in favour of being responsible and accountable, there are children’s lives at stake, for heaven’s sake, but it’s all out of proportion. We’re producing so many extra bits of paper that we don’t have time to see the families. I never feel good at this time of year but this year has been the pits, a lousy summer and then Jack Dawson dies …
Carol: The allotments won’t be the same without Jack. He was such a gentleman, and his allotment was so, well, different.
Frances starts to cry quietly and rummages in her coat again, pulls out a paper tissue and dabs her eyes
Carol: (sympathetically) Have a seat love, I’ll brew up a cuppa. Carol switches on the kettle which comes to the boil quickly, she puts a teabag in each of two mugs.
Carol: (shouting) Bob do you want a cuppa?
Bob: from down the passageway Yeah, ta
Carol gets another mug and teabag ready
Carol: Switch that radio off will you, Frances and I can’t hear ourselves think
Bob: emerging with radio still on But Leeds are playing.
Carol: (sarcastically) Really?
Bob switches off the radio, he moves to make the tea. Carol joins Frances on the chairs, Frances still has her tissue in her hand.
Frances: From Jack’s point of view it was a good way to go. Sitting peacefully in his chair, in front of his shed, under the apple tree..
Carol: 92 he was. I only found out at the funeral. He never said much about himself. There’s not much I don’t know about our plot-holders but Jack was a bit of a mystery – even though he had been here longer than most.
Bob brings over the mugs of tea on a tray
Frances: Thanks Bob, just what I needed
Frances and Carol take their mugs of tea
Frances: Carol, it was only at the funeral that I realised that Jack had no family – I think we were his family. Since he retired he spent most of his time up here, he even brought his violin sometimes, and could he play! Who was the other old chap at the funeral?
Carol: Oh him, he was Jack’s solicitor, we had a little chat after the service
Frances: I knew I could rely on you to know about everyone. What about those two men at the back?
Carol: Them… I assumed they were from the undertakers.
Bob: They looked like Special Branch to me, I got the impression they just wanted to make sure he got cremated.
Carol: For heaven’s sake Bob, you’ve been reading too many thrillers
Bob: Maybe, but if those men were undertakers, I’m James Bond.
Carol: Well, I don’t know, you’re always jumping to conclusions. I don’t think that Jack was the sort of person to be mixed up in any funny business.
Bob: You’ve always said that I’m the eyes of the allotments and you’re the ears. We’ve not done very well if we know next to nothing about Jack – the tenant who’s been here the longest!
Carol: I think our Miss Diamond knows a thing or two about Jack that we don’t.
Bob: Yeah. She’s the other one who keeps herself to herself. If you ask me, I think she’s a few gooseberries short of a punnet. I’ve heard her in her shed talking to herself. She thinks she’s a brain surgeon…
Carol: Anyway, I suppose we’re going to have to decide who gets Jack’s plot. Usually there’s no problem when someone gives up a plot. They’ve often neglected it and the next person on the waiting list gets it and has the task of digging it over and getting it up to scratch. But Jack’s plot was special – is special. He kept it neat until the day he died. To be honest, there’s a few of us have our eyes on it.
Frances: Jack was using organic methods before the words had been invented. He never used weedkiller, he used natural pest control, he inter-cropped. Jack seemed to have an empathy with the land as well as a fantastic knowledge of horticulture. His plot should go to someone who is committed to organic gardening, someone who never uses slug pellets, someone who is more concerned with the balance of nature than the size of their marrows.
Carol: You may be right Frances. He certainly never used slug pellets. Some of the plants he grew I had never seen before – he could only tell me the Latin names, which were all Greek to me.
Frances: And he had so many herbs, not just the usual ones like fennel and coriander. He had remedies for everything, knowledge that you’d never find in a book ..
Carol: Or on the telly
Bob: He even got me drinking herbal tea!
Carol: Mmm, yes we both like that one of an evening don’t we Bob?
Bob: (blushing) Mmm, yes we did. I don’t suppose we’ll have that pleasure again.
Bob and Carol exchange glances, out of sight of Frances.
Frances: His mint tea did wonders for my headaches. What I liked about his plot was the way everything had its place but it wasn’t regimented, like those plots where everything looks like its been planted with a ruler, if not a spirit level. Jack’s plot was more like a tapestry, there was a pattern – but it was a natural pattern, it blended in .. it was just …well..right
Bob: It’ll certainly be a puzzle for whoever takes it on …
Frances: I would love to have Jack’s plot, I felt so at home there, he was like a father to me …
Carol: But to be fair, Frances, you don’t have time to keep up with your own plot as it is …
Frances: (angrily) I’ll have you know there is nothing wrong with my plot. Jack’s plot shouldn’t go to just anyone, there should be a ballot or something – I hope we’re not going to see another stitch-up by the committee
Carol: (defensively) What do you mean, “another stitch up” since when have we had any “stitch-ups” there’s no need to …
Bob glances out the window and interrupts Carol
Bob: Now then ladies, there’s no need to get aereated, I’m sure we can find a way to sort it out. Anyway, better stand to attention, here comes our Commander!
Carol: Bob! That’s no way to refer to Arthur!
Bob: You’d think that being the Chairman of the Greenside Allotments and Gardens Association was one step away from being an admiral of the fleet. By heck he’s moving fast, there could be an Exocet after him …
They turn towards the door, Arthur enters, in a smart but wet raincoat
Bob: “Trouble at t’mill”, Arthur?
Arthur leans against the counter, out of breath, and gets an envelope out of his pocket
Arthur: Blooming government!
Bob: Well we’d all agree with you there, the flower of our nation, I don’t think. What’s the problem, is that your call-up papers?
Arthur, still breathless, gets a sheet of paper out of the envelope and starts to read
Arthur: “Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) Office For Public Land Outsourced to Tenants (OFFPLOT)
To whom it may concern, Greenside Allotments and Gardens Association, Woodbine Terrace, Greenside, Leeds
As part of our drive to maximise the use of public land, modernise horticulture and minimise greenhouse gas emissions, DEFRA has set up the Office for Public Land Outsourced to Tenants – OFFPLOT. To ensure that public allotments are being put to good use we have started a programme of random inspections of urban allotment sites. This letter is to notify you that one of our inspectors will visit your allotments within the next two weeks for a spot check. The inspector will have an 83 point checklist against which he or she will score your allotments and any organisation which supervises them. A copy of the checklist is enclosed. OFFPLOT will then produce a report against which further progress will be monitored on a year on year basis as part of a programme of Continuous Quality Improvement. Signed …”
Arthur puts the paper down, Frances grabs it, searches for her reading glasses, holds it at a distance and squints at it.
Frances: (screams) I cannot stand it! They cannot do this! The allotments are the one place where I find sanity. It’s like something out of Kafka!
Bob: Didn’t he play for AC Milan?
Frances: (angrily) OFFPLOT! OFFPLOT! They have got to be joking! They have to have a daft acronym for everything! JAR, OFFWAT, OFFPLOT. The world’s gone mad! Perhaps we’ve gone mad!
Bob: Well, we’ve got the right initials Greenside Allotments and Gardens Association – GAAGA
Carol: Bob, please, spare us ..
Arthur: (reasserting himself) Ladies and gentleman, I think we are in danger of making a drama out of a crisis. We’ve always managed to keep the plots in generally good shape, I don’t know what standards we are going to be compared against but you’ve only got to look at the Brooklands allotments to realise that there are some people who are going to have much more of a problem with this than we are
Bob: I saw a rat the other day
Bob looks out of the window, as if to spot some more vermin
Carol: The Campbells think that old shed on their plot is made of asbestos …
Frances: I wonder how many cans of paraquat are lying at the back of people’s sheds?
Bob: Just wait till they start on the health and safety issues …
Frances: There’ll be a risk assessment for everything …
Carol: A first-aider on duty at all times …
Arthur: Enough! Carol, as secretary of GAA .. the Greenside Allotments and Gardens Association .. please read through those 83 points and let us know if there’s anything we should sort out first.
Frances hands the letter to Carol who scans it
Carol: mmm … they say that we have to add the name of the town to the title of the allotment association – “gargle”?
Bob: More like a gaggle if you ask me!
Bob glances out of the window
Bob: Eh up! There is a smart young woman coming up the track with a briefcase. This could be our inspector …
Bob looks again
Bob: Mmm. I wouldn’t mind being inspected by her …
Arthur and Carol make for the window, Frances takes the letter back from Carol and continues to squint at it, dabbing at her nose with the tissue.
Arthur: Don’t stare! Let’s tidy up the place!
Frances stays seated, the others frantically try and tidy things up. There is a knock at the door. Milena enters, smartly dressed, carrying a large briefcase and a black umbrella which she shakes out and places carefully behind the door, which she then closes.
Milena: Good afternoon everybody
Arthur: Good afternoon. I am delighted to welcome you to the Greenside Allotments and Gardens Association (Leeds). I am Arthur Mansfield, Chairman, this is Carol Parker, secretary, Bob, her husband, and Frances Kay, one of our plotholders.
Milena: Good afternoon, Mr Mansfield …
Arthur: Call me Arthur please
Milena: Arthur. My name is Milena Jones, I think ….
Arthur: Yes, we had a letter. Actually I only received it today. I’ve been away for a few days. But you’re most welcome, most welcome
Milena: Thank you Arthur, but I didn’t send a letter. I didn’t know the allotments had a postal address. I had arranged to meet Miss Diamond here, but I see she hasn’t arrived yet.
Arthur: So you’re not the OFFPLOT inspector then?
Milena: Pardon – the what?
Arthur: The OFFPLOT inspector
Milena: No, I’m from Braithwaite and Odsall, solicitors.
Arthur: Solicitors! You don’t have anything to do with asbestos do you?
Milena: No, I’m acting on behalf of Jack Dawson, deceased.
Carol: But you weren’t at the funeral
Milena: No. Mr Odsall senior was at the funeral. Sadly he also has passed away, suddenly. It has been a difficult time for the firm. Mr Odsall had been Jack Dawson’s solicitor for many years. He was really retired but had kept on one or two special clients, Jack Dawson was one of them. There was nothing much in Jack’s file, except for his will which Miss Diamond, his executor, and I are now dealing with. I am here this afternoon to fulfil one of the instructions in his will.
Carol: We were like a family to him, but I don’t suppose he would have …
Arthur: He always struck me as a kindly man …
Bob: I used to talk with him a lot …
Milena: I’m sure Miss Diamond would not mind me telling you, Jack’s good friends, that his will states that his estate – basically his flat and most of his personal effects – should be sold and the proceeds split 50/50 – between two good causes close to his heart.
Bob: Miss Diamond?
Milena: No Bob.
Frances: Not the children’s work that I used to talk to him about?
Milena: No Frances. As you know, he was a very talented musician, a violinist who in his time had played with some of the greats of the twentieth century. Well he has his estate, plus his violins, to a project founded by Daniel Barenboim to promote understanding between Arab and Jewish youth through playing music together.
Bob: (flirtatiously)I hope you don’t mind me asking, but Milena is an interesting, a very interesting name. Not a Welsh name, doesn’t quite go with the Jones.
Milena: No, quite so, it’s a Czech name, my mother came from Prague.
Bob: It’s a very attractive name if I may say so, does it have a meaning?
Milena: (drily) It may have, but I like to work on a “need to know” basis and, Mr. Parker, I don’t think you need to know.
Long pause, Bob looks sheepish.
Carol: Milena, you said “most” of his personal effects. Was there anything else?
Milena: I don’t know. Nothing else in the flat was specifically mentioned. When we went back to the flat a few days ago the whole place had been turned upside down. Luckily we had already taken the violins. The people in the flat below had been away for the weekend – their flat hadn’t been touched. They were very distressed when they saw what had happened to Jack’s. Of course we got the police in, but we couldn’t tell them if anything was missing – the flat was just ransacked.
Arthur Disgusting. There are so many burglaries these days.
Milena Old Mr Odsall did once say that Jack had let slip that he kept some things in his shed.
Carol: Ooh! How exciting!
Arthur: I don’t follow that. We’ve had our own problems with vandals from time to time – had to get the Council to put up a proper fence, and there are padlocks on the gates. I wouldn’t keep anything valuable in my shed.
The door bursts open and Miss Diamond rushes in, dressed in old gardening clothes, a sou-wester hat and an old waterproof cape
Miss D: (breathless) Sorry everyone. Didn’t mean to be late. Few problems to be sorted out, that kind of thing. Hello Miss Jones, sorry to keep you waiting, have you explained?
Milena: Good afternoon Miss Diamond. I was just starting to …
Miss D: (abruptly) Good. Thank you. Have you got them in your bag?
Milena Yes, they’re ..
Miss D Good, pity about the weather.
Miss Diamond lurches to the window, the others make way for her sudden move
Miss D No, I do believe it’s stopped raining ….
Brighter light comes through the window.
… and the sun’s coming out, just what Jack would have wanted sunshine after rain
Bob Sorry, am I missing something here?
Milena I have brought Jack’s ashes to scatter on his plot, it is one of the instructions in his will.
All (except Milena and Miss D) Aaah!
A mobile phone rings, everyone except Miss Diamond looks round, Miss Diamond rummages under her cape and makes for the door, her voice can be heard from the other side of the door. During this time there aremuffled, but animated conversations between the others.
Miss D Yes Jerry, Miss Diamond here, how can I help?
(long pauses interspersed with a few mmms from Miss Diamond, further pauses during rest of phone call)
Miss D: Isn’t Sanjay on call?… He’s in theatre….I see… What does the scan show? … I see. Jerry, thanks for calling me… Keep him under close observation and get Sanjay to look him over when he’s out of theatre.. no .. it’s no trouble .. no ..it’s fine .. it’s always good to ask if you’re not sure… bye.
Miss Diamond returns through the door, putting her phone away under her cape
Miss D: Sorry chaps. So, are we ready to go and return Jack to his plot?
Milena : I think so, but while you were talking to the hospital, we were talking about something else that Jack said, some time ago. He had said something to old Mr Odsall about keeping some things in his shed
Arthur Makes no sense to me – the allotments are not secure.
Bob But they don’t have an address. It seems he may have had good reasons to be worried about somebody finding something in his flat.
Carol Get real Bob! People are getting burgled all the time
Bob But Milena … Miss Jones … told us the “burglars” didn’t touch the flat downstairs, even though the owners were away, even though they probably had more stuff that was worth nicking.
Frances mmm …I once talked with Jack about how people like to write memoirs, I was hoping this might get him talking about his life… but he said something which was a bit odd and has stuck with me ever since because it was a bit stand-offish – not at all like Jack. He said “I find such things beneath me”!
Bob Where was he when he said it?
Frances In his rocking chair, in his shed, it was raining at the time.
Bob Come on, let’s go!
Arthur I think this is a waste of time. Some people are letting their imaginations get the better of them.
Bob We’ll soon find out!
They all leave the shed in a hurry – music ? a fast bit from William Tell Overture – Bob returns after a few seconds to collect a large screwdriver, a mole wrench and a torch from the shelves and exits again.
ACT ONE – SCENE 2
The interior of Jack’s shed. It is smaller than the previous shed. The passageway is no longer there as the wall stage right has moved left. The counter has transformed into a small table and there is a carved wooden rocking chair centre stage. The cupboard has gone. The door is closed. The interior of the shed is immaculately tidy, Some of the woodwork is carved in a middle European style. There is a cuckoo clock on the back wall. A bottle of “Becherovka” is on a high shelf, some papers and seed packets on a lower shelf. “William Tell” or similar music fades out. Voices can be heard from the other side of the locked door
Arthur Try not to damage it Bob
Sounds of straining, metal on metal etc
Bob (straining) It should just come if I can writhe off these
More sounds of effort
Bob (straining) That’s one of them
More sounds of effort
Bob and another … but this one seems rusted on, Miss Diamondand Miss Jones, do I have your permission to lever this up, it’ll damage the woodwork a bit.
Miss D In the circumstances I’m sure Jack wouldn’t mind.
Milena As long as you can secure it again afterwards, Mr Parker.
Bob No problem
More sounds of effort, followed by a splintering noise, and the door opens. They all crowd in
Arthur Well the chair’s in its usual place
Bob I’ll just shift it out of the way
Bob picks up the chair and manoeuvres his way past the others through the door, puts it outside and returns. They all look at the floor where the chair has been.
Bob “I find such things beneath me” – I thought there would be a trap-door or something.
Bob gets down on his hands and knees and runs his hands along the floor
Bob It’s just ordinary floorboards, I can’t see anything like a door or a hatch. It’s just a floor.
Milena Frances, did he say anything else?
Arthur has been standing at the back of the group, unimpressed by Bob’s enthusiastic approach to the floor, and is inspecting the cuckoo clock. He reaches out to check how it is attached to the wall and pushes it upwards. There is a sound of some sort of mechanism and a floorboard hinges upwards and hits Bob on the head
Bob Ouch, what happened?
Arthur It seems you’ve hit your head on the nail, Bob!
They all gaze into the gap in the floor left by the board
Frances Yes, that was it, I remember now, Jack said that he found such things beneath him – “as time moved on”!
Bob (rubbing his head with his hand)
Bob Thanks for that Frances!
Carol gets down on her knees and inspects the gap
Carol I hope there aren’t any more unexpected tricks in here, pass me the torch Bob
Bob passes her the torch, Carol scans the gap
Carol I don’t see anything obvious, there’s a couple of bricks
Arthur Milena and Miss Diamond, do you have any advice
Miss D No advice, but I do have some skills at operating through small holes. Do you mind ….?
Carol Be my guest!
Carol makes way for Miss D, who removes and rolls up her cape to provide something to kneel on, then positions herself carefully
Miss D Torch!
Bob hands her the torch, Miss D inspects the gap carefully
Miss D mmm
All others What?
Miss D mmm
All others WHAT?
Miss D Screwdriver
Bob hands her the screwdriver, Miss D pokes around for a short time. Her attention is directed to the area at the base of the floorboard that has hinged up, she feels with her hand as far as she can reach
Miss D mmm
All others WHAT!
Miss D Arthur?
Miss D withdraws her hand and looks up at him
Miss D Does that clock move any further?
Carol Ooh, how exciting!
Arthur tries moving the clock in all directions, finally moving it downwards, at which point the floorboard starts to move down again
All others Stop!
Miss D mmm. Frances, any further thoughts?
Frances What about the cuckoo? I just think that Jack liked to keep us guessing and if I were him ..
Arthur inspects the cuckoo and then tries moving it in various directions comes. Finally he pushes it inwards and there is a clunk from below the floorboards. Miss D reaches back into the hole at the end she had been investigating
Miss D mmm
Miss D reaches a long way back, gets hold of something and manipulates a metal cash box (or similar) into the gap, which she slowly extricates and puts on the table. She dusts off her hands
Miss D It’s a long time since I did obstetrics, but I think this is our baby!
Carol Pinch me someone!
Carol Ouch! You cheeky beggar!
Arthur Combination lock, we could probably force it
Frances Let’s try something simple like Jack’s year of birth – 1923
Arthur tries the combination – nothing happens
Arthur Good try, but no. Bob do you think you could prize this open?
Bob It would be a shame to damage such a fine box, I’ve got a hacksaw back at the big shed, I’ll go and get it and saw through the shank of the lock.
Carol This is so exciting, I can’t wait
Bob exits but comes straight back.
Bob (in a loud whisper) I think we’ve got visitors! There’s a couple of blokes hanging around the big shed. They look like the two from the funeral!
Arthur (with quiet authority) Good heavens! Quick put everything back where it came from and close up the floor if you can. Milena, if they come up here, you’re the OFFPLOT inspector. If they’re who Bob thinks they are it’s best if you don’t know anything about Jack. Bob we need to look calm and relaxed.
Arthur looks at his watch
Arthur All being well we’ll reconvene here at 1600 hours.
Carol Yes boss! Don’t do anything stupid you two!
Miss D Once we’ve finished here, I will do a tour of the plots with Miss Jones our new “inspector” and we’ll keep an eye on you two and your “guests”. I think it may help if they know there are more people around. If necessary I can call the police on my mobile.
Bob and Arthur exit Milena, Miss D, Frances and Carol busy themselves returning the box under the floor, the floor into its previous state, the chair is retrieved from outside and placed in its original position, facing the window. Milena and Miss D exit together and close the door. Carol goes to look out of the window, Frances settles herself into the rocking chair.
Carol: Bob and Arthur are almost at the shed,
I can see them greeting the two visitors. Sugar, they’re out of view now.I hope they’ll be alright
Frances I’m sure they will be, Carol, they know how to look after themselves.
Carol I hope you’re right. I’m sure Arthur won’t do anything foolish. Bob only jokes about Arthur’s naval background because he’s jealous. He always wanted to join the army but they refused him because of his asthma. He’s just the sort to be a “have-a-go” hero and end up in hospital … or worse.
Frances You’re very fond of each other aren’t you
Carol Yes, despite everything!
Frances Carol, I’m really sorry for what I said earlier. You do a good job on the committee and you’re quite right, I do struggle to keep my own plot going.
Carol moves away from the window and puts her arm round Frances, who is crying again
Frances It’s five years this month since Graham died and it doesn’t get any better. I need to work so I can get a decent pension – I still enjoy working with the families – but the wretched paperwork drives me mad. I’d like to spend more time on my allotment but I’m usually exhausted.
Carol rocks the chair for Frances
Carol You’re a good woman Frances … a good woman
Long pause whilst Frances dries her eyes, rocking gently in the chair
Carol What does it feel like, sitting in Jack’s chair
Frances Very peaceful, it’s as if he was here with us in spirit
Carol: Mmm … should we look round the shed whilst we’re waiting?
Frances: Go ahead, I’m sure Jack won’t mind, I’ll just rest here if that’s OK
Carol looks along the shelves and picks up some seed packets and studies them.
Carol: Bob’s right, we hardly know anything about Jack. What Milena had to tell us just adds to the mystery. We already knew he could play the violin, and all this stuff about the burglary is something and nothing. Chances are that the two blokes out there are nothing to do with it – ooh, perhaps they’re the real OFFPLOT inspectors!
Frances You may be right, it’ll be funny if Milena follows Arthur’s instructions and pretends to be one too! I wonder why Jack kept the shed like this – you know carved wood, cuckoo clock, it looks like a miniature alpine chalet – more of a Heidi house than a Wendy house (except we cannot call them “Wendy houses” any more). I wonder if he went on holiday to Austria or somewhere and wanted the shed to remind him of happier times.
Carol: But it’s not as if he was unhappy. He could have been a lonely old man but he always seemed content. He was what I call “deep”
Frances I know what you mean. Deep and wise and generous. He went out of his way to help people. Not so much Father Christmas as Good King Wenceslas
Carol: Which reminds me
Carol, seed packets still in hand, has a brief look out of the window
Carol No, nothing happening – or at least I cannot see them. When I was a girl I thought that carol was about King Wence’s daughter – you know Good King Wence’s lass looked out!
Frances smiles and gets out of the chair
Frances So let’s see what we can find out about Jack before the others get back, maybe his spirit will guide us!
Carol Most of these seed packets are handwritten – I think its Latin – I. don’t think they’re going to help us much.
Carol gives the seed packets to Frances who squints at them, shrugs her shoulders, gets out of the chair and puts them back on the shelf. She picks up the bottle of spirits
Frances Mmm, Becherovka, that takes me back
Carol Where to?
Frances Prague. Graham and I went there to see in the millennium, for a winter break. It was lovely. It was just after they had started doing cheap flights but before most people realised what a great place Prague is. I can’t say I was that keen on the Becherovka, but it certainly warmed us up! It’s a sort of spirits with lots of herbs, it’s got quite a kick. Does that help us Miss Marple?
Carol Not really. An old man likes to relax with a drop of Czech spirits. He has some precious violins which may or may not be the targetof a burglary by persons unknown, who may or may not be the same persons currently being escorted off the Greenside allotments by my husband. Oh yes (looking at the floor) he has a secret box hidden in his allotment shed which he wanted us to find.
Frances picks up a paper from the shelf and opens it out
Frances Here’s a plan of Jack’s plot, dated this year, 2007. It’s very neatly drawn and written – perfect handwriting – with everything labelled. He was always very neat and tidy, everything had its place.(wistfully) This’ll be very useful for whoever takes over his plot.(goes back to the shelf) … and here’s another one, dated 2006
Frances shows them to Carol
Carol Such neat writing .. such a precise drawing … they should go in a frame! (she ponders them for a while and sighs) Tell me more about Prague, I’ve always wanted to go, but I’ll have a hard time persuading Bob, unless there’s some sporting event involved.
Frances Well there is an army museum, and a castle, and lots ofinteresting beers, which might be enough to tempt Bob
Carol I doubt it … what did you like best?
Frances Well … apart from being with Graham on holiday, which wasdefinitely the best bit (sighs) .. I think it was finding out a bit more about Kafka.
Carol: Who was he then?
Frances: Franz Kafka was a writer. He wrote some really odd stories.He was very good at expressing the feeling of not quite belonging in the world, of things being beyond our control, his name has come to be associated with powerlessness in the face of ridiculous bureaucracy, a bit like my life in fact. Like most good writers, Kafka had a short and troubled life and died of TB.
Carol: like the Brontes
Frances: Yes, like the Brontes.
Carol: Those girls had such a tough time. “Anything for a quiet life”, that’s me. I may not write a novel but as long as I’ve got my health, a roof over my head, my garden and, yes, Bob as well, I’m not complaining
There are two loud bangs in quick succession. Carol rushes to the window and screams. She exits the door, followed by Frances.
ACT TWO Scene 1
Jack Dawson’s plot at sunset. A backdrop of housing and vegetation. An apple tree is part of the backdrop near Jack’s shed which has an open door, stage left.The rocking chair is outside the shed, near the door. A small table is near the chair. There are a few stones lying around. Bob is just finishing sawing through the shank of the lock on the box with a hacksaw. Carol rests in the rocking chair. Frances has the plans of Jack’s plot in her hand and stands near to Arthur and Miss Diamond. Milena stands slightly separately her bag in her hand
Milena So who were those two then?
Arthur They weren’t saying
Bob (getting up from what he has been doing) Well they gave us some names – Bower and Smith, but I’m not sure I believe them. They didn’t tell us anything useful.
Arthur They were the two men from the funeral – and I have to admit that I think Bob is right – they’re up to no good.
Bob I thought for a minute that they were going to try and kid us they weren’t at the funeral but the one who called himself Smith cooked up a story that they were friends of Jack’s, musicians, who wanted to come and see where Jack spent so much of his time in retirement. If those blokes were musicians, then I’m Paul McCartney.
Arthur They were quite intimidating, they had some impressivemuscles under those suits. I got the impression they wereweighing up their options. I was glad you two were out thereobviously watching us. (looking at Milena and Miss D)
Carol I got such a fright when those kids set off the fireworks – I thought you had been shot – it didn’t help that you chose that moment to fall over the edge of the path so the first thing I saw was you lyingon the ground!!
Bob Sorry love, it’s good to know you care
Frances It was certainly scary for a minute. We should have guessed it was fireworks – it’ll soon be bonfire night.
Arthur I told them that Jack did used to have an allotment here, but because of failing health he had to give it up and someone elsehad taken it on, we weren’t able to show them without the new plotholder’s permission – I said we had strict rules about that sort of thing.
Miss D That was quick thinking – I like a man who can think on his feet.
Arthur (taken aback by Miss D’s comment) It may have been quick thinking but I don’t think they bought it, I’m not a good liar
Bob I gave them a false name and address for the new plot holder – it won’t take them long to find out it doesn’t exist … though I did give them directions to Seacroft so it might take them a while. I think they’ll be back, after nightfall, we need a plan
Carol A plan that does not involve violence, heroism or things that go bump in the night please, Bob.
Frances Before the fireworks went off, Carol and I were just looking around Jack’s shed – we found these plans of his plot – with all the plants marked (shows them to Arthur, Miss Diamond and Bob)
Carol It’s all in Latin names
Frances I expect you’ll know the Latin names, Miss Diamond.
Arthur “A rose by any other name is still a rose”
Miss D I didn’t know you knew my name Arthur
(significant pause, they look at each other)
Milena (looking at her watch) We still have Jack’s ashes to scatter on his plot
Frances But we haven’t looked in the box!
Carol (getting out of the chair, excitedly) Ooh yes, let’s look in the box, you never know, Jack might help us with a plan
Arthur Miss Jones, I will be most grateful if you could oblige ..
Milena puts down her bag and takes the box and sits in the rocking chair. She opens the box. She takes an envelope from the box and opens it (all this is done slowly) She starts to read from a small sheet of paper
Milena “My dear friends. I hope you will find this and I know you will forgive me for my little treasure hunt. There are some people whomight have come looking for things in the flat so I thought this was a safer place for my gifts to you. Bob, I know of your interest in the last war. In the envelope you will find an account of my life as a young man.”
Milena picks out an envelope and hands it to Bob who opens it and starts to scan it
Milena “Bob. Carol always said that you are the eyes of the allotments. I thought you would also like my binoculars…”
Milena hands Bob some binoculars, he experiments with them briefly and then returns to his reading
Milena “…Even now I cannot tell you much of my activities after the war. Orchestras often travelled to communist countries, even during the frostiest times of the cold war – it is surprising what can be hidden in a violin case …”
Milena and Miss D exchange glances
Miss D We’ll need to look at those again before they go off to Israel.
Bob (leafing through the pages of Jack’s memoir) He came to England with an uncle in 1938, it seems that he was a bright student and a talented violinist. He got a scholarship to Manchester Grammar. He had an audition with the Hallé Orchestra while he was still at school. However, by 1942 he was 19. He was trained by the Special Operations Executive at Chicheley Hall … Maybe those violinist’s hands were not always so gentle!
Milena Should I carry on reading?
All (except Bob who is intent on his papers) Yes!
Milena “Carol, I know you are not the only person who loves this plot. It is not easy to know who should take it, but rather than asking Arthurto convene a meeting of the committee, I hope I may be allowed to pass it on to you. However, this is on condition that you use strictly organic methods, Frances can help you with these. There are some very particular plants here that you will not find anywhere else on the allotments. In the shed you will have found a plan of the garden and some seed packets. Here are some instructions and also the recipe for the herbal tea that youand Bob like so much, the one that helps you rise above your little problems.”
Carol looks across at Bob, they both smile discreetly
Carol Bless him. How does everyone feel about us having the plot? Is that OK Arthur? Do we need an EGM?
Arthur I think that in the circumstances the committee will approve.
Frances Some of us are not on the committee so I can’t comment.I know this is churlish, but is there anything for me?
Carol He says you can help with the plot, Frances love, I’ll need your help to be organic.
Sound of a van’s horn in the distance. Bob looks with his binoculars. Sound of the van reversing
Bob What sort of time is this to do a delivery?
Arthur Delivery of what?
Bob Manure. It’ll be for Beth. She said she’d ordered some for this weekend. She’ll not be best pleased that it’s so late. In fact, there she is, helping him to back up his trailer.She’s going to need some help to shift that lot. One trailer full of well-rotted horse manure … mmm …lovely!
Arthur Manure …I think I have a plan – how many wheelbarrows do we have between us?
Carol We’ve got one
Frances So have I
Miss D And me, you may borrow mine – I don’t think I should offer to help shift manure – they still might call me from the hospital
Arthur So that’s four wheelbarrows and four people, I think we’ll only need to do a couple of journeys each. Are you sure you’re up to this Frances?
Frances Two pushes up the hill will be good for me, it’ll stop me moping about Jack’s plot.
Arthur Milena. Do you mind waiting a bit longer to scatter those ashes, I think we need a decent pile of manure to throw those men off the scent, as it were.
Miss D (wistfully) I do like a man with a plan …
Milena I’m happy to stay a bit longer, we haven’t finished going through the box yet, I wonder what more surprises Jack has in store for us?
Frances Yes there’s a bottle of Becherovka on the shelf in the shed
Arthur Alright, let’s round up our wheelbarrows and forks and helpBeth shift her manure whilst Milena and Rosa (he blushes)– Miss Diamond mind the shed, the box, Jack’s ashes – and the Becherovka.
Milena We’ll promise not to start it until you get back!
Bob Remember, I’ve got the binoculars, I’ll be keeping a close eye on you!
Arthur, Bob, Carol, Frances exit stage right. Carol passes the plans of Jack’s plot to Milena who returns them to the shed. Carol exits stage right. Milena retrieves the Becherovka from the shed, Miss Diamond gazes after Arthur, Milena inspects the bottle on her return from the shed and puts it on the table.
Miss D Would you like to have the chair
Milena Be my guest
Miss D But you are our guest!
Milena I think you could do with a rest, after all the excitement
Miss D Age before beauty, eh?
Milena I didn’t say that
Miss D Just sit yourself down, I’m used to being on my feet for many hours. This has been quite a story – we both thought we were just coming to scatter Jack’s ashes on his plot and we find ourselves in the middle of something else – the plot thickens
Milena sits in the chair, picking up the box again and resting it on her lap
Milena It will certainly stink when they bring the manure up. This beats conveyancing and divorce settlements, though I don’t suppose its as exciting as brain surgery. Jack has certainly given us a few more clues, do you think that we could solve the mystery before the others get back?
Miss D We shouldn’t look in the box without the others being present, although it is certainly tempting. I can’t help thinking we’re missing something obvious, some other clue that’s staring us in the face.
Milena No peeping then, we’ll keep our professional hats on, as it were. It’s turning into a beautiful evening
Milena rest her head back and looks skywards for some time. She screams and jumps up from the chair, the box springs open, scattering the remaining contents on the ground
Miss D Whatever is the matter?
Milena (terrified) Spider, huge spider, hanging down by a thread from from the shed. (she points) There! There! Please get rid of it.
Milena runs to the other side of the stage. Miss Diamond uses the box to trap the spider, puts the box on the ground and puts a stone on top of the box. When she sees it is safe, Milena busies herself collecting the contents of the box together, she puts them safely in her bag.
Miss D You’re OK now, It’s in the box. Did you get everything?
Milena Yes, luckily it’s not too windy to blow the papers away. Thanks ever so much. I hate to be irrational, They’re the one thing I cannot stand.
Miss D It’s a common affliction. You could get some help for it.
Milena Perhaps I should
Miss D We all have our weaknesses … You could try CBT
Milena I usually use SOS
Miss D You scream for help?
Milena And if that doesn’t work I use Sole of Shoe – I stamp on them – it works pretty well.
Miss D (chuckles) the long leg of the law and the shoe of destiny- spiders beware. I think I’ll go and collect some mugs from my shed, so we can all share the Becherovka when they get back. You’ll be alright on your own for a few minutes won’t you?
Milena carefully puts another stone on top of the box
Milena As long as there are no more spiders. I’ll try not to think about the two men – it is a long way to Seacroft isn’t it?
Miss D exits. Milena picks up her bag as if to open it, but then changes her mind. She goes into the door of the shed
ACT TWO Scene 2 Set as for Scene 1
Bob and Arthur enter stage right
Bob Beth seemed happy enough
Arthur It was good quality stuff, worth waiting for, she’ll enjoy seeinthe benefit to the crops next spring.
Bob … and she was happy enough for the help, more than happy for us to have some as payment in kind. So now we’ve got it up here, what’s your plan, boss?
Carol and Frances enter
Frances That was good, a bit of exercise, there’s nothing like shifting manure to warm you up on a cold day
Carol Beth was glad for the help, although knowing her she would have shifted the lot on her own, in the dark, if she had to.
Frances I’m glad I don’t even try to compete with her, her plot’s always immaculate – well, as immaculate as anything can be with a steaming pile of horse muck in the corner!
Carol (addressing Arthur) So Arthur, what’s the plan?
(before Arthur has a chance to reply, Milena appears with her bag)
Milena Welcome back! Job done?
Arthur Yes, it didn’t take long with four of us? Where’s Rosa.. Miss Diamond
Milena She went to get some some mugs for the Becherovka, she’staking her time, perhaps she’s had another call from the hospital? Should we carry on with Jack’s messages for you?
Carol makes for the box and takes the stones off and is about to open it
Milena (shouts) No! Don’t touch it!
Carol staggers back, everyone else looks shocked
Carol But I thought you said … ?
Miss Diamond enters, with a tray of mugs
Miss D (in a “matter of fact” voice) Arachnophobia
Milena Sorry Carol. There’s a spider in the box. It was dangling off the shed when I was sitting in the chair I’m surprised you didn’t hear me scream. Miss Diamond had to rescue me. Jack’s papers went all over the place but I’ve got them all here – (she pats her bag)
Carol So let’s get on with it, it’ll be dark before we know it, and anything might happen.
Arthur Miss Jones, if you don’t mind, we’d be most grateful …
Frances I don’t suppose there’s anything for me?
Milena has pulled out a paper from her bag
Milena Yes Frances, there is something for you, should I continue?
Frances Yes, oh yes
Carol This is sooo exciting!
Milena “Frances, there were many times when you warmed my heart with your stories of troubled children and your attempts to help them. You were often distressed that you couldn’t do more. As you know, I have no children, but like most people, I am still a child deep down. I never knew my father, but my mother kept some of his writings. I think you will find that these are worth a lot of money. You have my permission to sell them and start the charity for runaways that you always dreamed about”.
Frances But who was his father?
Milena passes her a small bundle of papers, tied round with ribbon
Milena Perhaps these will tell you?
Frances I wish I had brought my reading glasses!
Frances, Carol and Miss D stand together and look at Frances’s papers. Bob and Arthur look at Bob’s papers. Milena reads silently from her papers and starts to rummage in her bag
Miss D Most of these are in German. These look like letters, those could be stories. My grandfather Georg escaped from Berlin in the ‘thirties, so some of his documents were in German. But I’m not sure about these, they look more Slavic
Milena Let me look.
Milena joins the other women .
Milena Yes, these ones are in Czech
Frances But there’s nothing very long. A page here, a page there, They can’t be worth much, it’s not like there’s a novel or anything
Carol What I don’t understand is why a man called Jack Dawson has all these German and Czech papers? Was it just to do with being a special agent?
Arthur Or perhaps he wasn’t born Jack Dawson?
Carol You mean he could have been christened John?
Arthur He may not have been christened at all. He may have started life as a Jacob. If he was a Jew who escaped to England as a youth, he might have had good reasons to want to join the SOE and fight the Nazis. Most people changed their names to something more English sounding. Baumann become Bowman, Schmidt became Smith, but I don’t know about Dawson
Carol The only other Jack Dawson I know of was on the Titanic
Frances Now that was some film – (starts to hum the theme tune)
Carol Leonardo di Caprio
An owl screeches
Miss D May I borrow the binoculars Bob
Bob passes them over
Carol It’s a bit early for an owl
Miss Diamond scans the allotments with the binoculars
Miss D Little owl, crepuscular habit, – goodness me these are good lenses Bob – just checking for visitors, owl might have been disturbed by them. No, just the usual magpies, oh and there’s a jackdaw.
Milena grabs a paper from Frances
Milena This is incredible!
Carol I know, it’s so exciting isn’t it?
Frances What is, Milena?
Milena This paper is signed by Franz Kafka! It was when Miss Diamond said “Jackdaw”. His name says it all. “Kafka” means “jackdaw” in Czech! Jack Dawson – Kafka’s son – he kept his father’s name in English! Frances, these bits of writing will be worth thousands!
Frances The missing Kafka documents … but how …
Miss D And this is a letter addressed to Dora Diamant. My grandfather was Georg Diamant, I wonder…
Frances Kafka’s last love of his life was Dora Diamant. He died of TB, but she survived the war. Perhaps Jack was her baby, a secret love child …
Miss D I think I did have a great aunt Dora – which would make Jack some sort of uncle to me. I always felt Jack and I had something in common, but a relative – amazing!
Frances It could be time for the Becherovka
Milena But Jack has something more to say – to you Miss Diamond!
Miss D To me?
Milena To you … and to Arthur! Rosa and Arthur, what can I say to you two? Rosa, always busy saving other people’s lives and other people’s children’s lives. Your only relaxation down here on the allotments. Arthur, you think the best of your life is behind you. Your quiet heroism in the Falklands, your care for your mother, your committee work. You both came and talked to me, separately of course, about your love for the other, how you could not possibly declare yourselves. How it was an impossible dream, how unattainable the other was. You swore me to secrecy, told me that I could not possibly speak to the other on your behalf. Well, I have kept my promise, I did not speak, but you did not say that I should not write! In the box you will find a ring that belonged to my mother. I would like you, Arthur, to give you Rosa, my distant relative, this ring.
Carol aaaah – a happy ending!
Milena (distressed) – holds Arthur and Miss Diamond’s hands. But I have lost the ring! It must have fallen out of the box when the spider scared me. It’ll be around there somewhere
She points near the rocking chair Everyone gets down on their hands and knees to search. Some background music starts to fade in. The search can go on for some time…
Carol Found it. I’ve found it!
Carol leaps up with the ring in her hand everyone gathers round to admire it. Carol hands it to Arthur.
Arthur But we have forgotten something Carol.
Frances Just give her the ring Arthur!
Arthur In a moment, but, some time ago, you asked me what my plan was
Miss D I do like a man with a plan – tell us Arthur
Arthur Our friends from the funeral who were snooping around earlier, ex-Stazi or whoever they are. They’ll be back. They need to findsomething, otherwise they are going to keep coming back. They need to think that they’ve found it all themselves and that it is us who have lost the plot.
Miss D and the manure..?
Arthur well we don’t want them to have an easy time of it do we Rosa?
Miss D no Arthur dear, we don’t, do we?
Arthur Carol, could you bring the 2006 plan of the plot from the shed.
Carol retrieves the plan from the shed and passes it to Arthur who looks around the plot, picks up the box, and chooses a suitable place to put it back on the ground. He consults the plan, takes a pen from his pocket and marks an X on the plan.
Arthur So we bury the box here
Milena complete with spider!
Frances so very Kafka!
Arthur After we have buried it, we cover the place with a pile ofmanure. Our friends come at night, find the plan which is backin the shed, find the X that marks the spot. They dig through the manure and eventually find the box
Bob It needs a new lock
Carol There’s a spare in the shed
Arthur They make good their escape
Carol After carefully shovelling the manure back again
Milena and only later, discover the spider
Miss D I do like a man with a plan!
Milena And so, at last, can we do what we set out to do?
Milena takes Jack’s container of ashes from her bag and hands them to Miss D
Milena As Jack’s only relative present, please return Jack to the earth!
Miss D takes the ashes and broadcasts them expansively across the plot. Frances pours out the Becherovka into the mugs, she and Carol pass the mugs round. Arthur takes the ring and puts it on Miss Diamond’s ring finger – they embrace.
Carol (raising her mug in a toast to Rosa and Arthur) To the happy couple!
All The happy couple!
Arthur To Jack Dawson, may he rest in peace!
All To Jack!
Milena To Franz Kafka!
All Jack Dawson’s dad!
Frances To cheerfulness!
Carol After all!
There is much merriment. The OFFPLOT Inspector walks down an aisle in the theatre, clipboard in hand and starts to walk up on to the stage, observing the goings on with increasing alarm. The inspector writes rapidly on his clipboard.
© David Cundall