Laughing lovable Leslie

John Ward
John Ward
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WARD’S WORLD: By John Ward

I was reading something the other day in a magazine and one article reminded me of the incredible ‘Laughing lovable Leslie’ who was a neighbour for well over 20-odd years with ‘odd’ being the operative word.

He had came from ’tup North as they say and he brought certain traits that even now defy logic at best and could have given some of the old time musical acts a run for their money, but Les was for real and may have considered TV’s ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ as a training video in some respects.

As well as our neighbour ‘two doors up’, he was also one of our elected town councillors and at times many questioned as were people wide awake while putting their signatures on assorted ballot papers as just how did he manage to get to be elected?

Various suggestions ranged from out of sympathy, some went with he reminded them of their pet dog, breed unspecified, they owned or the favourite that he made the number up of his particular party.

One thing in his favour was he meant well although it should be said that meaning well does not always go the way plans should go or rather how he managed to achieve levels of stupidity in equal measure in his life.

His letters in the local newspapers on assorted subject matter were the stuff to read and with his lofty position on the council (open to debate on that one) he always signed them off with his name plus ‘councillor’ in brackets and quite a few when meeting him addressed him by his name plus adding ‘brackets, councillor’ and he thought this was a form of endearment, bless.

I asked him once about his letter writing skills and he said it “Comes easy, lad” and he pointed out he used that ‘posh’ Basildon Bond paper (no relation to James) but “without them lines on as it was cheaper”.

His ‘close eye on the purse’ was well known and his nickname in some circles was ‘Mole wrench’ as being so tight (read as in careful with money) based upon the well known mechanic’s hand locking tool.

He was a keen gardener and when he retired from his school caretaker’s job the school staff, parents etc brought him a greenhouse as a retirement present and it was duly delivered to his home, then a base was prepared for it to stand on.

His son-in-law came round and helped him to assemble the basic aluminium framework and next would be installing the panes of glass the following week, when it was less windy (hopefully).

Les being Les could not wait another week so he got his wife to stand and hold a pane of glass in the top half of the door frame “To see how it fits, missis”.

I will point out that at this moment in gardening history I was talking to my other neighbour Jack over the fence and that he also had a greenhouse and his flowers were prize winners at shows etc and so with some interest, we stood and watched this pantomime with the incredible Leslie and his divine assistant, Missis.

Now picture if you will somebody standing inside a greenhouse framework, size about eight by six feet, no glass apart for the half pane being held in the door.

He asked his faithful assistant Missis to then slide the door across into the closed position.

Jack and I looked at each other and then back at the fantastic two as a minute or two later, Les came out with that wonderful, never to be repeated line: “Do you know, you can feel the heat building up already” to which faithful assistant Missis turned and muttered something about a bird, of which we could not see any flying about but then again she may have said ‘great wit’, who knows?

Jack was close to soiling himself as the saying goes as he was trying to stifle his laughter and we both departed indoors and laughed our heads off.

The Incredible Lettuce Saga was the talk of our family for ages.

Les appeared at the door as we had sat down to dinner and as I opened the door, he stood there clutching some lettuces and with those chosen words: “I just wondered if you’d like a couple of home-grown lettuce..” and I was quite amazed/surprised nay suspicious of this gesture but I said thanks to which he said: “I can see you’re dining, so I’ll leave you all to it..” and off he went.

About 30 or so seconds later, a knock at the door again and we could see by the outline in the frosted glass it was Les.

Daughter Min with a silly smile leaned over and said: “Cucumbers maybe?”

Nope, not cucumbers but: “Now then – the lettuces cost nothing apart from the growing and watering but how about 20p towards the cost of the seeds?..”

I gave 50p, shooed him off as my/our dinner was getting cold by market garden standards.

He didn’t have a telephone himself – “too expensive” – or in real terms those nasty telephone people expected money every time it was used, plus they may have had a different supplier for their lettuces.

He used the public phone box in the High street adjacent to the fruit shop and he actually gave the box number as his own but warned folk to “Best ring between 10 in the morning and five in the afternoon when I’m usually in the office(!)” based on the shop opening times and “If I’m not about, ‘my assistant’ will take a message” as in Alan who (you guessed it) owned the fruit shop and so if he heard it ringing he would nip out and answer it on ‘his behalf’.

Cheeky but it worked amazingly well.

He manned a ‘white elephant’ stall at one of the local fetes and pointed out he wouldn’t be selling animals of course – quite reassuring then – but one belter I overheard him explain to a lady about a book she picked up, ‘The Trials of Oscar Wilde’, as he informed her the reason it was ‘so thick and heavy’ was it was about a High Court judge or somebody (!) and the cases he dealt with over the years but although he had not read it, he heard it was quite a good read followed by: “That’ll be 25p please.”

At another similar event he ran an ‘Open the Safe’ stall where you paid ten pence to try to open the digital lock on the safe to win a pound.

As I was leaving the event I passed by and asked if anybody had won the pound and he said no but he had taken £2.30 in tries at it and then told me that he had no idea as to what the code was as he had the safe given to him, put ‘over 20 quid in’ but had forgotten to write the number down and was trying to get somebody to open it for him and ever the shrewd one, they were paying him ten pence a go.

I suggested another half a dozen fetes and he could call it evens with the takings.

He is now sadly gone and yes, he did get the right code in the end as he would never have rested had he not.

Previously...

Taxing, trying times

Nail or nothing

Moving moments