Sorry for breaking your greenhouse again
This was the opening sentence of no.2 son’s short letter of apology.
One of the great appeals of our house is that the garden backs on to an allotment, meaning we are not overlooked. It also means that nobody has the pleasure of watching the regular games of back garden football. They would probably make for a frustrating spectator experience as they are frequently halted as we either wait for next door neighbours to return balls that have landed in their gardens, or for us to trot around to the allotment to search for balls amongst rhubarb, potato plants and nettles.
But a ball, struck with a shallow trajectory, that leaves the garden at its north-west corner has a distinctive consequence. Four times in under 18 months, the ball has headed in that direction and as soon as it has disappeared, there has been the sound of glass fragmenting under the impact of football.
The first occasion was no.1 son’s birthday party. A well struck shot was deflected by a defender’s head. The sudden shatter sent the boys running indoors.
The second and third times happened while I was at work. We took preventative steps. For a while the goal was moved to the house end of the garden. Then, we moved it back to the allotment end, but in the south-west corner where a skied drive couldn’t damage a gardener’s greenhouse. The only exception was when no.2 son wanted some goalkeeping practice. I would trust myself to keep the ball down and let him dive around on the newer grass in the other corner.
And so, last night’s football ended with no.2 son in goal, and the net in front of the fence that shielded the greenhouse. This morning, instructed to work with his sister on cleaning out the guinea pigs, no.2 son took a shot, saw it skim off the cross-bar, skip over the fence and CRASH.
After the first smash, I left an apology note with my phone number in the damaged greenhouse. A few days later, I had a voicemail, telling me not to worry. By note, I reiterated my apology and offer to pay for repairs on the second occasion, but heard nothing. Third time around, before I could get involved, the boys, collecting another ball from the allotment, met the gardener on the allotment. He shouted at them and they ran. That ball was never returned. The gardener must be getting very annoyed.
This morning, I stepped into the garden and no.2 son said he had to tell me something. The cross-bar had been to blame. I sent him indoors to write an apology note and together, hand-in-hand, we walked to the allotment.
Two gardeners were standing beside the patch on the other side of our fence. No.2 son thought he recognised one. The men turned to us as we approached.
“Are you the gentleman, whose greenhouse we keep smashing?” I asked of the older man.
“Yes. It’s beyond a joke. It’s four times now.”
As I sought to get in an apology or four, he beckoned us towards the greenhouse. “It’s wrecking my seeds. The cold’s getting in and killing them. And,” turning to no.2 son, “you can’t be much of a footballer, if you can’t keep the ball down.” He winked at me.
We sighed and shuffled our feet looking at the damage and the collection of broken panes from previous smashes. The gardener waved away my offers to pay for the damage, “It’s the seedlings I’m losing. I’m not bothered about the cost of the glass.” We discussed whether netting above my fence would help – he thought not. I fought off the temptation to suggest he use non-smash plastic panes on his greenhouse roof.
As we left, reassured of each other’s humanity, he reached into a compost bin and pulled out the ball. Handing it back to no.2 son, he explained that he had given away one ball (smash number 3) to a boy on the allotment who said it was his.
No.2 son pulled out of his pocket his hand written apology note. After the ‘I’m sorry’ statement, the gardener would read, “the ball hit the cross-bar and bounced over the fence,” and be left to infer that no.2 son is a very fine footballer and not really to blame at all.