"There's a strange man in the Iron Girder's garden," you said as you
entered the back door.
I'd noticed that you moved faster than usual as you took the step in,
three strides across and two steps up through the conservatory, replete
with its flowerpots full of dead geraniums.
The phrase 'the back door' had always struck me as curious in this
context for this door was on the same side of the house as 'the front
door'. The other side of the house, be it front or back, was directly
besides the Devon lane, high-hedged, red-soiled and twisty, on which we
To call it a house is an injustice. It is a cottage. A thatched
cottage. A truly ancient row of double-skinned, cob-built, peasants'
cottages. We had two and the Iron Girder had two.
The Iron Girder was a fine, feisty, cantankerous Norwegian woman with a
bad attitude to most things Devonian. She'd taken to us and we'd taken
to her. Filthy young hippies we may have been - but we weren't
Devonian. We'd chat most days and even go over for cups of tea on
occasion when she'd regale us with stories of her high society days in
Now she had a strange man in he garden.
"What's he doing?" I inquired.
"Go and have a look!" came back your reply.
I swung my legs out over the wooden bench that ran besides our little
kitchen table, took the two steps down, the three strides through and
the one step out of the conservatory.
A rickety wooden fence ran between our properties. I walked down the
grass path besides our vegetable patch and looked over.
That was my first sighting of the behemoth. A mass of white thatch upon
his head, a home-made briar exuding plumes of foul-smelling smoke
clamped between his teeth, his large round head atop his naked body.
The behemoth sat in his bath in the middle of the lawn. One leg, set
firmly in plaster, stuck out over the side.
Our eyes met.
"All right?" I asked.
"Fine," said the behemoth, his deep tones rumbling across the
"Well," I said to you as I re-entered the kitchen to your inquiring
grin, "there's a behemoth with a broken leg taking a tin tub bath in
the Iron Girder's garden. I don't think there's much to fear."