I went home to my parents this weekend for a birthday dinner involving drink, food, two fights and Armagnac, which smells like poppers but tastes less corrosive. I’ve never really got the hang of spirits ended in –ac, or –y, preferring to stick to ones ending in –ka and –in, but this was very alright.
Having a day to flop around before being expensively fed, I played with the dog and wandered into the kitchen garden (it’s filled with vegetables and is next to the kitchen) to have a look at my mother’s latest treasure. Here I must state that my mother is neither mad nor prone to buying horrendous garden ornaments, because Eric the Regency Gardener is something so awful that the 70s would run away from him screaming. A proud figure, one foot resting a-top a garden spade, he’s the dandy Adam Ant would have been if he’d been made of stone and had less sex.
Mum phoned me a couple of months ago in rapture.
”I’ve bought something for the garden!” she screamed down the phone. “His name’s Eric and he’s a gardener.”
“Are you retiring?” I asked, adjusting the volume on my mobile to Ma-level. (It’s a stereotype that all middle-classes mothers screech on the phone. My mother was the prototype.)
“Nononononono,” she explained. “he’s a statue. It’s a silly bit of fun. We’re bringing him home tomorrow.”
Sadly, Eric met an early death when the builders lifting him out of the van dropped him onto the ground and smashed him into many tiny pieces. The garden centre had another one – crap Regency garden statues obviously being hot tamale in Hampshire this summer – but one that hadn’t been weathered in yet.
This became painfully apparent on inspecting Eric – a figure so camp you couldn’t imagine him going anywhere near a garden unless there was champagne in it – who glowed with an almost iridescent whiteness fresh from the garden centre’s mould. What my mother forgot when placing him tenderly in the kitchen garden, is that she stood him right on top of the graves of my brother’s hamsters and my goldfish, whose corpse I brought down from Durham in a fag packet in 2002. Eric might be sod all use as a gardener, but he makes a significantly better tombstone than the lolly stick crosses we had before.
Heading back to London, two happily mad things instantly reminded me why my mother’s sudden interest in crap garden statues can be forgiven. A German family of tourists were standing along the platform at Waterloo deeply engrossed in a poster of Badly Drawn Boy’s new album ‘Born In The UK’. This isn’t a particularly interesting poster, but that didn’t seem to stop the dad - a bald man in his 30s clutching a city umbrella - from giving his patently uninterested daughter an English lesson.
Every time he pronounced a syllable (“Bad! Ly! Drawn! Boy!”) he’d bang the upturned umbrella against the wall for emphasis, his chest so puffed out with exultant importance that he looked like a Christmas robin with a crew cut. My German is limited to two stock phrases (one of which suggests a retard from the 1900s, the other being of no use whatsoever unless I have a pressing need for stamps) but it soon became clear that English was moving on to Geography.
“The UK,” blasted Herr Dad in ringing tones, “is made up of England” bang “Scotland” bang “and Ireland.” Bang. He forgot Wales, as a lot of silly people do.
The child stared gormlessly into the wall, fingering something in the pocket of its stripey raincoat, while its mother gazed off at an advert on the station wall. Herr Dad, having run out of useful information to glean from the poster, sheathed his umbrella under his arm with the proud air of one who has just imbued Youth with the rich gravy of Learning, and the family dutifully pushed off along the platform.
The second thing was two cheery teenagers walking down Charing Cross Road, guiding between them a small child with an open purple suitcase covering its entire body.
“She’s shy,” said one of them simply. From inside the suitcase, the child giggled hysterically.