It is unusual for visitors to get far into the Runton Estate without attracting the attention of Graham’s children, who patrol the grounds on their bikes with the territorial ferocity of a pack of wolverines. Last Friday, as I sat in a deckchair by the Restored Barn, his youngest daughter rocketed past me on her small pink bike, stabilisers creating a mini whirlwind of dry earth behind her. She was hurtling into the rising summer haze between the Fallow Field and the untroubled East Anglian sky, from which a figure was emerging. It was a man in a Panama hat, and I had been expecting him. The tiny wolverine circled him as he approached.
As my deckchair and I fell into her orbit, she jumped off her bike, ran up to me, and with the infinite earnestness of a six year old demanded ‘Who the fuck is that and why the fuck does he smell of paraffin?’
The recuperative process, such as the one I am working through in the wake of the Tennyson Road Incident, is annoying for the self-employed. This is especially true at Runton, when earnings are usually linked to physical labour which remains arduous and tiresome no matter how half-heartedly I go about it. For me and ‘Anton’, this is mainly putting up, taking down and hefting about tents as part of our glamping hire enterprise, as well as tinkering with general restoration work around the estate. Joe tends to orchestrate much of this, as he is the only one of us officially employed by the Runton Estate, giving him a greater measure of credibility with the Board of Trustees. As we have seen, larger, boring projects such as cleaning of the Victorian greenhouse are undertaken by Forest School ‘fun groups’ of inner city children, arranged by Becka. ‘Anton’, a reasonably qualified electrician, is of value among the 1930’s wiring, as there are many miles of it around the estate, sparking gently away. Amid all this activity, I can’t, as ‘Anton’ rightly points out, ‘just sit around all day thinking about stuff, like that Stephen Hawkings’, and this is where the Panama hatted Goat Bag Man, now no longer regarded as the subject of a Search and Destroy mission by Graham’s children, comes into the equation by way of a major fire at Camden Market.
Major fires at Camden Market occur so often that the council should stop putting them out and use the place as street lighting instead. In 2008’s Great Fire of Camden, myself, Joe and the Goat Bag Man were fortunate that the prevailing wind blew the flames across the High Street away from our Lock Market stalls and towards the old Canal Market, destroying that instead. There was still tragedy enough: the old Canal Market entrance, from which the letter ‘C’ was removed so many times that it once appeared in the Rough Guide to London as the Anal Market, was lost forever, as was the legend ‘A.J. Gives Toothy Blow Jobs’, written across the railway bridge overlooking the beer garden of the Hawley Arms. The next morning, Vinny, landlord of the Duke of Wellington, the Whitechapel interchange for market traders from north, south and east London, gave us to a Hero’s Breakfast – a fried egg sandwich – on a table thoughtfully situated next to the emergency exit, in case the pub caught fire. Joe was at Runton and I had moved to Greenwich Market when the next inferno struck, but the Goat Bag Man was lucky for a second time as it affected only the Stables Market, and he again received a Hero’s Breakfast from Vinny the next morning. The luck of both the Goat Bag Man and the Lock Market ran out on July 10th this year, when fire finally got the opportunity to make an absolute mess of the place, and while his business was largely unscathed, trade will inevitably suffer. This time there was no Hero’s Breakfast, because Vinny, who looked after us for so long, died in 2013. I’m sure this was due to his horrified response to the Goat Bag Man’s decision to give up the booze, making him technically guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
Emerging from the Barn with a roll of insulating cable under his arm, ‘Anton’ all but jumped on the Goat Bag Man, desperate to see if he still smelled of the Northern Line, joined in quick succession by Joe and myself. Incidentally, the aroma of paraffin comes from the process by which goat leather bags are waterproofed, ie immersion in gallons of the stuff. This takes place in the bath, kitchen sink and several barrels in the Goat Bag Man’s tiny flat, three floors up in the Highgate sky, but I all but sobbed as I detected about his person a hint of the escalators at Kentish Town, and the smell of warm air vented from the 214 bus as it meanders from Liverpool Street to Chalk Farm. To complete the scene, Becka appeared, fresh from the Screaming Car, where she been since one of her younger daughters irretrievably slid her phone, purse and keys into a hollow tree while shouting ‘Post box!’, and general revelry ensued. Later that evening, a member of the Christadelphian Isolationist League (currently glamping in the Fallow Field) appeared and played Chas and Dave tunes on a piano in the Old Servant’s Quarters, prompting a rather rowdy singalong, and I discovered that drinking heavily on top of several hundred milligrams of daily codeine gets you very tipsy indeed. I decided to stop codeine the next morning. It works as painkiller, but it’s nasty and I’d rather save it for lifting weights when I am fully healed.
For the time being, the Goat Bag Man will take care of the glamping tents with ‘Anton’, popping back to London to tend his Camden business at prudent intervals. I will lounge about formulating a strategy regarding which groups of people are too much trouble to have at Runton in the future, and sort out some kind of plan with Joe that he can place in front of the Trustees in due course. I have already commenced work. It looks like curtains for the Bikram yoga lady and demands for open fires burning in the middle of her Bikram yoga room 24hrs a day. Even if this was possible, it would be potentially disastrous: the Runton Estate is heavily wooded. Imagine the situation if a Bikram yoga fire got out of control in Autumn. Some bunch of white girls escaping through the trees could compromise an orderly evacuation by stopping to take pictures of their shoes among the fallen leaves – a risk I am simply not prepared to take. Arrivederci, stupid Bikram yoga lady.
Main: Camden Market with its evening lights on.
Upper inset: A goat bag. Nice bit of stuff, I’ve had loads of them.
Middle inset: The Goat Bag Man (left) and myself at the Duke of Wellington, a couple of years ago.
Lower inset: The goat bag stall in the East Yard, Camden Lock Market. Customer being assured that the smell of paraffin fades after a couple of decades.