It is summer in Britain, and everything smells of unhappiness and Lynx. Well, nearly everything: by a broken fence next to a violent East Anglian petting zoo, the Goat Bag Man smells faintly of paraffin. Three weeks in the country air have all but purged the aroma of a leather waterproofing industry based around a Highgate bath that makes him so easily identifiable to the visually impaired, and his time as my body double in the wake of the Tennyson Road Incident is almost at an end. In fact, unbeknown to him, it already has ended. Had he not suggested, following my discharge from hospital with working legs but non-working arms, that I earn a living among the cast of River Dance, I would not be feigning continuing muscular trauma, he would not have to mend fences with Graham on my behalf, and there would be one more ice cream sale on Primrose Hill on weekday afternoons – but I can’t help that.
The constant mending of damaged fences should not be underestimated. The goat that urinated into its own mouth while Archie was bitten by a deer last time we spoke got its head stuck in fencing nine times that week, requiring several fence posts to be hacked through in order to retrieve the silly bastard. Usually, when tedious physical labour is required around the Estate, Becka organises Forest School ‘fun groups’ to do it – appropriate in this case, as petting zoo goats regularly ruin their games of Manhunt. This is essentially hide and seek, with nine year olds scouring the wooded area on the south of the Estate for one of their number who lies on the ground, covers themselves with leaves, and pretends to be dead. While macabre, there is little chance of an actual fatality. Goats indicate the vicinity of the ‘grave’ by battering at nearby fencing, giving the game away somewhat, and in any case Forest School kids are as fat as they are endearing, and therefore unlikely to summon the physical energy required to bury themselves properly. They are also inept woodworkers (as Becka discovered while trying to get them to make bird boxes amid spirited enquiries about what a bird needs a box for and how will it carry it about) and can take over an hour to saw through a five inch fence post. This simply isn’t good enough. Once the entrapped livestock is once again free to caper about all over the place like a fucking idiot, repairs are undertaken by Graham, hammering at one end of a fence post with the uninsured Goat Bag Man and ‘Anton’ holding it steady and swearing at him, from the other.
If Graham, a Romany gypsy, is anything to go by, the travelling community are very bad at travelling. I say this because, to my endless amusement, he is the only official permanent resident on the Estate. Not even Joe, who is on the Runton payroll, has an address or proof of identification, to the extent that he recently had to ask the Trustees to falsify a tenancy agreement thereby proving where he lives which, surprisingly, they did. I fondly recall trading at the Thames Festival in 2010 with velvet-toned posho Supertone, and realising that we had no public liability insurance certificate as the organisers did their rounds. It was an impressive thing, all calligraphy and swirls, and failure to produce one meant being thrown off site and barred from trading there in future. Usually, groups of traders deal with this by passing one certificate surreptitiously between them for repeated inspection, but we were trading away from anyone we knew and were unable to join in with this elementary bluff. Calligraphy and swirls look nice, and made the certificate a gift for the skilled counterfeiter, so Supertone drew one, flashed it tetchily at the organisers while pretending to be busy with something else, and we went on to have a blinding weekend of it. The last time I saw him, we passed a quiet trading afternoon at Leadenhall Market trying to translate correspondence by nineteenth century French romantic poet and novelist Victor Hugo (who wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame), mysteriously acquired by Jigsaw John. As I recall, most of it was tetchy letters to his sister complaining about how difficult it was to get shirts laundered around the Paris Commune. I sometimes miss the incongruous sophistication that trading among such people often produced, because the countryside is awful. Still, the bite wound inflicted upon Archie by rampaging petting zoo animals the other week has healed nicely and without complication, leaving nothing more than two small puncture wounds. I might jazzle him by popping a sequin in each, and take him along to Norwich Pride.
For the record, I love the smell of paraffin. I’ve inherited this from my old dear, who often sniffed the paraffin heater in the ridiculous house in which I was born until she regularly made herself ‘quite dizzy’. If she’d turned it on now and again I might not have contracted tuberculosis in front of the Generation Game at eight months of age, but that’s east London in the Seventies for you. Still, before I met Graham, my only exposure to Romany gypsies was collecting Colgate lids for a poster of David Essex. In case you are unfamiliar, Essex was a notable British singer of the 1980s, and latterly President of British National Gypsy Council, whose autograph I later attained by chance at Upton Park when West Ham were home to Everton in 1984, and when I still had no idea who he was. The Colgate poster initiative had been intended to instill the concept of value in me. Instead, its only lasting impact has been that whenever I see a caravan, I taste spearmint. This is of course not true. However, when I hear Name of the Game by Abba I genuinely smell cardboard, as it was on the radio as I opened my presents one distant Christmas morning and clearly made an impression, as did tuberculosis, toothpaste – and however obliquely, David Essex, after all.
Main – Mysterious crop circles near Runton Hall. What can it mean?
Top inset – I was stationary while taking this picter for six seconds tops – quite enough time for this convoy of wankers to form.
Middle inset – Joe delightedly interrupts a curry to break the news that we are to receive three new pygmy goats.
Lower inset – One of the rooms in the Old Servant’s Quarters rewired by ‘Anton’. Note goat bag, lower left.