If nothing else, my part time job up the council has taught my toddler to swear. ‘It’s a fucking mess, Daddy!’ he will observe from amid the usual phoning-it-in dinner I prepare for him of fish fingers, beans and waffles, as I recap the events of the day with my current girlfriend. This demonstrates impressive maturity, as his grasp of English is otherwise patchy – for example, he thinks that the number after ten is ‘a lemon’ and that the correct sequence for launching a rocket is ‘Three, two, one – blarg dog’, which, given the recent media time devoted to the moon landings is simply lazy. He also thinks that he and I support ‘for fuck’s sake, West Ham’ who live in the radio. Swearing toddlers are a comedy staple and I offer no specific apology, but I shall rein things in a bit because if my old dear, who has never really forgiven the nineteen fifties for deserting her, hears him talking like that, she will go fucking mental.
The sweariest children I have ever met are Graham’s, the oldest of whom is twelve. I see less of them at Runton these days as they often stay with their mother in, I think, the traveller site in Thurrock. Now that summer is here, they have resumed their usual clattering bicycle patrols of the Runton estate, warning errant glampers away from the Runton Confederates’ encampment with shouts of ‘Hey wankers! Don’t you know there’s a fucking war on?’, like characters in an alternative Romany Dad’s Army universe. They usually have dead rabbits dangling from their handlebars while they do this which, if challenged, they explain by saying ‘They knew too fucking much’. I enjoy their incongruous cultural references, a result of a childhood spent listening to nothing but Radio 4 in Graham’s caravan. As you may recall, I taught them to read a few years ago, and in return got Archibald al Fantastique, who was originally one of Graham’s working dogs, albeit one ‘…more suited to working in a fucking administration capacity’ according to his oldest child, who was at the time eight. As I recall, he had pointed at a picture book of the Egyptian pyramids and said ‘That’s Tutenfuckingkhafuckingmun’ that same afternoon.
It isn’t that Archie is slow. He was actually the fastest of Graham’s dogs, clocked at a remarkable 36 mph – unsurprising being that he is a saluki, the fastest mammal in the world. They are bred for chasing prey across sand until it collapses, then standing around until a Bedouin tribesman – or Ben Kenobi, if they are doing this on the desert world of Tattooine – finishes the luckless quarry off in a manner acceptable to hal-al guidelines or, indeed, the Force. Formidable speed and stamina are lovely, but saluki will only bite in self-defence. Interestingly, this means that they fall foul of RSPCA hunting guidelines which state that cruelty lies in the chasing, rather than the killing, of an animal. In practical terms at Runton, this made Archie something of a liability, unlike Graham’s other hounds who are trained to end a hare or rabbit definitely and immediately by biting and crushing the neck vertebra and spinal cord. Archie would just nudge an exhausted rabbit with his nose, and it would take ages to kill it like that. Still, liability that he is, he doesn’t owe me anything, which is useful because dogs can’t use money.
This issue of hunting rabbits is more important than you might think with the Runton Confederates in residence. As discussed last time, they are cut off from the twenty first century, and the conditions under which they are to be disturbed are strict – one is in the event of a national emergency, which is fair enough as I would imagine people portraying an army in a civil war would be quite useful under those circumstances. There is also the question of food, which is where the dead rabbits come in. Their backstory is that that are hiding in Union country following defeat at the Battle of Gettysburg. Graham’s kids leave the rabbits near the encampment, the narrative here being that they are local Confederate sympathisers. To maintain authenticity, they shout ‘clip clop clip clop’ while cycling near the woods, which amuses me a great deal.
My son’s increasingly foul mouth is only one of the many reasons I need to resign from my council job. The public sector and I are ill suited to each other, although it has been nice to have people understand what I actually do. Saying that you and your old mates from Camden Market are buying a small Georgian country estate bit by bit than selling it back to the owners once you have carried out repairs and/or improvements is a lot to explain. No one at the council knows anything about Runton, or much about my former market life. I just say ‘buying and selling’ to cover that entire era. They say ‘What, like Only Fools And Horses?’ and I say ‘No, they were fictional characters’ and leave it at that. The other day, however, I finally lost my air of professional (and actual) detachment and shouted:
‘While you’ve been here on your Routemaster arse booking line dancing holidays and trying to find an app that’ll let you remotely rearrange your fucking cat themed fridge magnets, I have been out there in the real world, taking care of people who think this is America in the 1860s, hosing inaccurate philosophical quotes off glamping tents and accidentally stealing cake from a Duke. Put your tin of Heroes down and earn your fucking living, before I put you in a desert, get my dog to chase you till you collapse, then cut your fucking throat.’
That didn’t happen, obviously. Imagine if it had, though. It would’ve been brilliant.
Main: Hefty boy. This was as close as I was willing to go in case it stung me or whatever it is they do.
Top inset: Nid, having sworn himself to sleep.
Middle inset: Archibald el Fantastique, crashed out on the sofa. He likes to sleep with the Nid’s dog teddy and blanket while he is out swearing.
Lower inset: Nid being a white girl by being in a photograph looking at something. This particular something is Sheringham Park, and is really nice.