oh, well, whatever . . .

look at that big hand move along

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Our next door neighbour is known to everyone as Fletcher. His other name might be Hugo. He moved in towards the end of last year. He’s a sort of jack of all trades, it seems. He also appears to have an insatiable mania for junk, if his front garden is anything to go by. A wheel barrow full of sacks has recently joined the child’s swing with one rope broken, the rusty toolbox, the things hidden under white plastic sheets, the pile of bricks, and the pink garden table lying on its side. Many are the things that arrive, but few if any have yet to depart.

When I left for my walk along the coast this morning Fletcher was standing gazing at the caved in rear end of the old green Mercedes that has lain on his drive since Christmas, sprawled there like a dead alligator. Fletcher is a big man and he has the air of a trawlerman about him. For his personal style he has forsaken the careless eclecticism of his garden in favour of conformity to an almost comic book stereotype.  I nodded as I passed; he nodded back. I knew that later he’d be taking a five pound hammer to the alligator’s crumpled tail, as he does every Sunday, and banging away with ferocious indifference well into the twilight. I don’t really know Fletcher at all, but he strikes me as in some ways a man on the lam. I want to declare to you that his life is a vacuum, sucking in the messy flotsam of cast aside things as the denial of an emptiness within. But that of course would be pure speculation, much too pyschological for my liking, and rest upon very little evidence indeed, especially if we discount the landfill amassed at his gate. But Hugo Fletcher the Magpie is an idea with some promise, and one we should come back to again.

When I got back the sun was shining. Margaret had gone to Whitley Bay to see her old friend Brenda. Brenda is an acupuncturist.  Whitley Bay is an acupuncturist sort of place.  Together with Brenda, Margaret once had a eBay shop selling clocks. They called it Tina and Tabitha’s Tasty Ticktocks. Yes, I know, I know.  People like to pretend that this sort of mistake is post-modern irony. But the truth is we all really still like bubblegum. It’s a comfort food.

The clock business went okay for a while (yes, just like clockwork, I hear you quip!).  But The Ticktock Two began to get ambitious. They began to acquire the worn out, tickless carcases of classic old timepieces, convinced that they could restore each one and make a handsome return on their investments. The only obstacle would be the difficulty getting spares for these ancient instruments.  The Greek came up with a supplier for them, a man who could get them every cog, every spring, every mechanism for every timepiece ever made. The Greek assured them nothing could go wrong. His supplier was the Famous Zeno. Margaret and Brenda bought up broken clocks as if there was no tomorrow. And there wasn’t, because not one of the parts they ordered ever arrived; all were indefinitely delayed. The business folded.

I sat in the conservatory drinking cappuccino. Do Kooning was making his way across the lawn like a small black lion in the long grass of the savannah. I decided it was time to give the lawn its first mow of the year. I went to the bottom of the garden to get the lawn mower from the hut, where I’d put it in the autumn. It was then I looked across to Hugo’s garden.

All winter long we’d heard him banging and sawing and drilling out there, sometimes at all hours, even in the dark in the middle of a stormy night. From our window we could see him erecting huts and shelters of various kinds and then, finally, a conservatory; a double-glazed weather boarded extension the roof of which is heavy duty corrugated Perspex. It juts out about a metre or so, creating an awning over the decking below. And the whole thing is surrounded by tall wooden posts the purpose of which is not clear, but may perhaps be both ornamental and practical. A sort of DIY henge. There was also the whiff of a medieval village in all this.

Now I don’t believe in signs, and I don’t believe in synchronicity. But there at the far end of Hugo’s porch, hanging from the corner of the perspex awning I saw a clock – a large white-faced clock with classic black numbers and hands. It said it was quarter to four. I checked my watch, and it was right. The clock was real.  I picked up De Kooning and showed it to him.  At first a country station came to our minds, as if The Magpie wanted to evoke a rustic idyll. But this was quickly displaced by the echoes of High Noon. Hugo is a man waiting for whatever fate might await him.

‘What do you think of that idea?’ I said to De Kooning. ‘Or do you think this is all accidental?’ I could tell from his expression that he too was struggling a bit to see Hugo as Gary Cooper. He was right. Hugo is more like a prospector. His station is somewhere in the Yukon.

I mowed the lawn and cut back the brambles. I wondered why Margaret hadn’t told me about Hugo’s station and the white-faced clock.


Written by yammering

April 20, 2008 at 10:44 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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