Friday, July 23, 2010
Saltash and the Devil
There's a curious story about a disqualified beauty queen - she claimed to be 22 and from Plymouth. She's actually 27 and from Saltash.
I'm trying to get my parents to move to Saltash. Since they may both lose their driving licences I figure they should live somewhere with shops. Rather than in Wuthering Heights.
Saltash is brilliant - it's on the other side of the Plymouth suspension bridge, so has all of the advantages of Plymouth without the disadvantage of being Plymouth. From my parents' point of view it's got views and charity shops. From my point of view, it's full of dim men as pale and lumpy as school custard who lurk meaningfully up and down the high street with tattoos so cheap they either do them at £stretcher or it's an evening class option alongside flower arranging.
I even find my parents a house. It is ridiculously cheap. My mother takes against it at once. "No views" she says. For a woman in imminent danger of losing her sight, this is ironic at best.
Nevertheless, we arrange to go round it with Laura from the estate agents. Her blonde hair has been straightened in a trouser press. My mother takes against the house and Laura with a hiss like an angry swan.
We walk through the door. The house is utterly amazing. Imagine a mini-stately home that's been shoddily converted - they've not even bothered ripping out the original features, simply covered them over with clapboard.
"You're in for a late 18th Century treat" says Laura, peeling back some plywood to show a hand-carved staircase. My mother looks at her with something like respect. "You're not stupid like an estate agent should be," says my mother. This for her, is high praise. Interestingly, Laura does not punch my mother to the ground. I'd love to know what training course she's been on.
We've spent much of the last ten days going round stately homes. This house is like that, but with an added air of treasure hunt. All the original features are intact. Ish. Oak floorboards hidden under orange nylon carpet, fireplaces nestling under artex. There is even a view. From the upstairs kitchen. It would be the best view of Plymouth Ho possible, were it not for a big tree next door. "Imagine if that tree died from poison," murmured my father wistfully (he used to work in pesticides in the 80s. The shed is full of bottles with names like "Stomp" and "Wipeout" which are now illegal even in Nigeria. His garden has never had slugs or birdsong).
Finally, Laura the Estate Agent does a little dance in the hall. Her high heels echo on the floorboards. "No one's checked, but sounds like a cellar" she says. We stand there, impressed. Secretly, all of us have wanted a cellar. I'd put Lego in it. Dad would fill it with useful bits of wood. Mum would clean it.
Afterwards, we sat glumly in the carpark watching trains chug over the suspension bridge. "Oh dear, that is the one," my mum sighed with quiet despair. The house is a bargain. But that's still £130k none of us have spare, and it's not like my parents can sell their house immediately. It's at moments like this I wish I'd gone into the City when I'd had the chance (it was either that or the BBC). You know, just for a couple of years.
At school we had a history teacher who'd done banking for five years. He'd made a mint and was now clearly teaching just for a laugh. It made him a brilliant teacher. How I remember the lesson where we reproduced John Wilkes's attempt to raise the devil in the school grounds by traipsing round the Rotondo reciting the Lord's Prayer Backwards. "But sir - do we walk backwards, recite the prayer backwards, or both?". "Let's work through the three options Gemma Pudsey and when you burst into flames, well, then we'll know, poppet."
See? He was brilliant. And also minted. It's at rare times like this, sat in a carpark in the rain, that I wish I was more like him. I'd be able to buy my parents a house on a whim. And I could raise the devil at dinner parties.