The Garden Gnome, or Gartenzwerg, originates in German local mythology as a figure of calm wisdom, cheerful happiness, prosperity of nature and quiet modesty. Scholars speculate that their bearded countenance is descended from images of Priapus, the Greco-Roman God of Fertility.
In 1847, Charles Isham introduced the Garden Gnome to Britain.
– The History of the Garden Gnome
I hate this verdammt fishless pond.
Three common misconceptions about the garden gnome:
1. We like fishing.
2. We like gardens.
3. We are exanimate.
Certainly, we are inanimate. We’re made of terracotta for Gottes sake. But there’s life in this old hollow terracotta shell; and it’s somewhat frustrated. Thanks to the first misconception, I was recently refurbished with a fishing rod in hand. This led, inevitably, to my current owners placing me by a pond. I have nothing against ponds, but I don’t want to sit by one twenty-four seven. It’s just generally uncomfortable. And besides, like many purveyors of pointless pursuits, these particular gardeners are completely devoid of logic. They have not populated their pond.
But perhaps I’m being unfair. There is a certain logic to it. I’ve seen a few ponds in my time, and to be honest, fish are a pain: you have to feed them, protect them from hungry beasts (and sometimes humans), and occasionally (as in the case of any owner foolish enough to buy Cat fish for an outside pond) they run away. However, it still strikes me as fairly pointless to have a pond in the first place.
So, I have a fishing rod I cannot cast and a pond without fish. Even had I the compulsion to fish- which I don’t- I could not. This makes for frustration at the pure perplexing stupidity of the English. Back in Germany, people really knew how to treat a terracotta figurine descended from the god of fertility. We had shrines, respect, little forest grottos where, at the very least, you could have a half-decent conversation with like-minded individuals. Not anymore. Now I’ve just got a fishless pond, the schrecklich English weather, and solitary boredom every waking moment; and that is every moment, because gnomes never sleep.
I suppose things could be worse, though. I’ve seen a few gardens in my time, and thank god I’m not in a back-yard again. I think it was around 1939, but to be honest I can’t really recall. I lost my mind for a while. When all you’ve got is a small, five-by-five concrete courtyard that no one ever enters or exits or even uses for anything at all, well, it’s what I imagine a prison to be like. Six years of gnomish hell. Luckily a bomb dropped on the sadistisch bastards who so confined me, and I was reappropriated from the wreckage by a passer-by.
This garden is not so much a garden as a front lawn, which has its perks. The pond sits squarely in the middle of the lawn, a paved path dividing to run around its circumference before heading down at a slight incline to the street. The slight incline is very important, as is my position facing the street across the pond. Without the incline, the only interest in my position would be found in comparing various ankles and shoe brands. I’ve known a few gnomes in my time, and some of them developed rather strange relationships with feet thanks to close and continual proximity. Luckily, though, the incline gives me a good view, not only of the street and the people who pass, but also the houses adjacent and parallel to my own. This allows me to the spectacle of some of the finest examples of human society. Two recent highlights:
1. Traffic accident two doors down outside number thirty-seven; just at the corner of my eye. One very shiny, very black vintage car (likely bought during the mid-life crisis of the overweight, sweaty, balding occupant of number thirty-seven) totalled by a speeding cabbie. Overheard afterwards from gossiping neighbours (sound carries in quiet suburbia): the cabbie fell asleep at the wheel after a twenty-four-hour shift. He drove off the road, across the front lawn and into the car parked neatly in the driveway. There were sirens, flashing blue lights, uniforms everywhere; and the man from number thirty-seven trying to kill an already badly injured cabbie. It was all very dramatic. I never found out whether the cabbie survived. I like to imagine that he didn’t, though. It adds to the drama of the scene.
2. Infidelity at number fifteen, directly across the road from me. Early hours of the morning, streetlamps illuminate the pallid, semi-naked, partially pyjama-ed husband in question; locked out, yelling at an open window, various possessions ejected from said window in response to his protests. Finally the dumme lost it completely and tried to climb through a tiny bathroom window. Naturally, he got stuck. Neighbours called the police. Sirens again. Very entertaining exchange between the policemen, the thoroughly stuck soon-to-be-ex-husband, and the wife inside attacking him with a pair of scissors.
Of course, these single events are few and far between. I sometimes spend months replaying them in my head, over and over, just for something to think about. Life is slow in suburbia. I used to sporadically get the newspaper thanks to the poor aim of the paper boy, and that helped. Certainly, it gave me a better grasp of the outside world than many gnomes could boast. But with the turn of the twentieth century, standards of newspaper delivery have been instituted and now they are delivered to the front door, rather than flung haphazardly around the garden. It’s a shame. I rather like the Daily Mail.
There has been only one great constant in my day to day life: the dog. I call him Gӧring. He’s an ugly biest: squat and jowly with a head too big for his body. Think of every adjective between vile and evil and you won’t be far off. Day after day he comes, trotting down the road with his equally ugly, tracksuit-sporting owner. He crosses from the pavement to the lawn, snuffling and grunting and snorting, and promptly pisses on me. (The dog, not the owner.)
I suppose many people would say something along the lines of ‘it’s only a dog after all, it doesn’t know any better’. Anyone who says this has never been pissed upon. And not just once, no: every blutig day! Only tramps know what it is to spend your life steeped in the acrid stench of urine. It is not pleasant. And he knows what he’s doing, the arschloch. I can see it in his squinty, scowling eyes, his lolling tongue, his lumbering, lolloping stride. He knows what he’s doing, and he loves it.
One would assume that the nature of a gnome is to have no enmities. I have one, and I’m actually rather proud of it.
We’ve developed a kind of rapport over the years. I can’t talk, obviously, but I can think. And think I do, very loudly. Every time the schwein bounds across the garden boundary, crushing bushes, gnawing fence posts and scratching up flowerbeds, I think at him. I think the vilest insults imaginable: the most cutting remarks about the size of his schlange, the most degrading sarcasm about his bladder control (which is somewhat suspect) and some frankly awful things about his mother; with many unsubtle insinuations as to the health of their relationship. Some might say she was an innocent victim in all of this, but arguably, Gӧring must be so maladjusted for a reason.
So I think insults at him. And I’m pretty sure they get through. He can’t talk either, but with every particularly cutting remark, that laughing look leaves his eyes, his loping doggy bounce becomes less triumphant and he begins to glare at me with a hint of growl in his throat. He glares, barks and pisses.
Gӧring is my enemy, but after so many years together, I like to think of him as a kind of friend. Our enmity is entertainment in an otherwise mundane existence, which makes me feel some level of affection towards him. I’d like to think he feels the same.
So it is with a certain expectation of enjoyment that I approach the new day. Judging from the angle of the sun in relation to number fifteen’s chimney it must be around eight o’clock. Gӧring arrives at five past eight sharp, every day. He’s very punctual, almost German in fact. I have some beautifully crafted insults today. They’re practically prose. There’s even one insinuating illicit relations with his owner; and that’s harsh. Even I find the track-suited dog-walker unattractive, and I’m a gnome.
A single glimpse of Gӧring’s approach is enough to chill my excitement. He charges towards me: not the meandering, exploratory route that he usually takes, but a full on gallop down the street straight towards me. He’s gnashing the air as though there’s something to bite and there’s a light in his eyes and oh mein Gott it’s terrifying; it’s dark and it looks like victory. He bounds across the pond and for a second I think- here it comes, the everyday gush of steaming, stinking yellow liquid- perhaps I’m just being paranoid.
Then he lowers his huge ugly head and closes slavering jaws about me.
The world tilts alarmingly and I find myself in motion. I scream, mentally, and the last thing I see before my mind drowns in black-lightening shock is my pond. My fishless, pointless pond. The morning sun shimmers, a reflection in its unbroken surface. It’s an angle I’ve never seen before. It’s beautiful.
One emotion gnomes are not designed to handle:
I lie, face down, in the gutter; my only companions a crumpled crisp packet, a wet cigarette butt and a wealth of something black and stinking that I can only describe as mud for fear of what it might actually be. My cheek is cold where it presses the rough, wet concrete. I’ve been here for some time now: days at least. This is worse than 1939. At least then I had five metres of concrete to survey. Here I can’t move, I can’t see and I can’t even think because of the juddering, jarring, mind-stuttering fear. This is it. Das Ende ist nah. Oh Gott. Mein herr! Rette mich!
Too melodramatic? I refer you to point 1. Gnomes are not made for fear.
The stench is overpowering; putrid filth warmed up by car exhaust. After calming down, I think about death for a while, just to pass the time. The standard questions: will it be quick, what comes after, do gnomes even get an afterlife? Answers: probably not, not much and I doubt it. Rain begins to fall, plink-plinking against my terracotta backside. As ignominious a fate as ever met a garden gnome. I scream silently at the hurensohn who brought me to England. This would never have happened in Germany.
How did I get here, to this gutter? To anyone not a gnome, I should explain a basic fault of our biology. Movement, for a gnome, is thoroughly disturbing. Immobility means no sense of balance, or gravity. If you can’t move, and never have, then you have no wealth of experience to draw upon, no instinct for the right way up. When he lifted me the world came untethered and my mind fled.
I awoke when Gӧring dropped me. Never the best-formed specimen to begin with, he was weary- brutish muzzle lathered and blocky chest heaving. His grip on me slipped. The terracotta crack as I hit the pavement brought me back to cold hard reality. Still groggy from the trauma of my violation, I watched as he lowered his jaws to recapture me; but somehow, just as his wicked, yellowed fangs brushed my shoulders, I rocked to the side and thrust my little rod straight down his throat.
I don’t suppose I’ll ever really know how it happened: whether I really moved, or whether it was pure coincidence. I’ve tried a few times since then, but I can’t move. Gnomes can’t really move. Of course they can’t. Don’t be ridiculous.
The fishing rod snapped off in his throat. Yelping and scrabbling and coughing, he backed away; blood dribbling from his gaping, gagging maw. An errant paw caught me as he fled, flipping me into the gutter. And here I am.
Something strokes my back. If terracotta could tense, I would. This is it. Das Ende. I try to imagine what it will be, my ending. Perhaps Gӧring survived and has returned to exact some awful revenge upon me; maybe it’s a car preparing to roll over me, splitting my sides with its weight and reducing me to shattered shards; or a Youth, hoodied and smelling of sweat and cigarettes, about to throw me at a brick wall in a mindless act of violence. I heard a lot about ‘Youths’ in suburbia; nothing good. I’m terrified by the latter option, but I kind of like it. At least I’ll go out with a bang.
Everything flips. I’m upright again, on the curb’s edge, and though I have no stomach I feel remarkably nauseous. But I can see again. Moments like these make me wish I could weep. Being upside down for long periods of time can do that to a person. Before me sits a tramp, a homeless wanderer. His trench coat is dirty and ragged and stuffed with yellowed newspaper for insulation. He is, much as I must currently be, lacking in certain elements of personal hygiene: black flakes and streaks of mud matting his long, greasy hair, his bushy beard; covering every available piece of exposed skin. And there’s something wrong with his eyes. They stare off in different directions, making his faint smile strangely quizzical. I meet his gaze- sort of. He fumbles a shockingly clean, white tissue from one pocket and reaches towards me. I flinch, mentally. He stops and leans right down, chin inches from the pavement, so that his face looms large before me.
‘Don’t worry little man. Ain’t gonna hurt you.’
Nobody has ever talked to me before. About me or around me, sure, but never to me. Not even in Germany. I don’t know what to do. The tramp begins to wipe at me with the tissue. Long black splodges appear on the soft white paper. He touches me with such care, such reverence, as though I’m important to him. When he’s done, he neatly folds the tissue and secrets it back in one of the overcoat’s many pockets. Then he places a tired cardboard sign in front of him and turns to stare at the passing crowd. We’re sitting on a busy pavement somewhere I don’t recognise. Cars rock me gently with their swift passage. Ankles and shoes move past with the speed of stress. The tramp turns to several passers-by, hand out, enquiring for change. They ignore him.
I think very hard at him:
The tramp looks down at me.
‘Sorry, little friend. Can’t understand.’
‘That’s OK.’ His face crinkles up around his grin, little lines in all the dirt. His errant eyes sparkle with warmth. ‘At least one of us looks presentable now.’
You can hear me?
‘A gift from God, friend. He said you could do with some help.’
We sit like that for a while, letting companionable silence stretch between us. None of the pedestrians are in a generous mood. In fact, they’re carefully avoiding the man with the odd eyes sitting by the side of the road talking about God to a garden gnome. After ten minutes or so, the tramp gets up to leave.
The tramp stops. All I can see are the cracked, sole-less wrecks of his boots. A piece of chewing gum is keeping the ripped leather together.
He hunkers down beside me, getting as close to the ground as possible in order to talk to me face to face. He practically has to lie flat on the ground, but he doesn’t seem to mind. He’s staring at me intently. The pedestrians’ fear and outrage at this social transgression boils over in several muttered comments about the state of the world today. I stutter into silence for a second, and then…
Can I… Can I come with you?
The tramp frowns. He closes his eyes and cocks his head as though listening very intently to someone who’s not there. Then he nods, once, and smiles.
‘You know, I think I’d like that, little man.’