Low life

'I know what you are, and where you've come from. Be aware we are under God's protection'

What happened when I went to buy a second-hand lawnmower

17 May 2014

9:00 AM

17 May 2014

9:00 AM

I couldn’t find the house so I called the number again. Instead of the man I’d spoken to previously, this time a woman answered. ‘I’m surprised you couldn’t find the house with all your advanced technology,’ she said. She sounded elderly. A mid-Devon accent — an older version of it. ‘I’ve yet to join the sat-nav generation, I’m afraid,’ I said, apologetically. ‘Sat-nav?’ she said. ‘You must think us very quaint. Stay there and I’ll ask Maynard to come and fetch you in his car.’

So I pulled the car over and waited. Five minutes later, a beard driving a Nissan Micra came along, saw me, indicated, slowed down, showed me a palm and performed a U-turn. I started the car and followed him. The careful and helpful way that this man indicated well in advance of each turning, and the excellent condition and cleanliness of his ten-year-old Nissan Micra, and the Christian fish symbol on the back of the car told me in advance that the mower he was selling would be in excellent condition. Even the unobtrusive positioning of the fish was somehow reassuring.

He pulled up outside a tiny cube of pink brick and indicated briskly with an arm that I should park in front of him. I got out and found him already waiting with an outstretched hand. I grasped it and we exchanged comments about the captious weather. He was a spry, intense sort of a man. The beard reminded me of an Indian fakir’s beard. It was groomed, even coiffed. The shaped moustache with its twirly ends was impressive in its own right. But the rest of him — cardigan, collar and tie, diction — was thoroughly British.

He led me around a conifer hedge and there on the postage stamp of the garden was the mower. You could have trimmed a lawn this size with a pair of nail scissors in quarter of an hour, so why he thought he needed a Briggs & Stratton 100 cc engine was anyone’s guess.  The mower was in showroom condition. He’d even polished the red steel casing. He tilted the machine up on its back wheels and I put my cheek on the ground and peered up at the blades. ‘Like new,’ I said, getting up. ‘I look after my things,’ he said, shortly. He bent down and tickled the engine, then pulled the string. The engine fired easily first time. I reached for my cash. But here the stern composure wobbled. Terrified that I might hand over the cash in full view of his prying neighbours, he put an anxious hand on mine and said, ‘Let’s go indoors.’

He led me through his front door and into a tiny hall that smelt as if it had never been smoked in. Steep carpeted stairs, a gilt hall mirror, and a spindly table with a telephone with a folded copy of the Daily Mirror placed on it An elderly woman, presumably the one I’d spoken to earlier, was standing beside this table. She had a very pale face and a scarlet slash of inaccurately applied lipstick. I offered a sunny greeting, but she failed to respond. She seemed to be studying me. I handed the man my four £20 notes. It was a fiver too much and I told him to keep it. He was horrified by that idea, too, and vanished through one of the doors at his back to get change.

The woman and I were now alone together in the claustrophobic hallway. Something about me amused her. ‘You’re quite convincing, aren’t you?’ she said. I didn’t know how to take this. Perhaps she’d read The Presentation of Self in Every Day Life by Erving Goffman and was referring to my social performance. I thanked her modestly. Then she said, ‘You’ve come a very long way, haven’t you?’ ‘Ten miles. Not far,’ I said cheerfully. Her face hardened.  ‘I’m warning you, I’m not so stupid as the others. I know what you are, and where you have come from, and why. But be aware that we are under God’s protection in this house.’

The beard, now returned to the hall brandishing a fiver, was in time to hear this. ‘Mavis, please,’ he said. Then he gently placed an arm around her and steered her out through the door through which he’d just come. From without I could hear him remonstrating quietly and patiently with her. When he came back, he said, ‘She’s not quite herself, today.’ We shook hands again. ‘You know your way back from here, do you?’ he said. ‘To the mother ship?’ I said. The pink slit in the beard widened. Beneath all that hair, I now noticed, was a kind, humorous face. ‘Turn left at the bottom, then left again, then just keep going till you know where you are,’ he said.

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  • Jackthesmilingblack

    “Be aware we are under God’s protection”
    That is so creepy.

  • Realpolitik/ fruitcake/ racist

    Why would she say you must “think [her] quaint” when you don’t have a Sat-nav? Was she senile?