Tuesday 22 June 2010

Wrong about Gordon and the Garden

Forgive me, readers, for I have sinned. To find peace, I must now recant and proclaim to you all that Gordon Brown is an absolutely cracking chap, and the Alnwick Garden is not pants.

To be fair, the Gordon Brown I have in mind is not the famed genius who abolished boom and bust, but a distinguished local solicitor of the same name. He is one of the old school chums I wrote about last week (and not, I hasten to add, the one with a mail order bride).

His fate was apparently sealed by a late change of name from Stephen to Gordon on the grounds that the latter “could not be mucked about with”. This must have been something of an obsession in the North East of 1954, because I was christened Keith for precisely the same reason. Ironically my wife calls me “Keitho”, so it is surely only the fact that we had them cremated that prevents me from being kept awake at night by the sound of my parents turning in their graves.

Local Gordon has amused himself for the last few years by replying to emails intended for his slightly more famous namesake, including ones asking the then Prime Minister why, when his main workplace was in London and his constituency in Kirkcaldy, he also had an office in Newcastle.

Geordie Gordon has also been moved to write occasional letters to Downing Street, packed with helpful advice. Since he has a high regard for paternity, as the end approached he naturally urged the beleaguered PM to lay down his painful burden and focus on the joys of parenthood.

Advice which Scottish Gordon duly followed when he announced that he was stepping down to focus on the most important job in the world, being a father and husband. Thereby guaranteeing one last burst of unfavourable comment from those outraged that he had been sending other people’s sons to die in Afghanistan in a job that was not even his top priority.

As for the Alnwick Garden, I am not entirely sure that I have ever shared with you my long-standing view of it as a bit of a disappointment. Very occasionally, I do hear faint echoes of my mother’s advice: “If you haven’t got something nice to say, don’t say anything.”

But the fact is that I went not too long after it opened and comprehensively failed to see what the fuss was about. There was not much to see apart from a big, bare waterfall, and frankly that was not a patch on the other ducal cascade at Chatsworth. I came away scratching my head at where all the money invested in the project had actually gone.

Now, I know that I was not alone in this feeling because I mentioned in the village shop last week that I would be spending the afternoon in the Garden, over my own dead body, and was greeted with a general shaking of heads. “It is,” one customer observed, “the sort of place that people from out of the area want to go.”

I duly trudged along in a spirit of resignation and came out hugely uplifted. The planting has matured beautifully, the Treehouse is magnificent, and the treetop walkways huge fun if you come equipped with a baby buggy and a nervous wife.

My one-year-old was entranced by the water sculptures, the blossoms and the white doves billing and cooing by their cotes. In short, we had an absolutely terrific afternoon. I realise that this will not be news to many of you, but some of us never appreciate the treasures on our doorsteps and others, like me, simply need to give them another go.

It’s not a bad principle to apply when approaching most things in life.

Though not for you, obviously, Scottish Gordon.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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