I should have known the moment I mistakenly took the third exit from the roundabout and ended up on the wrong side of George Lane, a railway and a station standing between where we were and where we wanted to be. That’s when I should have realised. That’s when I should have just ordered a bouquet instead.
But instead I pulled over and chose Google Maps to help me around the intricacies of the South Woodford one-way system. The destination was the pottery cafe I’d visited with George a few weeks back. It was on that occasion I’d had the idea: what could be better, I thought, than for my infant son and I to produce a unique and touching ceramic work for Claire’s first Mothering Sunday?
I should probably point out, at this point, that my talents are not well-weighted in the direction of the arts. I would have done well to remember the appraisal a particularly malevolent primary school teacher once made of one of my less meritorious paintings. Somewhat invidiously, and to the entire class, he described it as ‘an explosion in a beetroot factory’ (it was a purple tree). If only I’d pointed out beetroot is grown on farms, not made in factories, and that he should get his own house in order before publicly shaming a nine year old, the callous ginger dickhead.
I found a parking space after four spins around the one-way system, Google Maps increasingly incredulous at us reaching our destination and driving on time and time again. “An hour should be long enough” I thought, cockily, while feeding the meter. “We’re only decorating an item of crockery”.
This was before I had attempted to apply paint to my infant son’s hands and feet and then produce a reasonable image of them on a plate. It takes longer, is harder, creates more mess and generates more reciprocated resentment between you and your child than might one might initially expect. One of the staff at Creative Biscuit saw our trouble and, having probably heard about Beetrootgate, intervened with calm, measured, experience and got the prints made in a matter of some seconds. All that was left to do was for me to paint a few suitably sentimental words, finish off my coffee, pay up and get off.
Painting words on a plate is difficult. Really difficult. Next time I see a proper hand-painted plate, I will take a moment to reflect on the skill and experience of its artisan creator. After seeing my failed attempts at writing the word ‘to’, one of the other staff suggested I might want to write the words in pencil and then just go over them in paint. (Hopefully I’m not giving away too many trade secrets of the fine china industry; sincere apologies if I unwittingly cause a crisis in Stoke-on-Trent.)
All the words set out in pencil. Colours chosen. Paint brush ready. The first letter. Second letter. Third. Totally in the zone. I was half way through an H when the I was alerted to the gentleman newsreader Harvey Cook’s unmistakable delivery playing out over the cafe’s hifi for the second time since my arrival and, for my subconscious, a helpful reminder that I should stick an extra hour on the parking – and, with a be-camera’d Civil Enforcement Officer a matter of meters up the street, at the most fortuitous time.
Lettering successfully complete and, with another 50 minutes of paid-for parking in hand and driving absolutely the right behaviours, there was clearly scope to add some extra words. My infant son’s name and the year, in Roman numerals, on the front. A little motto and the date of the prints, again in Roman numerals, on the back. Because Roman numerals are a bit special, aren’t they? A little club that not everyone’s in, an opportunity to stop and conjure a memory in years to come as the cogs slowly turn and the date is revealed. Either that or the mark of a pretentious elitist, eager to impress upon you their intellectual superiority, such as the person responsible for their perpetual use in the credits of BBC Television programmes up until really very recently.
Our infant son presented his mother with the plate this morning, along with a small card and box of macarons. A question, which initially appeared innocent, came quickly: “What does MMVI mean?”
“It means twenty sixt…oh, bollocks.”
Happy Mother’s Day, Claire.