Passing for Normal The roadside grotto

One day, Dave Prescott was driving along in his car, late for something really important, "when I saw one of these signs and it made me stop and perform a dangerous U-turn. Under normal circumstances I would have driven past, confident in the fact that I already had eggs, for example, or didn’t need runner beans. But this time the sign offered more."

New in Ceasefire, Passing for Normal - Posted on Sunday, June 26, 2011 2:05 - 0 Comments

By Dave Prescott

Here in the countryside where the grass is green and fields are often yellow, what remains of the local culture persists in tin-can village halls and the back rooms of broken down pubs. This elusive culture has a magic realist quality due to a mixture of high technology, amiable Luddism and large landscapes. On roadsides between settlements you will often see optimistic hand-written signs advertising things like free range eggs, runner beans and new potatoes.

One day I was driving along in my car, late for something really important, when I saw one of these signs and it made me stop and perform a dangerous U-turn. Under normal circumstances I would have driven past, confident in the fact that I already had eggs, for example, or didn’t need runner beans. But this time the sign offered more.

The sign had been written in some pretty beautiful handwriting and placed outside a kind of farm-like property. The sign said:

Mushrooms

Bamboo

Mint (23 types)

Music

Frames

The written word

Unusual chutneys

Unclassifiable

I parked next to it and went up to the door, which was opened by a weatherbeaten middle-aged man. Wordlessly he led me around the back of the house where there was a small area of woodland. He parted the branches of a particularly old tree and ushered me into a kind of cavern.

Then he left me alone. It was lit by solar fairy lights and a few windows set deep into the walls. Piano music drifted up through the floor from hidden speakers. The walls curved around and up beyond sight. The floorspace had been eccentrically divided, with signs – in the same writing as the roadside one – explaining what was in each section. It was quite cold. It felt like an external manifestation of the man’s mind.

I looked around and saw all that had been promised by the sign. On the walls were landscape and seascape photos in hand-made frames made out of things like driftwood and stone. There were also some framed quotes. One read: “A stair that has not been deeply hollowed by footsteps is, from its own point of view, merely something that has been bleakly put together out of wood (FK)”.

Next to a window, on a table made from reclaimed chapel benches there was mint, piled lushly around – banana mint, Atlas Mountains mint, chocolate peppermint, eau de cologne mint, Guernsey mint – all the way up to 23 types. A gravity-mocking tower of jars stood next to the mint containing some courageous flavours of marrow-based chutneys, some pink in colour.

In the centre of the room, some wop-bop-a loo-bop a-wop bamboo canes in every imaginable colour as well as in stripes, some of it giant, going twenty metres up into the darkness.
Next to the entrance I noticed a sign listing prices, with the caveat at the bottom that it was possible to pay less, if a sound reason was written down on pieces of card that had been provided for the purpose.

Glowing in one corner were some bioluminescent mushrooms in a glass cage as if for fish or reptiles. The mushrooms cast a faint green light on the side of a crudely-built bookcase nearby, featuring attempts by a person to express himself in writing. There were a few hand-bound children’s stories and a collection of aphorisms, poems, ideas, stories and odd hybrids.

I wandered over to the ‘unclassifiable’ section and discovered an oven that had been made using materials under my feet, built out of the very earth was the phrase that popped into my head. Inside it a pizza was clearly cooking. I had come at an opportune time. It made me think that the whole experience had been provided just for me.

A sign informed me that the ingredients for the pizza had all been gathered from a very small radius. Next to the pizza oven there appeared to be a giant hole with lights at the bottom, a bit health and safety, that, I thought, until a drop of water plinked into it and I realised it was a puddle. I stood next to the oven where it was warm and breathed slowly.

By now I was so late for my important appointment it was like a dream. Outside, the car remained parked. Over £3,000 a year to keep it on the road when there was the possibility of a place like this. The choice is clear.

Dave Prescott is a writer and consultant. He lives in the countryside.

Photo credits: Tara & Tyler @ www.goingslowly.com

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