Things are rarely what they seem

We went to what was loosely described as a garden centre this morning. I didn’t want to buy anything garden related or otherwise, we were just taking Gill’s Mum and Dad out and that’s where they elected to go. I say they but in practice my father in law didn’t voice any preference of destination or even for going out at all. I didn’t hear any invitations being proferred or any kind of discussion taking place but he seems to have adopted the ‘anything for an easy life’ approach to what he does these days so garden centre it was.

The theme of hidden meaning began on the motorway when a large sign before the roadworks announced “delays possible until summer 2017′. I was just considering what food and drink we had with us and pondering chances of it keeping us sustained for eighteen months when we were through the disruption, off the motorway and pulling into the garden centre having taken no more than five minutes longer than expected.

On entering the ‘garden centre’ the first thing that caught my eye wasn’t a stack of compost or a rampant aspidistra it was a parrot called Maddie. She was sitting on top of an enormous cage pretending to be asleep whilst watching me with an intelligent eye.


I wandered off to check out the overpriced bottled ales whilst my father in law went wherever Gill chose to push him in his wheel chair. The deception continued; three bottles of beer for seven quid does not constitute a ‘special offer’ when I can buy the same thing for a fiver in any supermarket. Maybe some boozers do all their shopping in the ‘garden centre’ so don’t know any better.

We had been wandering around for about an hour and I still hadn’t seen very much of a horticultural nature unless the deluxe all-goose-down duvets were designed to go on the bed at the bottom of the garden. I really didn’t think the solid oak TV unit, attractive as it was, would be suitable for the English climate and my confusion was compounded by the little boy who announced in a loud voice, “it’s a cushion shop Mummy!”

We wandered through the shoe department and fingered a few 100% acrylic Pringle sweaters before heading for the cafe/restaurant for some refreshment. Things didn’t get any better. The sign said “Hot Counter Queue” but it was cold when I leaned on it. We sat at a table adorned by a beautiful posey of plastic flowers identical to the one on every other table. Around the periphery of the room there were elegant plastic shrubs and just behind me a perfectly manicured fake box hedge sat on top of a glass reinforced plastic willow structure. To be fair, the view through the windows was spectacular. Buzzards wheeled high above a scene straight from a Constable canvas and only the fake plastic trees adorned with fake plastic blossom spoiled the view.

What on earth was going on? Here I was in a retail operation dedicated, or so I thought, to encouraging the cultivation of nature’s beauty and everywhere I looked I saw injection moulded immitations of what I thought we had come to buy. The food and drink by contrast were refreshingly real and tasty and feeling satiated we left the cafe and amazingly, finally, we found ourselves surrounded by actual living plants and flowers. The sign saying wet paint was a lie though, I tested it.

We left with a pair of boots (real leather, we checked), a sign that informed us that “coffee, chocolate and men are all better if rich”, ha ha and a child’s toy that played synthetic versions of songs from the film Frozen but nothing living or green. Maddie the parrot winked at me as we left the checkout. Things are rarely what they seem.


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