From a distance, it looks like an ordinary bench with vertical slats along the back, gracefully curved arms, a central support and sturdy horizontal strips for the seat. However, this bench is made of concrete. It is set in the formal gardens of a country house open to the public.
There is a man sat at one end and a ewe at the other, each staring out straight ahead aloof from each other. The man is attired for the country: a hat, warm coat with the collar up, trousers and wellingtons, evidence of the mud on them from his walk across the estate. The ewe is sat upright, resplendent in a pair of spiralling horns covering much of her face and like the man, protected against the elements in a full winter coat. Today the pair’s attire is at odds with the sunny and warm spring weather. They are of course also made of concrete.
You can’t ignore the bench. People come from miles around to see it and have their photograph taken with the man or the ewe. However, people are so distracted by the concrete characters they don’t notice others sat on the bench.
Today Malcolm is sat there, equidistant from man and ewe, reading the Guardian newspaper, a bunch of pink roses by his side, freshly cut from the estate garden. He is dressed casually for him – brown, well polished shoes, pristine blue jeans, white open necked shirt and blue blazer. If you took the time to look closely you couldn’t help but notice the quality of his clothing and his immaculate grooming of nails, face and greying dark hair.
He keeps an eye on people as they come and go. The only time he is noticed is when a large family group want to take up the whole space on the bench for a photograph. He not only gives up his seat, he graciously offers to take the picture for them, so that no-one is missed off.
He settles back down with his newspaper, this time folding it so that the crossword is prominent. A few minutes later is he totally absorbed, struggling with 9 across ‘Directly opposed (10)’. ‘Son, I’m surprised you’re struggling with that, having visited Australia and New Zealand.’ ‘Mother, how long have you been sat there, I was miles away. You always were so much better at crosswords than me. Antipodean, of course!’
They sit chatting for a while, Malcolm discussing some of his concerns for the estate, news on his children’s achievements at school, in sports and the eldest at university and his father’s health. She offers some wisdom and leaves as quietly as she arrived. ‘Same time, same place next year son. And don’t worry, your father won’t be joining me for some time yet. Love you.’
He rises, running a finger along the inscription
‘Lilian Clifton 26/11/1928 – 14/05/1997
Death ends a life not a relationship.’
‘Twenty years ago today mum, where did that time go. Love you too’ he thought as he left the roses on the bench, nodded to the likeness of his grandfather and his prize-winning ewe sat at the ends of the bench and walked back to the house.
Note: The bench was real. It was placed in Rufford Country Park close to my parents’ house, so I have fond memories taking visitors to see it. Unfortunately, it was vandalised and proved too expensive to repair or replace. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/nottinghamshire/8310746.stm