So, I finally took the plunge into garden furniture.
I’d been worrying about my garden terrace, and how I was telling everyone viewing my online house-for-sale ad that it was ideal for eating out. Except the photo showed it didn’t have a table-and-chairs set to eat out on. My claim sounded hollow. Would I be believed?
Scouring the internet for affordable but reliable and actually weatherproof outdoor furniture was not proving useful. By affordable, I meant almost free – as I’m about as broke as anyone can get, who has absolutely no money. And this stuff costs.
By weatherproof, I mean we have famously changeable weather here on the west coast, but I didn’t want something where you’d have to keep putting on and taking off a rain cover. And who could entertain successfully, with a pile of temporarily discarded green plasticanvas in plain view? It’s a small terrace. Conversation would turn on little else.
Plus, it had to be foldable. In my mind’s eye is a mirage of selling my little house and moving to Portugal, a country I have never been to but which exists in my imagination as green, fertile and, above all, cheap. A country where my old-age pension will buy me rough red wine, olive oil, artisanal bread, ripe tomatoes and a visit from a cleaning lady twice a week. What more could anyone want?
If I bought garden furniture, it would have to translate easily to my Portuguese garden terrace; and that meant foldable, to fit in the campervan I also have to buy in order to get us there, me and Hunzi and my unsaleable guitars.
It’s a complicated mirage, this one.
Finally however a midsummer bargain set appeared in my local supermarket. It was fifty pounds, but my son works part-time in the holidays for the supermarket and has sweetly given me his ‘family-and-friends’ card, that gets me 10 per cent off everything. That’s one in the eye for his mother.
It consisted only of the table, 1.5 metres by 0.75, and four foldaway chairs. No umbrella, but hey. I never like those umbrellas, blowing around, collapsing, pinching your fingers, poking your eye out. And if I change my mind, well, there’s already a hole in the middle just in case.
So I wrestled it home – cars here don’t stop for you, even when you’re crossing the road under a cardboard box that’s bigger and heavier than you are – and commenced to assemble it in the kitchen.
If you thought this was going to be a misery memoir about assembling flatpack furniture, you couldn’t be more wrong. The instruction sheet was perfectly clear and quite approximately translated.
I once had a part-time job as a member of a consumer panel testing and, if need-be, rewriting instructions for flatpack furniture for the B&Q chain. Even though I was fired, for insisting on getting paid, I still know a good instruction sheet. They’re not all as good as this one.
I was pleased, too, to see the set came from Vietnam. I was happy to be contributing a little to their economy, after what our US allies did to them. And it was beautifully made and packaged. The chairs packed top-to-tail in the box were neatly tied together with homely raffia. The sawcuts and joints were perfect. The holes precisely drilled, it all fitted with ease. The bronze bolts were sturdy, none missing – there was even a spare Allen key. And the table doesn’t wobble.
Naturally, for forty-five pounds the set, you are not going to get illegally logged Burmese teak. That costs a little more. It claims to be hardwood, but it’s pretty soft hardwood. The care instructions warn, the grain can open up in dry weather – but never fear, a spot of rain will cause it to close again. And a drop of Danish oil will bring the colour back like new.
So, imagine my disappointment when, sitting out on the terrace having breakfast in the sunshine, I noticed ugly splits were already appearing everywhere in the timber, after only a fortnight. That is, after yesterday’s rain should have caused them to close up again. We don’t get the monsoon here, maybe our rain isn’t sticky enough.
I noticed, too, that there were three chairs permanently unoccupied. I am the only person who ever sits here at this table, waiting for someone to come along and buy it, along with the free house. I don’t know anyone else who might want to come and try out my garden furniture, this empty signifier of instant, agreeable companionship and alfresco hospitality.
Not being a ‘couple’ has lots of disadvantages, when everyone else is partnered even friends find it awkward to visit you. Speaking of ugly splits, might you eye-up their partner? Will she eye you up? Apart from green plasticanvas heaps, what are you going to talk about? In an asymmetrical three-way conversation, chances are someone is going to be left out, bored. Do they need to hear the story of your divorce, again?
And no prospective buyer has set foot in my house, on my garden terrace, with its patio set and supermarket miniature olive tree in a pot, ideal for eating out à la Méditerranéan, since last October.
Even I’m no longer impressed with my garden furniture set, the bloody thing is just in the way, rotting, splitting, taking up space pointlessly on the terrace. Forty-five quid could have got me six bottles of wine, maybe eight with the 25 per cent bulk discount offer, in addition to my ‘friends-and-family’ card.
There are no ‘friends-and-family’, they’re yesterday’s mirage. It’s just me and the dog, sometimes the scrappy little cat, or the demented thrush from next-door, yammering at us from on top of the fence; the constant ocean-roar of the traffic and my ludicrous, addled imagination, playing tricks.
There are no bargains to be had anymore, in the garden furniture department.