I chose this story because Gnome is now a close neighbour of mine. He played a special part in Pauline’s book, All Along the River. Here is a little piece from the manuscript:
‘There was a touch of the surreal about the outdoor cafe we visited in Putney High Street at the end of our day’s walk. We were drinking cappuccinos in cups the size of soup tureens when I glanced at the seat beside me and saw an inch high gnome standing on a mound of gold coins. I hope no- one turned up to claim him because I put him in my pocket and took him back to Australia, where he lives under a tree fern in our garden. The gold coins did not make it that far. They were full of chocolate, which we ate on the way home while planning the next section of our journey… to Lambeth and beyond..’
Gnome was hatched from a chocolate egg but isn’t sure if he is Italian or German and doesn’t know how he ended up living by the Thames. He was selling sausages, so I guess that’s where the coins came from…DES.
Thank you Desmond. Putney signalled the end of the old towpath we had been following for so long. Horses once plodded along the path towing barges of produce to the city of London. And this spot is also the starting point for the famous Oxford-Cambridge boat race.
In 2012, for the first time in the race’s 158 year history, proceedings were disrupted by a rogue swimmer. Claiming he was protesting against ‘elitism’ the Australian (yes, I’m afraid so) swam directly into the path of the boats. The race was halted for half an hour. After it restarted Oxford veered into the Cambridge crew and snapped an oar. Cambridge cruised to an easy victory but celebrations were muted as Oxford’s bowman had pushed so hard compensating for the loss of an oarsman that he collapsed and was rushed to hospital. It was a race to be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
Putney is also where the Antarctic explorer Lawrence Oates was born and raised. Oates is remembered for what might quite possibly be the most famous of all ‘last words’. He stumbled from his tent in a blizzard during the ill-fated British Expedition of 1910-13 saying: ‘I am just going outside and may be sometime.’ It was a courageous act of self-sacrifice as he realised his terrible physical condition was putting the lives of his companions at risk. Oates did not return and his body was never found.
We took Gnome with us to Putney’s St Mary the Virgin Church, which was visited by the diarist Samuel Pepys on April 28 1667 . Pepys had an eye for the ladies but was unimpressed by the locals; ‘..and then back to Putney church, where I saw the girls of the schools, few of which pretty.’ He also had a little misadventure at St Marys; ‘Here was a good sermon and much company, but I sleepy, and a little out of order, for my hat falling down through a hole underneath the pulpit, which, however, after sermon, by a stick and the help of the clerke, I got up again…’
Our discovery of Gnome at Putney inspired Des to pen this excruciating little rhyme;
GNOME MATTER WHERE YOU ROAM,
THERE’S TREASURE TO CARRY HOME.
ONE TINY ELF DOESN’T ADD MUCH WEIGHT ,
ESPECIALLY AFTER HIS COINS ARE ATE.
Gnome has now retired from sausage selling. He shares his Blue Mountains home with a one-legged frog and appears to be very happy. He is a delightful memento of our long journey from the source of the Thames to the river’s estuary. One day I must take him to visit Sydney’s Putney, so named because of its location by the Parramatta River, once dubbed the Thames of the Antipodes!
POSTSCRIPT – Some not so famous and slightly churlish last words from Des:‘Gnome does not have a job and yet he drives a red convertible. I am an Editor, but I only have an old bike’.