Mr August’s Gardenby Leila Bloch / 19.01.2011
It’s not the size of the memorial that matters but the scale of the horror. A strange and somewhat abrasive looking garden has always caught my eye from the train in Salt River. So I went to find it.
The car is overheating. I am lost between the mountain and the train tracks, confronting the M5 and blasted by that clichéd stench of street sewage. I’m starting to feel like a cheap joke. The quest to find this garden is a trashy ploy to get me out of my comfort zone. The gutter is littered with dried flotsam like syringes and used condoms, wedged between KFC packets and patches of dried vomit. All this I’ve seen before.
Cynical, hot, hungry, four vetkoek and some chafing later my semi-employed afternoon just got exciting. Hustled into the train station by the skinny, flailing arms of a snack seller, she demands we get free entrance for a private viewing of Mr August’s garden. I’m lured in, by her tight mom-pants and seductive squint. The camel-toed succubus draws me in to the type of parasitic dialogue that leaves you with a sense of vertigo and pale bemusement. “I don’t know, where’s August? We’ll find him. You, where you come from girlie? Come, come sit here and wait it’s too hot now, what you doing here hey? Just a little longer now, Ja, AUGUSS!? I’ve been working here now for years, we are all good types off friends. Where’s Augus now! Auguss??”
Twenty minutes later Mr August finally strolls past in gaudy yellow, armed with paintbrushes and enthusiasm.
In front of the train station – between the bathroom and the intercom – is the garden. “DO NOT KILL” is scrawled in black paint alongside the legend “THE PRIDE OF THE SEA” and “THE GRAVY TRAIN”. Next to that is a Stonehenge-inspired wishing well. The shape of Table Mountain is scribbled on something khaki and a plastic replica sculpture of the station rests in a sandpit garlanded with flowers, wilting in the heat. A lanky Father Xmas droops like the scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz. This garden is the horticultural version of an overshare, an eye-sore but I can’t stop staring. Mr August has too much time on his hands. My attention wavers as I start to imagine the madness, the boredom, the obsession seeping out of him.
Only after endless dead-end questions (and just before a tour of the pot-painting) does August even mention it’s actually a memorial to commemorate the death of ten children. A train collided with a taxi in Blackheath in August last year. Shocked reverence jolts through me. Quickly doused by an excitable crowd repeating how talented and amazing Mr August is.
“He doesn’t need a woman!” says the snack seller.
“You’re right,” he says, “I’d rather have ten!”
Still I’ve been seeing this intimate space with irony rather than the gravity required. It reminds me of the Cross Bones Cemetery in London. Mangled strips of feathers, ribbons and flowers hang on a rusty iron gate like a whore’s knickers, exposed, raw and seductive. “Touch for Love” graffiti is scrawled next to, what is known as the “Single Woman’s Churchyard”. A euphemism used to designate prostitutes who died in brothels in 16th Century England. On a gate in Great Dover Street a dark and eccentric memorial honours the remnants of the Ladies of Soot and Sin.
Like Crossbones, Mr August’s Garden is a monument to suffering – the result of real pain and limited resources. Nurtured out of loneliness or grief, respect and creativity – these sites secrete private emotion into public spaces, turning anywhere intimate, wanting nothing in return for one’s attention, the complete opposite of advertising. And suddenly my “hey cool” fetish for strange memorials leaves a bad aftertaste.
*All images © Leila Bloch