This is my father's garden - or a small part of it, at least. I'm sure you're looking at this picture in admiration: isn't it pretty? Aren't those hedges nicely trimmed? Look at all of that lovely greenery! Alas, my father would look at this picture and instantly spot five kinds of weeds. This is one source of my father's pride: he has been gearing up for my sister's wedding for about 9 months. The garden ... Must. Be. Perfect. Perfect! Frankly, we're not quite sure where this pressure comes from; after all, we have yet to spot a wedding guest walking around the garden with a clipboard, taking notes and giving points for Weedlessness, Symmetry, Tidy Hedges and whatnot.
Sadly my father's definition of perfection is of a standard far higher than most mortals can achieve. I'm sure he considers his offspring's inability to identify weeds as a form of birth defect. My father believes that his children share the same knowledge that he does, a kind of genetic telepathy: if he knows what a weed looks like, then so do we. The fact that I've spent the past 15 years in city centre apartments does not matter - it's absolutely unthinkable that I might look at a pretty purple flower and not realise that it has to be yanked out tout de suite, its very existence a blight on the face of my father's garden.
"Why don't you tell me which ones are weeds?" I ask innocently. "If you tell me which ones are weeds, I'll just pull them all out."
My father almost bursts a blood vessel: "If I have to go around pointing out the fricking-fracking weeds, I might as well pull them out myself! Should I go around with a shticking red pen and mark all the weeds?"
And with a final, exasperated glare, he'll pick up his wheelbarrow and march off, shaking his head at his daughter's cluelessness. I pull out a few dandeloins - because I know what they are - and then meander back inside to watch Antiques Roadshow on the telly. Through the window of the living room I'll watch him wrenching weeds from the flowerbeds, deeply disappointed at our total lack of green fingers.
My father's disappointment brings me on to the real point of this post: cussing. My dad is a master of many media - he's a wonderful artist, he's a talented photographer. He's musically gifted, and he has a keen grasp of science. A real Renaissance man. Yet his true medium is actually profanity. He is a master of the colourful turn-of-phrase. And we're not talking about the usual, run-of-the-mill expletives - if push comes to shove (and it often does), he will simply invent something: an incident involving him calling my mother a 'donkhead' almost ended in divorce. (In fact, I'm not sure I should even mention The Donkhead Ignominy as it might get him in Big Trouble again.) In any case, he can always be relied upon to capture the mood of the minute or the character of some random individual with a well-chosen and almost spookily accurate obscenity. They're generally not used in anger or rage, they're sometimes delivered serenely, often reflectively, - occasionally, even, with a little relish, - and therein lies my father's mastery of the medium. It is the careful application of colourful language that distinguishes him; I'm pretty sure most people outside of our immediate family would be shocked to hear that he ever used bad language at all. That mild-mannered Mr Gingerbread? Never!
"What kind of froggle-faced dweebnose reads this rubbish?" he'll say in despair, picking up a copy of Hello! or OK! or some other magazine that features botoxed celebrities and their glamorous homes. The froggle-faced dweebnose in question (probably one of his daughters) will wither under the recognition that her grey cells have indeed been turned to mush by pictures of Angelina Jolie's living room or Lindsay Lohan's latest drunken escapade.
Or he might be moved to exasperation:
"Who took my skiffering comb again?" he'll demand, searching the top of the mantelpiece for the comb that one of the family has absconded with. "Do I have to attach it to the frunking mantelpiece with a chain?"
Or he'll wait till a nasty customer has left my parents' business premises - the door has barely fallen closed - before he'll say judiciously: "Well, that was a flimpering plonker!"
And every single time my darling mother will shriek and say, "For crying out loud! Really! Is that kind of language really necessary?"
My father will smirk, delighted, and return to his computer with a sense that justice has been done. The verdict has fallen. Customer X is, indeed, a flimpering plonker.
Some might see my mother's knee-jerk reaction as proof of my father's creativity; after the best part of forty years of marriage, he still manages to shock my mother with a selection of innovative swearwords. But I think it's actually a true testimony to the depth of their loving relationship: she is kind enough to continue to fake outrage when she could have given up long ago.
"That fellow is nothing but a bloppering weavel-tailed shyster," he'll say, wagging a finger at the Prime Minister on the telly. "I wonder who voted for that throttling gumboil?"
"Really!" my mother will interject. "Do we have to have that kind of language at the table?"
While the rest of us try to hide our smiles and smirks, my mother will tut-tut and tsk-tsk, shaking her head in mock vexation. But if you look more closely, you will detect a glint of pride about her person. She is, after all, fully aware that she is married to an artist ... and like every art form, you do not have to be a fan to recognise when you are in the presence of a master.