Matt Chorley: The Emperor's New Clothes (22/07/12)

A gnome in the rockery! Who could defend such vulgarity? Cue our own comical ornament...

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David Cameron's father was a banker. John Major's father ran a company that made garden gnomes. You see, you're warming to the little red-faced chappie already aren't you? And I don't mean our current Prime Minister.

It is almost a national sport to hate garden gnomes. True, they are the ceramic equivalent of a sign that says "You don't have to be mad to work here... But it helps". It advertises zaniness, when the occupants are often rather zaneless. But at least someone with a miniature bearded fisherman perched on the rockery is using their garden to say something about their personality, instead of signing up to the Titchmarsh doctrine: decking, blue fence, water feature.

Gnomes have been banned from Chelsea Flower Show for nearly quarter of a century. They have rules on these things. "Brightly coloured creatures" are not allowed. Yet they let Vanessa Feltz in.

It was the dying wish last year of 82-year-old Veronica Pratt to have gnomes lining her funeral route in Pembrokeshire. The family put 30 on a roundabout for the cortege to drive past. And 'Elf and Safety killjoys from the council took them all away. You see, whose side are you on now?

Surely not on the side of madcap funsters who steal or gnomenap little men in red hats? The only thing more irritating than someone who collects garden gnomes is someone who thinks it amusing to take one hostage. And then, instead of doing something marginally worthwhile like respooling a cassette with a pencil or reading a whole Ed Miliband speech, puts together a "ransom" note using letters cut out of newspaper headlines.

Last week, it was reported that Lorraine Dearing from Swindon had been sent a photo of her "beloved gnome" Norman, with a knife at his throat. The kidnapper, clearly no mathematics wizz, demanded she pay a ransom of 1,000p. But Lorraine, rightly, told them to get stuffed.

Despite originating in Germany, garden gnomes are just harmless, old-fashioned British fun. And what could be more innocent than a red-faced man emerging from the bushes with his rod in his hand?

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