Saturday, 9 March 2013

Wise Words and C***tish Ways of Gardeners

What makes a good weekend? For me, nothing.

By which I mean that I should have nothing particular to do, and plenty of time not to do it.

I have a friend who likes his weekends mapped out well in advance - rugby match on a Saturday, party the same night, lunch with friends on Sunday, etc. etc. - but I like a weekend with no particular direction, punctuated by exactly the same habitual, weekday rituals which drive H.I. round the bend to witness me repeat.

I may be in the middle of some workplace crisis, or halfway down the road to financial ruin with no apparent means of salvation, but I am what I like to call an 'optimist', which is putting a positive spin on the fact that I am a lazy, irresponsible waste of talent who lives hand-to-mouth on a day-to-day basis.

My little plan to create a post with the title, 'Keeper of the Statuary' at a good client's large estate seems to be bearing fruit, as does all the time I wasted at Art School learning all the techniques of all the disciplines of sculpture (not just stone), much to the vexation of all my teachers, who thought that the time spent on that would have been better wasted creating 'Fine Art'.

It has taken about 45 years of back-breaking work to become a consultant in this field, but now my back has broken naturally through advancing years, I have finally found a handful of people who appear to be keen on gleaning whatever experience I have accumulated, which is just as well, given the above circumstances.

There is - I know - a strong element of off-loading responsibility for a potential disaster when they call me up about a very simple task to be performed on an object which, if dropped, would probably bankrupt them for life at an early age, but if that is the way I am to become irreplaceable to them, then so be it. I have broad shoulders, and having spent most of my adult life trying not to do the professional equivalent of kicking a priceless Ming vase down the stone steps of the British Museum, I am used to this sort of pressure. I actually relish this sort of pressure. It is the only sort of pressure that I actually enjoy.

Only once did I nearly drop an 18th century, full-sized figure from a great height onto a hard surface, and my only fault in the process was not having taken charge of the situation.

I was called to the house of a well-known name in the Oxfordshire countryside, with a view to replacing a large stone plinth for a Circa 1750, stone statue which the elderly gardener took great delight in telling me cost about three times his annual salary.

My task was to remove the statue from it's crumbling base and replace it with mine, and I had brought proper lifting equipment with me to do so, but not the extra manpower, having been told that the idiot gardener would help - saving money for my client.

The gardener began inching the thing up with a bar - bit by bit - and propping the base up at each corner with each lift with little slats of wood as he went, causing the figure to lean horribly from side to side as it got higher and higher.

It was already high enough off the ground before we started, but by the time the wood had been built up to a height from which there was no where to go but down, the inevitable happened and the figure fell off - almost in slow-motion.

It is amazing how people can find strength they never knew they had in such circumstances, and I wrapped my arms about the whole thing and actually picked it up bodily, despite the fact it probably weighed about a quarter of a ton.

As I was dancing with this bit of sculpture, I amazed myself further by finding the breath to shout instructions to the old gardener, telling him - in terms he could not ignore - to get rid of all the stuff beneath the figure - including his stupid bits of wood - so I could put the FUCKING THING DOWN.

The whole event only took about 10 seconds or less, and when it was all over, I told the gardener to go away and never show his face to me again - once I had got my breath back.

I have had a life-long and bitter hatred of old men who pretend they know what they are doing and do not take advice from anyone who may know better. This hatred has, I believe, modelled me into a better and more team-spirited professional old man - one that is not scared of taking advice from younger people, who - whether I like it or not - may know better than me!

I wish all architects had the same attitude...


  1. Dear Tom,
    an aunt always said: "The most of it it costs already" (meaning: if one invests a lot of money to buy a thing or to get a thing done, one should not be mean and scrimp on the last penny and take second best (one will be sorry long after the money is forgotten) - or in the Case of the Oxfordshire Sculpture: use an old gardener to save manpower...
    To become very strong under pressure: yes, I remember an occasion too. To get that shot of adrenalin there must be a lot at stake.
    Brings me to the topic of Keeper of the Statuary (I am always in book titles: this reminds me of D.H.Lawrence :-)
    - the work as an expert sounds really tempting.

    1. Not only tempting, but essential, I think.

  2. On weekends ... Yesterday we friends sat down to a long lunch on the veranda over looking the harbour. It was election day and when we were finally stuffed with beautiful food and champagne, Selina said, 'now I shall go and exercise my democratic rights, then I will have a lie down for the rest of the afternoon.'
    A good weekend in a lucky country!

    1. Champagne, food, lying down and democratic rights - sounds like French or Italian politics.

  3. Not surprised your back has given up, although I suppose one could look at it another way and say that it must be an extremely strong one if you managed to keep going for years after carrying a quarter ton statue, or even if it wasn't QUITE a quarter of a ton.