Wednesday, 13 November 2013

In and out without a trace

I have just decided how I am going to try and spend the rest of my working life, which - in reality - will be the rest of my life, full-stop.

For about 40 years now, I have been struggling to do a good job whilst receiving conflicting directions from a variety of egocentric experts whose main ambition is to leave the biggest mark on the property of others as the budget will allow, and since the budget is usually administered by them, the mark is quite often so big, that it obscures the the original concept altogether.

These overblown 'project coordinators' fall into two categories: interior designers and exterior (garden) designers. Your average project coordinator in the small building industry usually has one prime function: to facilitate the smooth transition between drawing board and construction of the vision of an architect, and the architect's prime function (as far as the client is concerned) is to get the project through all the hoops that the planners and conservation officers hold up, as cheaply as possible.

A quite famous garden designer that I know and have done work for, once tried to get his foot into the door of one of my best ever clients, and he did this by paying quite a lot of money to attend a charity event at the property.

As it happened, the whole estate was being tarted up by a friend of mine, who also happens to be a successful landscape architect who has worked for the great and the good as well, but does not seem to have the same craving for fame as the artiste designer obviously has.

The grounds were originally laid out by Capability Brown, and if Mr Brown was famous for one thing, it was for his 'naturalistic' approach to garden design, in the wake of all those early 17th century formal lay-outs.

The work of the Chelsea Flower Show, Gold Medal-winner is in stark (and I mean stark) contrast to any naturalistic approach, and I have seen (and helped) him destroy quite a few very pleasant gardens with his pastiche of Strawberry Hill Gothic rubbish (and I mean rubbish - most of it comes out of skips), including some very famous ones indeed.

I bumped into him a couple of years ago, and he mentioned the charity event excuse, and that 'there was nothing for him to do up there', meaning that it all seemed to be in hand, thanks in the main to the vision of the owner.

"That's right'" I said, "They are quite capable of fucking-up their own garden without your help."

I have never 'signed' any work I have done, and all restoration and conservation that I have carried out was done in an attempt to follow the spirit of the original to such an extent that no trace of 'me' could be seen in the finished job. This approach has lead to a few arguments over payment of bills between me and the owner of some objects, as they could see nothing to justify the high bill I presented to them upon completion.

I have had two brilliant clients over the last 20 or so years, and they have been brilliant because they have had the vision to know what something should look like, and the forethought to have employed me to carry it out without hindrance! This is rarer than you might think.

Recently, I have bullied and cajoled my way into the role of project coordinator for a community project involving the restoration of a large, historical facade (no prizes for guessing which one...).

This project involves a board of 7 (I think) who are all experts in their own fields, and a shareholder group of over 530.

I wanted the best possible job done at the best possible price, and - as we all know - decisions made by a disparate group of half a thousand or so, take quite a while to be made and - once made - may not turn out to be the best ones in practice. This is why I have turned into the prima donna's prima donna for the last 6 months, but it is not simply to get my own way.

The job will - when it is finished - be stunning, and will have cost the same or less than an inferior one, using inferior techniques and inferior materials. I will show you the photos in about a month's time.

The only trouble is that I am not being paid for it, and it takes quite a lot of time to get up that many people's noses every day.

I think (but then I would, wouldn't I?) that I am particularly suited to this sort of management, what with years of experience of watching (and helping) others to cock-up so badly in what would appear to be so many straightforward situations requiring a single-minded and cohesive set of straightforward decisions.

In any event, soon I will be too old to go into work and hit stone every day in all weathers, if I am not already. Wish me luck, and get your cheque-books ready.


  1. Why are you not being paid for it....Are you just being a 'decent chap'?

  2. I got out of Architecture pretty quickly when I realised how many egotistical and pretentious arseholes there were with no taste and a need for constant reassurance. I ended up working in the theatre where the actors were just as bad. Remind me to avoid garden designers too....

  3. Well I certainly wish you luck Tom - and methinks you will need it. As for cheque books out - mine is almost empty.

  4. It seems every line of work has its share of arrogant arses who ride on the tide of their own egos and little else.

    I agree with you and how things decided by committee go. Usually it's abysmally slow going and the majority just want busy work and make others be truly busy. And inconvenienced.

    1. I don't mind that aspect of it, unless the work is all to no real avail in terms of being 'good'.

      I am pretty good at being a complete fucking bully, especially when dealing with out-of-control egos. I make them cry.

    2. (Actually, I usually make them laugh)

  5. Yet another talent comes to the fore. And a good one at that to possess.

    1. I usually have reasonably good taste in most things - until it comes to a love of certain crass pastiche, which I don't even understand myself.

    2. Oh, and the 'Reader's Wives' section of certain top-shelf mags.

  6. Some so-called garden designers should be lynched. I remember seeing Titchmarsh (sp?) et al doing a garden 'makeover' on Nelson Mandela's garden in S Africa. Unbelievable..... I wonder if the episode is still available somewhere (YouTube?). Poor NM was dumbstruck!

    1. I attributed Titchmarsh's success to his being a bit of a sex idol to women of a certain age who obviously fantasised about both mothering him and shagging him senseless in equal measure.

      I never paid much attention to him, but I believe he has a profound dislike of wooden decking in gardens, so he can't be all bad.

  7. We have used the same plumber for our last 6 house moves. He said to my face, he likes it that I am dead straight with what I will and wont accept. Also, I have lots of pictures I put together. And he has all the pictures of our old bathrooms and the en suites we have done.

    He said it refreshing, rather than going to someones house. and when he gets there they just plainly state that they would like a new bathroom. he is like, ok, so what did you have in mind...? And they never know. they always say a white suite. and he says and what about tiles? Radiators, under floor heating.

    There is something about telling people what you want and exactly what you expect.

    I don't think that is getting up anyones nose. I think it is more about not being bullied or made to accept inferior products or service.

    If you truly feel it is right, I don't think you should back done.

    1. I am always polite to anyone who has bought 6 houses too. It is commercial suicide not to be.