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June 2005 - part 2

(The Mick with the pick)

Well - sometimes life is full of surprises!

During my final week of outpatient treatment, one afternoon the doorbell rang. An Irish voice enquired if I wanted work done on the garden. As a matter of fact I did, I told him. 'Cut the lawn and tidy it all up?' he said hopefully. No - clear the grass and all the plants and leave it totally bare. 'For a driveway??' he said even more hopefully. No, for a garden, I replied. He thought for a bit and said he could do that. I told him it would have to be the next week, when I was around all of the time: 'I can do this Thursday or Friday' he said. No - next week; think about what is involved and if you want the job come back on Monday.

Most of my friends said I was mad when I told them, but I pointed out that the job required no finesse - just brawn, persistence and probably sheer stupidity to attempt it in this weather - it NEEDED a Mick with a pick!. However, I really didn't expect him to return - I spent the weekend thinking about how to get the garden cleared before all the stored plants died - he'd be doing a driveway elsewhere.

In an attempt to protect me from this potential danger, the promise had been made of a phone call from a friend of a friend who did this sort of work - he never phoned. While talking to another friend whose husband's job was industrial landscape gardening I mentioned this; her opinion was that nobody would take it on until the ground had been softened by a good deal of rain.

So, all in all, it was a bit of a surprise when the doorbell rang on Monday morning and there was the Irish gentleman, with a revised quote (hardly surprising!) for clearing the lot, including the tree-stump, and ready to work. I agreed - he started. Having found potential homes for a few more plants over the weekend, I told him which ones to avoid because they were required, including the Viburnum tinus, told him to leave the tree in the corner (the Cotinus) completely alone and left him to it. He said he'd be on his own that day, but bring a mate the next day and complete the job.

A short while later he rang the doorbell and greeted me with a rose bush with about half an inch of tap root and otherwise stripped; 'Was this one of them?' he asked. I commented that it was perhaps lucky it wasn't, as there were no roots. 'They stayed in the ground when I pulled it up' he replied. I pointed out the one I wanted in that side of the garden, together with a comment about the roots, reiterated the instructions about the Cotinus and left him to it again. I was just thankful that the ones other people wanted were on the other side.

The doorbell rang again: 'Did you want this one?' - a Weigela (I couldn't see the roots). No - it could join the heap. Then again: 'This was the one you wanted' he said proudly. Yes - he got it right about the Viburnum - but very wrong about the roots! It was, I said, but just put it on the heap. A third time: 'I'm off for a snack'. Fine I said, see you later. He returned with his wife, who stuffed plants and turf into plastic bags while he worked steadily with the pickaxe. Then they went to lunch.

After he had gone I took the opportunity to check the Cotinus (it was OK!), dig up the small Fuchsia from the other side, just in case, and take photos of the progress - and it was indeed progress.


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They returned after lunch. He pickaxed, she stuffed until she ran out of bags. She then started knocking soil off turves with a hammer - apparently to lighten the load in the bags - that would be barrowed instead. The plastic bags were lining the pavement by now, as well as running right across the garage door and along the side. No more mutilated plants were offered - there were no more that side. He was working on the lawn - a much harder job. He rang the doorbell to let me know when he had finished for the day.

All of the left hand side had been pickaxed, although far from all was bagged - it lay in a vast heap in the middle. He told me the next day's plan: he and the wife would arrive early (remains to be seen what that means, but certainly well after I'm up) and finish the clearing. They would then push the loose earth into the dip in the middle ... Oh no, I interrupted, all the loose earth goes - that will be full of seeds. He agreed to that.

His mate would arrive a bit later than him and start on the other side and then when they had completed all of it they would 'phone the man with the truck to take everything away. It would all be completed that day.

He left, I checked the Cotinus again (still OK), took the progress photos after 'phoning my friend who was having the Fuchsias. He arrived, dug up the remaining one, plus a Lavender, then drove me to the 'hole in the wall' to obtain the necessary notes in readiness for the payment to be made when I was satisfied with the work done. I had no intention of being absent while they were working!

By the end of the first day of work the garden looked very different - but the tree stump was still there; I suspect that is at least a two-man job.

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That evening I did rather more detailed planning of which existing plants were going where - and which plants I was going to enjoy buying.

Morning came and I was awake early. While we had been removing the final wanted plants I had noticed the fine display of thistles the other side of the metal fence. I shoved a note through next door's letter-box - 'Would they like me to remove their thistles?' A note came back 'Yes please'. I popped my head out of the door and explained that this was not entirely altruistic - I didn't want them seeding into my garden and this was an ideal opportunity to get rid of them. While it was still cool and overcast I dealt with the thistles, dandelions and willow herb - grubbing up as much root as possible (but I know there is more thistle root there - they are so persistent) and threw them on top of the chaotic haymeadow on the right hand side, together with assorted bits of rubbish - it would all get cleared.

Morning progressed a bit before the Irishman and his wife arrived, but they got stuck in to clearing and bagging, scraping the loose soil into a heap for removal, just as I had asked.

Then he attacked the tree stump. His friend had not yet arrived - the boat train from Ireland had been many hours late - so he had no help with it. The fight took a couple of hours and at one point it looked as if the stump would win - but the Irishman was very determined! A combination of pick, saw and sheer brawn eventually defeated it, leaving quite a crater.

After that he needed his lunch. His friend was home at last and he would be bringing him back with him to start on the right hand side. He even remembered to check that no more plants needed to be saved!

A short while after he had gone the doorbell rang. Surely he's not back so soon? No - different man: 'Clear the rubbish for you?'. I looked at him - and at the neat bags - 'It's in progress - they're at lunch!'. He wandered off, disappointed. It's like buses - none at all, then two together!

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They returned after lunch - three of them now. Clearing and bagging continued, although things did not proceed as quickly on the right hand side. Although it was not as rock hard as the other side had been, roots were deeper and, I suspect, friend was not putting the same energy into the pickaxe.

Then they ran out of bags, asked if I had any - no - and went in search of the heavy duty variety. Digging, clearing, scraping and bagging continued when they returned, until the next little problem arose - he couldn't contact man with truck and had to go in search of him. It turned out he had forgotten about the job and gone to the pub. So, what with friend's delayed journey, argumentative tree stump, underestimate on bags and lack of truck it was not completed that day as promised. I was actually relieved about this because they would now have time to clear the right hand side properly before the truck arrived around midday.

There were certainly a lot of filled bags - proceeding round the garage and right along the street, plus the ones in the garden.

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There is just one thing that worries me about this ... the next day is 'dustbin day', and the recycling collection is early. I shall have to go out there and explain that this is not some horrible joke!

There was a thunderstorm that evening, but when I inspected in the morning the ground was only damp at the surface, with no real penetration; it would not hinder the work. I told the recycling collector the truck had broken down but was coming today - he asked the driver if they wanted to take any - no because their own truck was playing up and they had to come back later for the paper and glass. 'Having a special collection?' he asked. 'Contractors, but I don't know if they recycle.' I replied. 'They usually do.' he said cheerfully. My thoughts had run more to fly-tipping in an unusually environmentally friendly form, but I didn't say so.

The trio returned at 10.30 and announced that the truck would be there at 11. 'You'll never finish by then' I said - but he pointed out that it would take some time to load it. It certainly would! They started by moving all bags onto the pavement and road, in readiness, then the digging, scraping and bagging continued. By the time the truck actually did arrive, luckily the best part of an hour late, so not clashing with the refuse collection, they had nearly completed the job.

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To my surprise it actually was a local council special collection truck! I had asked the Irishman if he had any use for the glass tank (which I should never have moved with me - I'll never have that many carnivorous plants again, if any). He hadn't but the special collection agreed to take it and it went on first. Then the bags were loaded ... When the bulk of the loading was done, the Irishman left friend to shovel up the earth from the road and did the final scraping and bagging before sweeping the paths. This, too, was chucked on the truck and the truck departed.

By 1.05 it was done. There was a discussion on payment, his memory differing slightly from mine. I reminded him that I had accepted his revised quote without haggling - he agreed. I also told him this was because I suspected he had actually underestimated the work involved - he agreed emphatically. He said that the collection cost more because there was more than expected. 'Council special collection', I said. 'Contractors working for the council' he replied. I agreed to a much reduced additional sum - it had all been cleared, including the tank!

I told him I thought of him as 'the Mick with the pick', especially after the fight with the tree stump; he and his wife thought that a good joke. He tried to interest me in various other little jobs, I told him I had hospital appointments and didn't know what would be happening yet - but I did take his 'phone number, making a mental note that there might be other jobs for him - but only the sort that I would be able to inspect for myself (I have no objection to ladders and have been known to look at roofs and the pointing on chimney stacks!). We shook hands and the trio departed,

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Yes, I know I am going to find roots, and that it has not been dug out deep enough to remove all weed seeds - but had I done the job myself, as I intended when I first saw it, there would have been a great deal more roots and no soil would have been removed at all. After all, I am finding strange roots in the back garden!

Luckily, some rain is forecast - although probaby not enough. I plan to let the first crop of weeds grow and kill them before adding topsoil and compost.

When it is cooler (where is that rain they promised?) I'll take a few measurements to work out how much topsoil is required ... the right hand side is easy, being rectangular, but the left side is more problematic. Umm - the area of a circle is pi r2, pi is 3.1416 (forget the recurring bit) then calculate the angle the fence runs at to work out the arc (glad I've still got that protractor somewhere), add the rectangular bit, decide what depth I need. Phew, good to know the long-term memory seems to be working.

PS - Uploaded pages. Nice and overcast now. but still no rain. Rain at Wimbledon, so only replays and interviews. Mark up measuring stick, find protractor, paper and pencil. Lock catflap. Place sticks at angle, measure angle, start to measure boundary - we got rain! Paper muddy. Go indoors. Still rain at Wimbledon, but, within a few minutes, not here! Try again another day ...

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