Posted by philwhiteland on Wed, 24 Apr 2019
I’ve been thinking about Cyril quite a bit over the past few days.
I should, at this point, make clear that I do not usually spend my days thinking about Cyril. In fact, it must be quite a while since he last crossed my mind. What brought him to the fore this time was that I have been mowing the lawn.
This is the sum total of my efforts in the garden, apart from occasionally hacking some innocent tree to within an inch of its life. This is not due to any particular indolence on my part, other than the regular background indolence that is such a feature of all my works (or lack of them). No, it has more to do with (a) not being really interested and never having been and (b) having absolutely no knowledge of what should be there and what shouldn’t, (b) being quite clearly linked to (a).
Whilst mowing the lawn, I decided to try and do something about one of the edges which was being taken over by a bunch of delinquent wild strawberries (I only know what they are because I’ve seen the tiny strawberries in the past, otherwise I would just categorise them as ‘green stuff that spreads like nobody’s business’).
The only reason that I am in a position to ‘do something’ about the edge of the lawn is because I have invested in an edging tool. I normally keep as far away from tools as physically possible and try not to have them in the house, because I know that I would be tempted to try and use them and that way lies danger and guaranteed humiliation.
I was only tempted to buy this one because I’m in a state of permanent warfare with the lawn, in an effort to curb its desire to spread over the paving slabs and the edging tool does that job nicely. Stemming the Invasion Of The Wild Strawberries was slightly more problematic because it entailed creating a relatively straight line where none had appeared for quite some time.
I can’t do straight lines. This was a cause of bemused sorrow for my metalwork teacher, Mr. T., back at Anglesey Secondary Modern but a cause of outrage in Mr. W., who attempted to teach me Technical Drawing and Woodwork. Mr. W. took it as a personal insult and once sent me for the cane for planing a piece of mahogany from a nice piece of wood with a vaguely straight edge into something resembling a cross-section of a particularly rough sea.
My efforts with the lawn edging tool were no improvement. If anything it’s a slight diagonal with occasional kinks but at least the wild strawberries know what they’re up against now. Looking miserably at my latest failure, I was forcibly reminded of Cyril and my mum’s wish to have a small, semi-circular flower bed.
In the course of his very long and somewhat singular life, Cyril wore many hats. He had been a railway signalman at one time, which would have suited his orderly mind and solitary ways down to a ‘t’, but the demise of the brewery railways and, as a consequence, the multiple crossings which were such a feature of 1950s Burton-on-Trent, meant that his job was made redundant. Taking early retirement, he filled his days with odd jobs, one of which was gardening. He took on the management of a select number of gardens, usually owned by retired people who could no longer manage them. In the summer months he could often be seen cycling to one or other of his projects with bags full of tools and cycling back with some vegetables or flowers. He always cycled, whatever the weather, never owned a car and I doubt that he ever learned to drive.
I would have loved to have seen a garden under his management, I should think it would have been a sight to be seen. HIghly ordered and neat, I would imagine, but whether any particular project would actually have been completed…I somehow doubt.
Take my mum’s flower bed. She did want a semi-circular flower bed to break up the rectangular stretch of grass which we, laughingly, called a lawn. The state of the ‘lawn’ can be judged by the fact that we never, to my knowledge, owned a lawnmower so the grass was only kept in check by a combination of my rabbit (who also contributed a few holes) and me hacking away at it with hand-held shears on a Sunday afternoon in an effort to avoid falling asleep and joining my dad in synchronised snoring to wear off the effects of Sunday lunchtime’s visit to the pub.
We could, of course, have dug something up ourselves but mum wanted to put a bit of work in Cyril’s direction as he always seemed to be teetering on the edge of poverty. We did a fair bit of teetering ourselves, from time to time, so mum knew what it was like and tried to help discreetly when she could. Cyril agreed to look at the job and went down our garden to suck his teeth and take a few measurements. He then disappeared for weeks on end before reappearing, without any warning, and carefully marking out the site of the proposed flower bed with pegs and string. This exercise took hours because, for him, it had to be geometrically perfect. When it was finally laid out to his satisfaction, he disappeared again and I’m not sure whether he returned to the project again that summer.
It all became a bit embarrassing. We had a flower bed that existed in theory only. We could have gone ahead and dug the thing ourselves but mum felt that would only upset Cyril. Tackling Cyril about the job was difficult because he always seemed so busy and seemed to look on it as a favour that he was doing us, when mum had only really asked him to do it as a back-handed way of giving him a bit more income. I’m fairly sure that it was completed eventually, but I’m also sure that it took years when it ought to have been finished in an afternoon, at most.
I’m conscious that I’ve only really scratched the surface about Cyril in this, so I’ll tell you more next time.