June 8, 2023
News Opinion

MICHAEL WOLSEY: The other man’s grass is always shorter

How does your garden grow? Hardly at all, if my neighbours are anything to go by. Never have lawns been so frequently mowed or hedges so regularly trimmed.

Lockdown has turned many fingers green. One of my daughters is planting a wildflower garden at her house, another has taken to growing vegetables.

I am sorry to report that this green tide has not reached me.

As I have confessed in this column before, my efforts at gardening are largely a form of warfare, in which I emerge from the trenches for slash and burn attacks aimed at  halting the advance of weeds and their allies, the brambles. Sadly, non-combatant flowers and inoffensive shrubs often fall victim to friendly fire.

Lockdown has not changed my approach but, whereas these manoeuvres were once conducted every six months at most, I now go over the top every six days, more frequently if there is nothing good on television.

My lawn is cut to the quick, the shrubs reduced to stumps, and woe betide any weed that dares to raise its head in Wolsey Gardens.

DIY has also spread among my neighbours like, well, a virus.

I am told that new-found enthusiasm for baking has put flour in short supply. Surely, the same will soon apply to paint.

The decent man next door, having painted a small wall that divides us, asked if he could pop over and do my side. I assured him he was welcome – “do the whole house if you like!”.  And, you know, if this goes on much longer, he just might.

I have no plans to give it a try myself.  I believe writing and painting don’t mix and, because that is a good excuse, refer you in evidence to the case of Brendan Behan who was a painter before he was an author.

Behan was employed by Irish Lights and sent to paint a lighthouse at St John’s Point, which is on the County Down coast, not far from Newcastle.

The budding playwright charmed many of the locals but not the principal lighthouse keeper, a Mr D Blakely, who wrote to Irish Lights asking them to sack Behan, whom he described as “the worst specimen” he had met in 30 years of service .

“His language is filthy and he is not amenable to any law or order,” he wrote. “The spare house, which was clean and ready for painters, has been turned into a filthy shambles inside a week. Empty stinking milk bottles, articles of food, coal, ashes and other debris litter the floor of the place which is now in a scandalous condition of dirt.”

Although Behan often boasted about his painting skills, I suspect his heart was never really in the job.

His approach, as described by Mr Blakely, seems rather like my own on the odd occasion when I have been called upon to tackle such work. “He is wilfully wasting materials, opening drums and paint tins by blows from a heavy hammer, spilling the contents which is now running out of the paint stores. Drums of waterwash opening and exposed to the weather, paint brushes dirty and lying all around the station — no cleaning up of any mess but he tramps through everything.”

The letter was written in 1950 when Behan was 27. Mr Blakely also complained that “the painter B Behan (was) absent from his work all day yesterday and not returning to station until 1.25am this morning”.

I suspect Behan may have discovered the simple truth that, if you approach a job really badly, someone else is likely to do it for you.

That’s my plan for home improvements in this era of coronavirus. The painter is poised next door. Now I just need to find a volunteer plasterer, window cleaner and landscape gardener. Time, I am sorry to say, is on my side.


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