It wasn’t a cold morning, but there was a stiff wind blowing. I was up and about early because I had a job on that day: I was going to creosote my dad’s garden fence.
I turned up at his flat and, after a cup of tea and the usual chastisement for something or other, we went down to the garden. He handed me a tin of creosote and a brush. My brother had already painted the inside of the fence, so I only had the outside to do, although this was still a considerable area to paint. He told me that by the time I finished, he would be across the road at the pub, and I should seek him there. He left me to my task, so I turned up the collar of my coat and got stuck in.
The L-shaped fence was made of vertical wooden planks, spaced about an inch apart. I started applying the creosote with some care, but, fazed by the enormity of the job, I began to slap it on any old how. I was cold and the wind made me miserable, but the financial reward that would come went some way towards keeping up my spirits. I wanted to go to a gig at a local pub that night, and payment for this job would give me the wherewithal to attend.
I plodded on, carelessly daydreaming as I went. I reached the end of the first stretch, and then turned the corner and headed down the much shorter home straight. After some three hours’ work, I put the lid on the tin and went to seek my dad at the pub.
He bought me a couple of pints before we came out and he inspected my handiwork. He walked the length of the fence, umming and ahhing as he went. Finally, he took out his wallet and handed me a crisp ten pound note. It was a job well done.
I spent the fruits of my labour at the bar that night. A tenner went a long way back then, and I woke the following morning with a hangover. I visited my mother’s house (my parents were divorced) and she told me that my dad had been on the phone, and he wanted me to call him. I rang, but he would say nothing more than that he wanted to see me. I told him I’d come to his flat that afternoon.
When I arrived, he took me into the garden. He simply stood, hands on hips looking towards the fence. Not having been responsible for painting the inside, I wondered what was wrong. Finally he gestured for me to follow him. We walked over to his cabbage patch, which was by the fence.
“Just look at this,” he said. I looked down and was dismayed to see that his entire crop of cabbages was spattered with drops of creosote. I realised that, as I had been merrily slapping the stuff on, the wind had blown excess creosote through the gaps between the planks and onto his cabbages. I struggled to keep my laugh in.
I was in my twenties, but I was not too big for a cuff along the head, and this is exactly what I got.
“I can’t even put them onto the compost heap, because they’ll not rot,” he said. I could hold my laugh in no more.
Although my efforts destroyed my dad’s entire cabbage crop, I was forgiven. He called on my assistance again a few months later, when I built him a leek trench. That turned out to be an even bigger disaster.