Yesterday I went to an endodontist – a troublesome tooth needs a root filling. Dr Howard Lloyd turned out to be charming man, surrounded by state of the art gadgets, including a big flat screen where we marvelled at an X-ray of the offending tooth (roots vast, surrounding bones sound, tooth probably dead).  I remarked on the contrast between all his gadgetry and the school dentists I remember so vividly, with their noisy drills driven by pulleys and no anaesthetics.  Not for the first time I found myself saying, ‘Of course, that was years ago now’.

My reminiscing has definitely been on the increase lately. Suddenly it seems that everything that happened to me happened a long time ago.  I’m afraid it’s classic ‘has-been’ stuff – the sort that bores youngsters and gives old people like me a deserved reputation for living in the past.

However, quite undaunted, here is an anecdote that (of course) happened years ago.

When I was at university (see what I mean?) I had a girl friend that lived in Blackpool and one summer vacation I stayed at her parent’s house. Being an impoverished student, I needed to find work. At the time I had a Bradford Jowett van (don’t ask) and I was going to place a ‘have van, will travel’ advertisement in the local paper.  Before I could do so, I noticed a classified ad about landscape gardening. The ad stipulated that it was essential for the applicant to have a van and a clean driving licence.  It turned out that the bloke who placed the ad (let’s call him Bill) was banned from driving – he had been convicted of dangerous driving and just come out of prison. Bill was Irish and lived in a council house with an overweight wife and numerous children. 

A large housing estate was being built at Lytham St Annes, close to Blackpool, on a site beside the sea. The development, mainly of bungalows, was designed to attract pensioners. Bill’s entrepreneurial idea was to don a suit on Monday mornings and tour the development looking for bungalows that had just been occupied. We knocked on doors, commiserated with the new owners about the state of their garden – in those days, builders did nothing to landscape gardens – and gave instant quotes to do basic stuff like levelling, turfing and laying concrete paths. By lunchtime, we’d have enough work for the week (Bill’s time horizon) so it was off to the pub to celebrate and change into working clothes. 

The work was labour, not capital, intensive. Our only equipment was my van, a spade, a shovel, a fork and a rake. Bill entered into an ‘arrangement’ with a building contractor who supplied sand and cement and with a turf supplier who delivered what he claimed was top class, ‘sea washed’ grass.  It looked just like ordinary grass to me.

We worked extremely hard.  We were paid in cash at the end of each job and this was divided between us 50/50 with a bit extra to reimburse my petrol.  We even splashed out on some more equipment and took on an extra person.  Our most brilliant coup was when we quoted to remove a large hillock of clay and builder’s rubble from one garden and, in the same morning, quoted for another job that needed a hole filled in. We spent all week shovelling stuff into the back of my van until the front wheels started to lift off the ground, then we’d drive gingerly round the corner and unloaded the contents into the garden with a hole. A splendid example of a win-win. Both customers were very satisfied.

By the end of that vacation I was incredibly fit and cash rich. When the time came to return to university, Bill tried his hardest to persuade me to stay on. Just think, if I had I might have been a millionaire by the time I was thirty.

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