Sowing the Seeds

Some time around the end of the last century, a small team of us were re-pointing the small, Norman Church of Edburton in East Sussex. The smooth, curvaceous hills of the South Downs create tranquil, hidden valleys, that people have made home for thousands of years. In the early spring, wild flowers shone bright in yellows and pinks through the lush greens of the low lying flora. Edburton church was a beautiful spot to be.

Nature though, was intent on not letting the three of us become complacent, by supplying us with an intermittent stream of cold, fresh water from the sky. Heavy showers of big, full drops, kept Grassy and I swearing and cursing our way through days on the scaffold. Our labourer Nick, who was to keep us supplied with muck, by staying on the ground, manning the mixer and sending buckets of lime morter up to us by rope, made no mention of the weather. He spent most of his time, seemingly, in a dream state. This story is all about how, all these years later, I have the utmost respect for Nick, although at the time, I found him infuriating.

The work was dirty and monotonous but satisfying, and Grassy good company, but, it was, still work; and work was not my thing. Finding joy in the present seemed impossible to me, as my mind drifted to the book I was reading, the song I was writing, the music I was making or the fun I could be having.

It didn’t occur to me at the time, that being paid a reasonable wage to spend two weeks up a scaffold, wrapped round a thousand year old church, looking out over the Sussex countryside, could be a pleasant experience. My over arching sense was one of ‘just wanting to get the job done’, and Nick’s inability to provide a constant supply of morter was not helping to achieve that aim.

(My poor brain hadn’t worked out that when this job was done, there would, most likely be another one, and another one, and another one, etc, etc, etc.. But, well, as the poem goes, ‘When I could have done this, I should have done that.  I would of said this, if I could have been that. It’s OK, we’re all idiots’).

Anyway, to get back to Nick, the most challenging of labourers. One day, under deep grey skys, Grassy and I are up the scaffold, calling down for more muck. We get no response from Nick. We call and we call and eventually Grassy climbs down the scaffold, grumbling and cursing, to see what’s going on. After a couple of minutes I hear Grassy’s voice and the mixer start up again. Just as Grassy makes it back up the scaffold, puffing and panting, there’s a tug on the rope and I start to pull up a bucket of morter. It turns out, much to our hilarity and dismay, that Grassy had found Nick meditating in the church porch. This scenario was to be played out countless times over the next couple of weeks. (We would call for muck, Nick would ignore us, one of us would climb down to find him meditating or just gazing). It turns out that Nick was having trouble focusing on the job in hand. Remaining in the present he could manage, it was staying in the one dimension, that he found difficult.

Ultimately, it was good comedy that kept Grassy and me entertained, until one day, Nick’s interdimensional roaming came very close to killing us. I have no idea how it happened, but one very wet afternoon, the scaffold became live with 240 volts. It seems that there was a split in the power lead to the mixer and the water, that so generously poured from the sky, had led to the electricity from the church’s main supply,  to the scaffolding. Grassy and I stood, terrified on the boards as blue bolts of electricity arced around us. We shouted and hollered for Nick. We could see him, wandering around among the celandine at the far end of the church yard. His stretched woollen jumper and jogging trousers, heavy from the rain, dragged along with him. No matter how hard we shouted or how loud we called, our voices just couldn’t reach him.

Finally, after what seemed an age, Nick turned back towards the church, heard us shouting and shuffled a bit quicker in our direction. We then, through the wind and the rain, had to describe what a fuse box looks like and explain how to cut off the supply of electric to the scaffold. Much to mine and Grassy’s relief, after a few minutes, Nick managed to come to our rescue, and the arcing stopped. We climbed down from the scaffold, shaken, soaking wet, cold, scared and very angry.

This is the part of the story where I explain how, all these years later, I came to have great respect for Nick. Firstly he came back to work the day after he nearly killed us, and didn’t apologise. When Grassy and I, whilst sitting in the porch, having tea before we stared work, grumbled at him, he just shrugged, as if to say, ‘these things happen’, and set about getting ready to make a mix. At the time I considered him arrogant, rude and uncaring and Grassy and I climbed the ladder back to our work, disgruntled and determined to let the boss know, we were not willing to work with Nick any longer. Only now can I respect his way of coming to terms with life’s challenges. ‘These things happen. Why look for blame’.

Secondly, and this is the big one. A week or so before the near death experience, I arrived at work in a terrible state. At this time in my life, most weekends I was partying ‘quite hard’. Which means to say, I was, quite often, staying up Friday through to Sunday, then grabbing a few hours kip before getting up for work on Monday. Usually, by the time Wednesday arrived I was functioning physically, but emotionally I was ruined.

A challenging domestic situation had been nurtured by my being more focused on creativity and enjoyment than money and employment. Myself, my partner and our son, found ourselves living on a particularly unfriendly council estate nestled nicely between the railway line and the retail park, just behind a busy main road in Brighton. The flats were built as overspill accommodation for the barracks at the end of the road, to house army families who were waiting to be posted to the Middle East, during the gulf war of the late 80’s and early 90’s. Consequently they were constructed quickly and cheaply, leading to the experience of, quite literally, living with our neighbours, but for two sheets of plaster board.

After we had moved in, we discovered that the estate was where the local council put all the families who had been moved from the larger estates in Brighton because they had, in some way upset their neighbours to such an extent that the council were forced to rehouse them elsewhere. It was a ‘cul-de-sac’, in the most realistic terms.

As the flat we were living in previously had been condemned by the council, they were legally bound to rehouse us. As new council tennents, should we turn down their offer of accommodation we would be removed from the housing list, so we, much to my dismay, had to move in to a plasterboard box, in the naughty corner.

We made the most of it though, my partner, thrilled about finally having a place ‘of our own’, made a fantastic job of designing the interior and I set to work, employing all the kids on the street to help make the garden nice. Bringing home bits and pieces from work to build a small patio, plant a tree and fill the tiny patch of land with shrubs and flowers.

Three years in and the garden was slowly coming together, as they do, and after it had been vandalised for the third time by one of the neighbours, I was sitting on the step outside feeling dispondent. My neighbour from downstairs came out and, handing me a warm can of Fosters lager,  sat next to me. We chinked cans and the ring pulls clicked and hissed in unison. After we had both taken a sip of the sugary spume, my neighbour, after wiping his mouth, nonchalantly said, in his thick Glaswegian brogue, whilst looking straight ahead, ‘You know what the problem is Ben?’, ‘No’, I answered, readying myself. ‘The problem is, that we’, he gestured up and down the road with a sweep of his arm,  took another sip of lager, smacked his lips, and continued, ‘we know that you are only making this garden nice, to make us’, (with emphasis on the word us), ‘look like a bunch of cunts’. I blinked and twitched my head slightly. My neighbour stood up, patted me on the shoulder and went back in side, leaving me with his truth, and a reality gulf too deep to do anything with.

Anyway, back to Nick. I came in to work, one wet Wednesday morning, with the council on my back about council tax arrears, my partner on my case, because the council were on my back, my neighbours endlessly arguing, fighting, shouting at the kids, a car on the verge of being scrapped, a realisation that I was working all the hours I could and only making just enough money to pay the rent on somewhere I didn’t want to live, and stay alive long enough to go back to work the following week, to do it all again. As if that wasn’t enough and to really heighten the experience, my continual search for escape through partying had drained my body of all its nutrient and my brain was being forced to operate virtually starved of endorphins and serotonin. (An experience akin, (to the uniniated), to running an engine without oil. Every thought and movement grates, as the cogs and wheels of the human mechanism grind against each other). In short, I arrived at work in a terrible mess and was letting Grassy know all about it. Ranting and raving on about this problem and that problem. It was a big, poor old me, crisis lecture. After a few minutes of me going on, Nick, who had been silently watching my performance, leaned over to be closer to me, touched my arm, looked me in the eye and very calmly asked ‘are we not, all Buddha in the garden?’

I exploded with rage. The nerve of the man. ‘Buddha in the garden, Buddha in the fucking garden? Could he not see what the world was doing to me? It was destroying me. Ruining me. Driving me to madness through torture. I was a blameless victim brought to hell by societies unwillingness to let me be free, and he calls me Buddha in the garden’. To the sound of Grassy’s deep laughter, I climbed the ladder to start taking my frustration out on the old church.

I don’t think I ever spoke to Nick again, never working with him after Edburton church. What became of him is a mystery to me. His legacy however lives on within me. In that soggy porch that morning, Nick sowed a seed in my mind that has taken twenty odd years to germinate. I now finally see, that yes, we are all Buddha in the Garden, and that garden will be filled with whatever Buddha brings.



Ben Greenland



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