Garden design is taxing for a sloth

Andrew Brown's pergola
Andrew Brown's pergola
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Ambition is a terrible thing, so I’ve recently opted for sloth. I find it suits me.

I’m sure that there must be people who rise from their bed of a morning and say to themselves, “You know what I’d like to do today? Get up and go to the office and deal with difficult customers and answer endless emails.” I’ve found that I’m definitely not one of them. Instead, I’ve discovered that it’s remarkable how much time it takes to properly read the newspaper when it’s accompanied by a good cup of coffee and an absence of stress.

I have always admired the ancient Chinese way of life which holds that after a lifetime of service in the imperial bureaucracy, the truly cultured individual should retire as early as possible and devote a proper amount of time to writing poetry and building the perfect garden.

I decided against the poetry during my later adolescence - I think I was about 32 at the time - but I did like the idea of giving up work and gardening. I thought I might make a start by constructing a stylish pergola to lead dramatically up to the front door but I quickly discovered I was more suited for the production of literary works of dubious quality than I was for constructing pergolas.

Pergolas have a disconcerting habit of looking beautiful in the pictures on the internet and then arriving as a pile of steel tubes and a leaflet explaining how to maintain proper health and safety procedures whilst putting them together. I have a habit of studying the instruction manual with great care and then constructing the first arch upside down and bending it badly out of shape when turning it over.

Not to worry, I thought, I’ll simply learn from my mistakes and do better with the second one. I’m a quick learner - I can find out how to make new mistakes with every part I construct. Some of the poles pointed nicely to one side, others nicely to the other and none were of the same height. It took careful remedial work and a good deal of bad language to repair the damage but eventually I erected three arches to the highest of my personal standards.

I invited my wife to admire my work and advise on where they might benefit from a bit of further tweaking. It turns out there’s a degree of difference between my own high standards and hers. She took the unreasonable view that the poles should be aligned in a neat straight row; they might benefit occasionally from being properly vertical or horizontal; and that I might try the imaginative idea of using a spirit level. I felt compelled to have another go at straightening them by eye.

I had just finished when a group of young men passed by. They took an acute interest in my handiwork. It turned out that they were in the building trade and it had been a long time since they had seen anything quite like my construction skills. They politely informed me that they would love to help but were too busy just at the moment. They were just off to the pub to get plastered. Then they kindly advised me that even on their way back with a skin-full inside them and their balance shot to pieces they could still get it a damn sight straighter. I became less impressed by their politeness.

Nevertheless after many attempts I did finally manage to assemble my pergola to a reasonable standard. I am, of course, a bit cautious about actually growing much over it, in case my construction skills prove a touch fragile, but you can’t have everything. I can look out of my front door at a beautiful archway and console myself with the thought that if making it had gone more smoothly then I might have been tempted into other projects. And that might have undone all my good work on acquiring that most challenging and hard won of skills - sloth.

Andy’s novel Rural Bliss is available on Kindle for £2.10