If you want to fight fire with fire, cut your grass!

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Now winter is most certainly with us, I’m rather pleased that for once I have organised myself and all the presents I am required to buy have been bought, wrapped up and sit under the tree. There is nothing left for me to do or worry about, all the boxes on my ‘To do before Christmas’ list have been ticked and my luck has been favourable. Nothing bad to report, no mishaps, misunderstandings or mistakes. I’m not used to that to be honest so to maintain my focus and keep things grim, I’d like to take you back to the summer. I didn’t really enjoy the summer. The family packed their bags and spent time on the coast with the grand-parents, leaving me bored and restless. The car got towed by the police, I received two speeding tickets and one large parking fine popped up in the post. But to cap it all… To ruin things some more, the neighbours children took full advantage of their parents leaving them home alone whilst they nipped off for a summer break, by having themselves Friday night parties with all their mates.

Now I know those in their late teens think they’re adults. I remember being their age and felt sure I was more adult than I actually was. But they have the sensibilities of an old boot and, whilst they think they are cool, they are just inconsiderate, generally stupid and painfully juvenile. So I was not surprised they had a few parties planned, I was surprised by their taste in music though. Like they’ve only been exposed to trance rhythms from the Ibiza scene from the mid 90’s. No accounting for taste. My problem was, however, they had it far too loud and played if for far too long. By 3.30am I had finally had enough and called security to ask them to go round and get them to turn it off or at the very least, turn it down. My walls were shaking, plaster was falling from the roof and my bed was slowly hopping towards the patio thanks to the thumping base and deep tones favoured by the William Orbit’s of the world, you get the picture. I don’t mind the odd party I just think parties shouldn’t start at 3pm, be louder than a Metallica concert and go on non-stop all night.

Security never did anything. Not surprising really. A Spanish security guard at 3.30am is probably too busy updating his Facebook page telling everyone what sandwich he’s just eaten, sleeping or watching imported porn on his portable DVD player to want to do any kind of security guard type of work.

Never mind. Saturday. Late afternoon, finally feeling less groggy from no sleep, I figure I should get a little more active. We’d just sacked our gardener. Here’s a handy tip, never employ Polish workers, or more specifically, never employ the Polish worker who worked for me, or, as it turned out, didn’t do any work for me. After breaking the lawnmower, breaking my spade and adjusting the sprinkler system so it watered the swimming pool, we let him go. I managed to fix the lawnmower, sort out the sprinklers and replace the spade. Not having a gardener meant the job of maintaining the garden fell to me. Which if I am honest is a job I quite enjoy doing, It somehow takes my mind off other things, forces me to walk a fair old distance and is rather satisfying when you look at the end result. The end result for me often being a wobbly series of lines with a few ‘missed’ clumps of grass every now and again.

So out came the lawnmower and I merrily began cutting my little patch of the world. I was surprised when security turned up some 20 minutes into things. Even more surprised to hear I wasn’t allowed to mow the lawn in the afternoon on a Saturday. “Why ever not” I asked, “Well it disturbs the peace on a weekend’” he replied. “Now hold on little fella” I remarked. “My neighbours can have a rave in their garden all night keeping everyone else awake, but I can’t cut my grass at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon because Juan Carlos and his family feel like a little nap after lunch!”

I ask if anyone has actually complained. “No” he says. Amazingly it turns out that this was his own little initiative. Driving about on his rounds, he came past our garden, heard the lawnmower and decided to take action on behalf of those who might complain or who may be disturbed by the noise. Where were you last bloody night then when someone, me being that someone, did complain about the noise! Before he left he also told me I could not have a garden fire. Why he told me that I do not know. But he told me.

During the week I spent much of my time plotting revenge. I did other things but will own up to spending far too long devising suitable retribution. The following weekend Pepe the party animal and his Neanderthal knuckle dragging mates swung back into action. Ibiza trance music again. William bloody Orbit again. Anyways. 3am, my bed has made its way to the other side of the room, the paintings have fallen from the wall and the plaster left on the ceiling has hip hopped its way to the floor. However, after a week of careful planning, phase 1 of my plan is in play and I’ve been sleeping like a baby thanks to the purchase of some rather special headphones, the ones airline pilots use. Noise cancelling things they are and cancel noise they most certainly do, Armageddon wouldn’t even have roused me. On the dot at 3.30am I wake up. By 4.15am I am in the garden listening… Silence. The neighbours have given up for the night, the cool dawn approaches with just the sound of nature wiping the sleepy dust from its eyes and there’s a wonderful mistiness to the air. It’s lovely.

My other useful purchase made the day I picked up the headphones was a seriously large, seriously bright torch along with the sackful of batteries required for it to do its job. Turning it on, balancing it on a wall by the pool, it illuminates the garden and it’s time to put phase 2 into action. Two quick pulls on the starter cord and the lawnmower kicks into life. These easy start mowers are such a joy aren’t they. Thank you Briggs and Stratton. Thank you also for a wonderfully engineered two stroke engine easily modified into a howling banshee by simply removing the two screws holding the exhaust pipe and baffles on. The noise as the exhaust gases exited directly from the cylinder head with spits of flames, was quite honestly, ear-splittingly loud. I began to cut the grass with the audio equivalent of a squadron of war-time bomber planes all gunning down the runway for a formation take-off. It was a good job I was wearing my headphones.

30 minutes later the neighbour is at the fence, looking a little worse for wear, rubbing his eyes and waving his arms at me. I wave back. Morning neighbour. 10 minutes pass and he is still waving his arms but now he has some friends with him, also waving their arms. And I must say, they too looked like they really could have done with a few hours extra sleep. “What’s the matter?” I ask. “The noise, they say.” “What noise?” I shouted. “Your noise!” they say. I shut down the engine and wander over to the fence… “We are trying to sleep but the noise you are making is stopping us” one of them said. I lean on the fence post, casual like “Well, you see, you decided you didn’t give a shit about me trying to sleep, so I have decided I don’t give a shit about you trying to sleep. Looks like it’s going to be a lovely day…” I said, as I fired the engine back into life, gave it a few big squirts of throttle to get it barking angrily and did a wheel spin as I walked away. Okay. I lied about the wheel spin, I’ve never been able to wheel spin the lawnmower in any way, or wheelie it come to think of it, but I exited with the equivalent sort of style.

Some 3 hours later I’m finished. 7.30am. Obviously after mowing the lawn I had to get the strimmer out to do the edges, so it all took a bit longer than planned (and removing the exhaust on the strimmer was a lot more complicated than I imagined). They were lucky though, they were saved from the annoying tones of the chainsaw as it had a gummed up spark plug and I don’t keep a spare. It’ll be ready for their next party though. Now the thing that makes this all the sweeter for me was that during this whole noisy period, security never once came around. It would seem that gardening on a Saturday at 3pm in the afternoon is a big no no, but at 5am or so, not a problem. Thus, from now on, garden duties during the summer months, at least until the spotty little teenagers parents return, or stop their annoying little parties, or we find a halfway competent gardener, are to be performed at 4.30am.

I am also preparing the ground for a small bonfire I plan to start.

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IT’S NOT A GIFT, IT’S A CURSE…

ImagePeople assume being able to draw is a gift. They see creativity as something bestowed upon the chosen ones. I guess I see their point but I usually disagree. I can’t think that being able to draw is anything other than the combination of desire, practice and opening your eyes to what you are seeing. As for creativity. Well for that you’d have to get into the topic of what exactly creativity is because when you look long and hard at it, we’re all creative. Explaining to my dad that I didn’t just crash his car, that I had in fact been escaping an alien UFO that was, I am sure, going to abduct me, is being creative. Baking a cake in the shape of woman’s breasts and decorating it accordingly, is also being creative. Making the company accounts look okay when actually all the time you’ve been fiddling the books is I suppose in some way being creative…  So it’s not a gift, it’s something you work at or something you don’t. I work at it and for my efforts it can sometimes become a bit of a curse.

Let me explain. Friends, apparently not wanting to take advantage of this so called gift, often ask me to ‘knock up’ a quick logo for them or take a look at their website. But the worst offenders of my good nature are by far my children. They take full advantage of Daddies abilities by wanting me to create the invitations and cakes for their birthday parties. When they were unable to walk properly the invitation was a phone call to friends, as they started to mutter words the invitation was a quick chat in the school playground with the parents, but as the years pass and their ability to think, talk and demand increase, they sit me down and brief me on what their expectations are, what the theme is to be for this year and what deadline I shall be working to. The terms are made clear at the outset. In return for my services, they will settle things up with a kiss and a cuddle, the shallow promise that they will share their Sherbert Dip with me and that I may come along to the party myself!!!

Now I may be thought of as greedy, that money is a major influencer, bills to be paid and all that, but the kiss and cuddle offer is far more attractive and although I am partial to the odd Sherbert Dip, experience tells me they’ll not honour that side of the agreement. Willingly I therefore accept the brief knowing in the back of my mind that this will be a difficult project from a demanding client and, as always, with very little time left to do it.

Squeezing time out of my day, running late into the evenings to meet the deadline I toil away creating the invitations. I try and unwrap the reasoning behind their temporary yet obsessive current love of things like Ben 10, My little Pony, Hello Kitty and Thomas the Tank Engine. I try and see the merit of the Nerf gun and wonder why an 8 year old and his mates would want to climb a tree and zip wire down to the ground, then do it again and again all bloody afternoon. My childhood feels so distant from theirs, Action Man was all I had, it was all I needed. Apart from my bicycle, Mr Potato Head and a game of Mousetrap rendered useless due to a few important pieces missing.

After hours of working late into the evening, countless sketches, hastily shot photos and a dozen drafts. A presentation is made. Usually at the dinner table, after they have done their homework of course! It’s a nerve wracking time, grubby fingers crease and curve the proofs, comments on choice of colours and typefaces used dominate the proceedings. Mummy points out the date is wrong and the conversation drifts onto what flavour cake, what colour and how many balloons will be needed and whose job it will be to blow them up the night before. I refocus the group and explain why a sans serif font is better suited, how the subtle elements in the image reflect the values of the host and the planned event, how the target audience will be seduced by the carefully considered mix of words and pictures and how a matching web page can increase response and make participation easier. I talk about distribution channels, print processes, delivery times and copyright issues. They must have taken this all in because what seems like thoughtful silence follows. I wait for comments, for approval that my efforts and skills have gone some way to meeting the brief, I want a ‘wow’, a ‘that is fantastic’, a sign that their choice of designer has exceeded expectations…

It never comes. The homework has been done, food has been eaten, I am now disrupting their vastly more important evening free time which takes priority over everything. So, meeting suddenly over, I am left alone at the table now holding proof artwork that has taken a toll on my life, that I have slaved over, been passionate about, has been thought about, re-thought about, worried about and excited about. It now sits in a little puddle of apple juice, has been torn a bit, has gravy stained fingerprints all over it and my daughter has kindly drawn a little picture of a rather too anatomically correct woman in the corner in pink crayon, her favourite.

Later that week I correct the date, modify the colours and reproof. This time, the night before, I just leave the print out on the kitchen table for them to look at. Come the evening I pick it back up, off the floor from under the kitchen table. It’s been torn, the fingerprints look like jam ones and my daughter has drawn a picture of me on it, in pink again, this time not very correct, I seem to have a beard, have what looks like boobs and am wearing a dress.

I try and get everyone gathered for a meeting to review the design but piano lessons, homework and the fact that I promised to read them a funny bedtime story means they have little time to give me on the subject other than a ‘yes it’s fine, go ahead’ which I take as a positive.

I arrange the printing of the invites, the matching t-shirts and the edible print that will go onto the cake. I build the web page, test browser compatibility, test the QR code and sit back with a coffee pleased with my efforts. The campaign will be over shortly and I will be able to pat myself on the back, knowing inside that I have given this project 100%, knowing that although the client, like all clients, won’t ever give me the full credit I would like, that for them, yes the design is important but they are dealing with many other issues and priorities, which is why they commissioned me in the first place, to let them get on with other things.

And that’s the point really. I can let real clients get away with all this, they’re paying me, the curse is that even though this is not a client and cuddles, no matter how big or how often, won’t pay the mortgage or buy the latest software update. The curse is I have no choice.