• Vol. 09
  • Chapter 10
Image by

Mountfield showboat

Typical Jim – no task too difficult. As soon I'd mentioned the pub garden was overgrown, he said he'd bring the Mountfield all the way from Wembley.

It wasn't just the challenge of getting it up the escalator on arrival. There was crossing the footbridge at Wembley to get to the 'To London' platforms. Earlier in the year we'd stood there looking out over urban sprawl, a wintry blue sky with smutty brown-yellow layer at the horizon atop the built landscape. We were going to our evening shifts at The Hanover Arms. Jim's incurable Aussie optimism offset my Irish melancholy. He already had his mind on longer days, summertime and garden barbecues in the pub. Even as I huddled into my coat, he was visualising smoke rising and smelling meat cooking.

The problem was that Alf the landlord had no intention of keeping the small garden usable. There were a few scattered wooden tables and chairs gradually being reclaimed by nature. One lonely Fosters parasol languished at a rakish angle, getting in the way of everything. I'd used my Irish barney to persuade Alf that a barbecue would bring in more business. 'On your head be it,' he'd said.

Jim always brought to mind the saying 'Brute force and ignorance'. If you weren't sure how to do something, just batter away at it. People always underestimated his strength – he was one of those wiry, almost wizened looking blokes, but his fibrous arms were like steel cables. He did whatever heavy lifting job was needed – kegs of beer, crates of mixers; he fairly bounded up and down the pub stairs with one under each arm. That's why wrangling the big petrol lawnmower was just got a typical 'no worries'.


Mountfield showboat

It was Jim who suggested we go early on Saturday morning. Despite his laid back outlook, he knew how busy it was be going into London. Of course, I'd gotten roped in too, general fetcher-and-carrier and hanger-on. I had a rucksack with smaller tools – hand sickle, shears – begged and borrowed from the ex-pat community. None of us were natural gardeners. Our rental house had come with the lawnmower and the hopeful expectation we'd keep the garden tidy.

Jim couldn't help a bit of grandstanding. Midway across the Wembley footbridge, he stopped and did a few hoists of the heavy machine from chest height to above his head. This was for the benefit of the station guard monitoring the CCTV. Jim loved playing up to the camera. To our surprise, he got a smattering of applause from the platforms below. Cue theatrical bow, without setting down lawnmower.

Somehow we made it to the pub – I can't begin to tell you how mortified I was by the stares as we ascended the escalator at our destination. These were more innocent days, less fraught with traveller concerns. When I think back, I realise that my camo coloured backpack would have been more alarming today than any of Jim's showboating lawnmower antics.