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Digging for Victory....

Following his PRINCE2 product flow diagram, Past Master Geoff Llewellyn excavates a carp pond, battling with hillocks of his own making....

“You just push these two levers to go forward and pull them both back to go backward and to steer you push one and pull the other – oh, and don’t put the digger arm too far out on one side or you’ll be in the hole you’re trying to dig – ha, ha!”

Thus spake the Seraph of the tool hire company when he dropped off, or rather gingerly delivered, the 1.5 ton digger with which I was going to dig the carp pond …. and shift the biggest pile of manure you’d ever seen. 

It had all seemed very simple when we’d decided that part of our protein requirement could be provided by a carp pond – just like the mediaeval monasteries and mansions where the ponds were right by the house and doubled as a moat. Coming (almost) up to date and the 1970’s (a formative period!) the Tom and Barbara approach of “The Good Life” beckoned as a, perhaps rather belated, dropping out of the rat race!

Moreover, having just moved into our retirement home, the garden of which had not had any attention for about thirty years, the view was that it needed a lot of manure to bring it up to organic speed. So with a couple of phone calls, a local farmer appeared in a tractor the size of a house with a trailer the size of our garage with 10 cubic metres of well-rotted cow manure which he managed to dump on the drive. We were so impressed by his skill in manoeuvring this tractor-trailer combination that we had rather taken our eyes off the ball of what we were going to do with this huge pile of poo!  However, when it was in the drive, taking eyes off it was not an option. It steamed in a very authentic way and was something of an olfactory assault!

So the digger now had two purposes – firstly, to shovel the shi….rt fragments which we found in amongst the ordure (don’t ask how they got there!) and redistribute the aforesaid material around the flower beds and secondly to dig the "carporium”.

So the first two days were spent in shifting the stuff around which entailed loading it into one of those very helpful big yellow bags in which you have gravel and sand delivered (both rather less smelly!) and driving the digger through the narrow gap beside the house into the back garden. After a few trips the side passage was looking like the Somme and this did not please the consulting gardener (aka her indoors) who had hoped that this particular horticultural omelette could be made without the necessity to break any eggs. I, like Napoleon, advised that this was not possible but the response of my Josephine was  not impressed by my plan to move 1.5 tons of digger over soft ground without leaving any marks. This was not an unqualified success – indeed it was not a success at all!

Having thus spent two days in Bob the Builder mode and having redistributed this malodorous material to the places where it could do most good, I turned my attention to the carporium and began to dig.

Archimedes had a point when he observed that a body displaces its own weight in water, and my Eureka moment arrived when the earth that I was digging out of the hole began to build up around the digger in such a way that I found myself trapped between the hillock of spoil and the deep blue hole that was getting ever deeper. Night fell and I turned off the digger – good consulting principle “when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging”...

Dawn the next day revealed an even more plausible rendition of the Somme because it had rained and the hole had a puddle of water in it and the digger was up to its tracks in spoil that had washed off the hillock. Hillocks, you would have heard me exclaim, a pain in the track!

Six hours later I had used the digger to dig itself out of this precarious position and got back on track according to my “product flow diagram” (PRINCE 2 is ubiquitous in the Llewellyn household!). I was able to resume the dig and was making great progress when the horticultural consultant who had brought me a cup of tea shouted at me to stop because the digger bucket had hit a pipe. Given that I was about fifty feet from the back of the house in a direction which could not possibly have been the direction of the main sewer or any other services, I found this implausible and took another swipe with the digger because I was on a roll and it was getting dark – this being early January!

The consultant insisted and when I looked into the hole, I saw what looked like two parallel pipes just about to be broken up by the next digger swipe and with a sinking feeling like Jeremy Clarkson’s producer, prepared for the inevitable blow-out of a mains water pipe or sewer! Happily, on further inspection the two parallel pipes turned out to be two adjacent corrugations of an old roof. Unhappily, the corrugations were of an old asbestos roof! 

At this point, I wondered why there might have been an asbestos roof five feet underground in a back garden which had apparently not been touched for forty years. A number of possibilities suggested themselves – an old Anderson shelter which had not been shown on the deeds, an underground passage affording the farmer, who had owned the house, a dry route from his house to the cowsheds a couple of hundred yards away, a repository  for valuables, an unmarked grave!

I’m afraid to say that my curiosity having battled with my sense of social responsibility  and my instinct for self-preservation in a three-cornered fight for a few minutes I decided that the carporium really didn’t need to be deeper than five feet anyway!

The following day was the “prettifying” day where the gentle “beach” that “er indoors” had requested and the terraces for the marginal plants were dug and after coating the whole of the surface with sand, it was time for the liner to be put in. The liner which came in a big roll had been designed for a 7 foot deep pond and my submarine ambitions having been constrained by the discovery of the passageway/treasure trove/grave there was a certain amount of surplus. Actually a very large certain amount, because I’d over-ordered in the first place.

However, nothing daunted, I persevered and cut the huge area down to a manageable size and put it in the hole. The instructions said “weight down the edges and fill the pond slowly” and that’s exactly what I did. Having been surprised by the speed at which a bath can overflow if left unattended for a few minutes I was quite unprepared for the 12 hour wait while the hosepipe filled the pond with about 30,000 litres of water. Thinking that it might not have been such a great idea to have a water meter installed when we’d bought the house six months earlier I waited impatiently for the thing to fill…. and then, got the Seraph to recover the digger and left for a two week holiday in Egypt.

Egypt was astonishing, especially when I tried to calculate how many 1.5 ton diggers would have been required to move the temples of Abu Simbel out of harm’s way and, feeling thoroughly humbled, we returned home to plan the grand filling of the pond with the intended carp. As we looked down at the placid surface of the water and imagined it teeming with edible protein temporarily aggregated into a fishy form, a shadow passed over the still waters and looking up we caught sight of the heron....

Tune in next week for the next episode of “Fish Wars – the heron awakens… and fancies a snack”!








Past Master Geoff Llewellyn