DENIS KILCOMMONS mentioned the other week that James Mason (inset) took the two marble lions from outside his parents’ house to his home Switzerland.
When he got back home he thought he’d like another reminder of the garden. He rang me and asked if I’d get a cutting from his childhood garden favourite, the crab apple tree. I don’t garden, I fight with nature rather than nurture it.
This goes back to my first job at Kershaw’s garden centre. I really wanted to work at the Winchin Chinchilla Ranch which was nearer our house but they weren’t hiring. At Kershaw’s I grew to hate roses.
I don’t mean the lovely open wild rose but the cultivated grafted-on-briers mutant rose which in my opinion is really a small coloured cabbage. The part of the job I liked was mixing dried blood, crushed bone, charcoal and other powdered pongs to secret recipes on grubby pieces of paper sent in by paranoid competitive gardeners.
I earned half a crown an hour, a ha’penny a minute. A thing I pointed out to Nick Yates when years later he hired me at vast expense to do a spot on his open day. Funnily enough I’ve mentioned cabbages and on that day I managed to injure my chest with an exploding cabbage that blew me off my feet.
When I stood up blood was coming through my T-shirt. The crowd thought it was part of the act and were ecstatic with their applause. I thought I must find a way to fake this, it’s gone down so well.
So back to the crab apple tree. I thought Nick Yates was the man to do the cutting. He said the tree was so decrepit it wasn’t worth getting a cutting. So we sent him one from Nick’s garden centre. James was very pleased. He never knew.
On one occasion when the house was empty James took me to look round. Downstairs he showed me a room full of shelves which he said was the secure jewel room. The windows not only had bars but bars with spikes.
I remarked: “You could get in through the ceiling.”
He took me to the room above which was a bath room with the same spiked iron bars.
He said: “Look at the ceiling.”
I looked up and it’s the only house I’ve ever seen with a safe door in the ceiling. He got a step ladder and said “Go look.”
The key was in the door it swung down and I bobbed in to look. I was amazed. The entire underdrawing was lined with iron bars. The place was a fortress.
The thing I remember most was being taken into a completely empty upstairs room. He went over to a large double-doored cupboard and opened the left door.
Hiding inside the cupboard were two youths. We just looked at them. They stepped out of the cupboard and quickly walked out. Nobody said a thing.
James paused for a moment opened the right cupboard door and proceeded to tell me about a collection of lead soldiers on the floor. All the British were pristine but the Germans were all decapitated.
I told him mine from WWII were the same but I put their heads back on with a new match stick spine. You could turn their heads round so they could look behind as they ran away.
He gave me one of his firing artillery guns which I’ve still got.
Nothing was ever said about the two lads. Maybe they’re reading this article, still in hiding.