It’s Tuesday morning and I am sat on the wall in the sun opposite our empty house (yep, the house that we bought but still haven’t moved in to. Details here). I’m waiting for a gas engineer to disconnect the gas supply, ready for the building work to finally begin.
I’ve been here for two hours now and naturally there’s no sign of the gas man. A few dog walkers have eyed me suspiciously. A little bunny rabbit just hopped by.
This time last week I was in the same spot but with sunglasses on, hiding discreetly behind the wheel of my parked car. This is because I was spying on the gardener.
It’s probably time to come clean about what’s been going on here. Since November 2013, I have foolishly been paying a substantial sum of money to the gardener we inherited with the house. Parting with this cash is particularly galling, given that we don’t actually live there. We visit once a month, largely just to check the house is still standing and squatters haven’t taken it hostage.
The gardener has been maintaining the garden for 30 years so it seemed mean to sack him. I’m not sure exactly what he does for his eight hours a week. To my untrained eye, there seems to be quite a lot of weeds around. However, he mows stripes in the lawn. And I’m a sucker for a striped lawn.
I have never actually met the gardener; I just obligingly transfer large sums of money into his bank account each month. He must think we’re his dream clients and it’s probably no coincidence that he takes three months off over winter to go abroad. I can visualise him in Barbados, surrounded by my bank notes as he chuckles into his cocktail.
Anyway, after 18 months of this madness, I’ve decided to get to the bottom of what he’s actually up to. Quite by coincidence, I drove past the house early one morning and spotted his van there.
‘Aha!’ I thought. ‘Time to find out just what £16 an hour is getting me.’
Resisting the urge to get the binoculars out of the glove compartment, I pulled over and peered through the gates. He was sat reading a newspaper!
‘Fair enough,’ I thought. ‘Everyone deserves a break.’
I decided to return at midday. Pulling up outside the house, I could see him eating sandwiches in his van. It seemed like one long lunch break for this horticultural joker!
At 2pm, I returned for a third time. He was gone! According to his invoices, he’s supposed to work an eight hour day. If he had departed by 2pm, that means he would have had to start work at 6am. This seemed unlikely, lunch break or no lunch break. I smelled a rat.
The next day, I phoned old greenfingers and left an answerphone message asking him call me.
I didn’t hear anything for a week. In the meantime, a large bill came through my letter box.
‘He’s probably back sunning himself in Barbados,’ I thought grimly.
I toyed with the idea of installing CCTV or perhaps a clocking-in system to monitor his hours. I was all prepared to stake out the house for a whole day, if necessary.
But then the gardener finally rang and left an answerphone message.
‘Hello Katy,’ he said. ‘I’m just ringing to let you know that I’m semi-retiring. I haven’t minded keeping things ticking over for you but it’s a long way for me to drive from Otley and it’s probably time for me to step down.’
What?! I’d been sacked by my own gardener. And worse still, despite the thousands of pounds I’d paid him, he made it sound like he’d been doing me a favour!
So there we have it. I now require a new gardener. It’s a coveted role: flexible working hours, extensive lunch breaks, three-months off over winter, dealing with clients who wouldn’t know a dandelion from a rhododendron (but must have the skill to mow stripes in lawn). Apply within.
(Oh and yes, the owner of the house may secretly stalk you.)