Monday, 14 January 2013

health, safety and frozen hostas

The owner was on a health and safety drive this morning.  Indeed, she was yesterday afternoon, which was why she was auditing the contents of the First Aid box in the shop.  By today she had got on to the safe handling of fuel, rather timely after my conversation with the Systems Administrator yesterday evening when the SA wanted to know why I had come home smelling so strongly of paraffin.  The SA said then that by law we ought not to be handling heater fuel without nitrile gloves, since it was carcinogenic.  By this morning, and without any prompting from me, the owner had come to the same realisation.  I think there is some official initiative via the fuel distributors to make small businesses more aware of the issues surrounding the use of kerosene and heating oil, much to the disgust of the boss who is a fierce libertarian.

The owner was also concerned that my young colleague had been creosoting wearing her uniform coat when a set of overalls was supplied, since the coat would now give off noxious fumes and smell of creosote for months.  My colleague explained that it was so cold working outside that you really did need a coat, and that she had been wearing the overalls underneath it.  The owner said in that case to wear the overalls over the coat, but I don't think that's going to work, not unless they are a 54 inch chest size.

I had gone prepared and put my gardening radio in the car, ready to volunteer to continue tidying up the pots of herbaceous plants behind the polytunnel on The Other Side.  The manager seemed entirely happy not to have to think of things for me to do, and I spent a peaceful day scraping frozen moss off the hostas.  The Amadeus quartet playing Dvorak was a particular highlight, and the nice dollop of Dowland, then I was able to time my lunch break so that I was back just in time to catch The World At One.  After lunch it began to snow, initially in small dry flakes that didn't settle, and then in big, wet, sleety ones.

My poster for the snowdrop walk finally emerged into the light of day.  The boss had intercepted it when I e-mailed it over from home, where I composed it sitting at my kitchen table, and instead of simply giving it to the woman who works in the office to get on with, had sent it to the owner, who sat on it for over a week.  The poster took me twenty minutes to write, including finding a nice photograph of snowdrops on Google images, and a further twelve days for the logo to be inserted and the poster to be printed and laminated ready to be put up in the plant centre.  When I worked as a small companies fund manager, a recognised hazard for recently floated companies was that the original founder would be unable to delegate the quantity of decisions to the post-flotation management that needed to be delegated in order for the business to function smoothly.  Having now worked for a small business for nearly a decade I can attest from personal experience that this issue arises long before the flotation stage is ever reached.

Another aspect of the health and safety drive is that the owner is worried that the paths in the garden are so slippery.  She told the young gardener to rake up the fallen leaves more frequently, and move them further from the paths, and be sure to order grass seed in good time ready to re-seed the paths.  The young gardener is not convinced that any amount of raking and re-seeding is going to do the trick in some parts of the garden, where the paths are most heavily shaded.  The manager said the boss should start using bark paths.  I reminded him that the boss distrusted bark, in case it encouraged honey fungus.  I thought they needed to look at the plastic grids the National Trust and similar bodies use to reinforce their grass in heavily trodden areas, or those fine, sandy gravel paths much used by gardens open to the public.

It's a classic difficulty in opening gardens that features that worked perfectly well when it was a private space just used by family and friends, can't cope when visitor numbers rise to commercial levels.  The Systems Administrator and I have twice driven all the way over to see the gardens at Anglesey Abbey, and on both visits found key parts were cordoned off because it couldn't cope with the press of feet.  After the second trip I complained to the National Trust, who replied rather huffily that in order to remain true to Lord Fairhaven's design they had to restrict visitor numbers in some weather conditions.  I thought that if they were going to build a visitor centre the size of a battleship, as they have done, then they were going to have to modify the garden as well to cope with the numbers.  The boss, on a smaller scale, is going to have to start grappling with the same problem.

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