The gravel arrived. I was out in the garden by half past eight, keeping a beady eye out for the lorry, before an email arrived at 08.59 confirming that my order would be arriving between 07.00 and 13.00. That was better than the customer service desk had told me yesterday when they said they couldn't guarantee a delivery time, since while it wasn't a very tight slot at least it didn't mean I was committed to waiting for the lorry all afternoon. Lucky it didn't come between seven and half past eight, though.
It was unlucky that it seemed to be a particularly noisy morning on the farm, which sent me regularly scuttling down to the entrance each time I heard a heavy diesel engine revving or the bleep of a vehicle reversing, only to see a lettuce lorry about to depart or another trailer load of freshly harvested salad arriving. It was unlucky too that it was such a windy day. I had the front door propped open so that I'd hear the phone as I weeded and waited, but when finally the sound of a lorry down at the farm did turn out to be the gravel, by the time I'd walked down the lane to meet him the driver had had time to leave messages on the landline and my mobile. And no, I didn't take my mobile into the garden with me. I never do. It would only get broken.
The driver was much more amiable than the man on the customer service desk, and said he would walk up the lane to have a look at the access. He seemed perfectly happy with it, and when I said that the dustmen had been only that morning he said confidently that anywhere a dustcart could go, he could go. I said that I hadn't been able to understand why the customer service desk had got quite so agitated about the lane, and he said that was because the man on the desk didn't drive a lorry, just sat at a desk, and as he had been there yesterday when I rang it would have been better if he had spoken to me directly. I conceded that it was difficult to form a view about access when you hadn't seen it, and he reversed his lorry up the lane and offloaded the gravel without any trouble. He was not even worried about the high-up bits of the farm's trees and the neighbour's hedge obscuring his wing mirrors, because his lorry had a camera on the back, and he told me not to worry about the dustmen because they always had somebody in the passenger seat who could look out that side.
His firm announced their results today, and profits were down on turnover that was up, reflecting a margin squeeze from higher import costs due to weak sterling and subdued activity in the housing market, but they still made a five per cent margin, so they still seem as solid as they were twenty years ago. Materials distribution is not an inherently high quality business, as witness the collapse of the firm I used to buy acrylic sheet from. It was only because I'd paid using PayPal that I got a refund when after a series of increasingly unconvincing excuses the acrylic still hadn't arrived by the time their website vanished and the consensus among their unhappy customers on the internet was that they'd gone bust. Being quoted is no protection against going bust, but total failure is normally preceded by a couple of profits warnings.
I asked the driver how much a large bulk bag of gravel actually weighed, and he said around a tonne, just over if it was very wet, otherwise just under. I set to work with my wheelbarrow once he'd gone, and spread fresh gravel over the area where the juniper used to be, and started topping up the dry garden planting and the edges of the drive along the base of the ivy hedges where the gravel was thin. I alternated between barrowing gravel and weeding, so as not to strain anything, but by early evening the big muscles between my shoulder blades were starting to ache and I thought that might be enough for one day. I must have spread over half the bag, maybe even two thirds of it, pacing myself over about seven hours. In comparison, when The Flying Scotsman broke the 100 mph barrier in 1934 her fireman shovelled about nine tonnes of coal in five hours, and at the World Coal Shovelling Championship in Tasmania the record for shovelling half a tonne stands at 26 seconds.