The 'Not-Exactly-So' Stories

Part 2

Chapter 7: Compacted topsoil!

During the course of the next few months, Vera and Arnie settled into their home and made the best of a bad lot. In terms of the building itself, they were both quite happy with the place. Understandably they had a few teething problems as is the case with any new build home, but certainly there was nothing major.

In terms of their attitude towards the outside elements of the plot they were not at all pleased and Arnie was particularly antagonistic towards The Rook, the site manager. It was perhaps fortunate that within days of legal completion, The Rook was replaced by another site manager, Sean Matthias, who looked even younger than his predecessor. During one early conversation with Arnie, Sean revealed that this was his first tenure as a site manager. He was another who had joined the company after completing a degree in Building / Construction. It was fairly obvious that Sean was new to the job because he was particularly eager to please his new customers, in some cases completing tasks that really should have been done by his subordinates or contractors. That wasn't an experience uniquely witnessed by the Squires either; several of the neighbours had remarked on how obliging Sean was.

One particular snagging job that did need snagging by the remedial team, was addressing the stairs that seemed to creak in the area where they turned half‐way up. Arnie had made the necessary arrangements through the company's customer service department and as promised one of the company's technicians arrived to investigate and try to resolve the problem.

The technician's name was Donald Sumpter, a chap who indicated during conversation that he was in his early sixties. An immediate observation was that he was 'old school', which reassured Arnie considerably. There would be no nonsense of him scratching his head, trying to recall what the lecturer in university had instructed on how to fix these stairs. As it happened, he was a chippy by trade and so Arnie considered that fixing some creaking stairs would be a doddle for him, given his craft of nearly 40 years.

He set about identifying the cause which didn't take too long and then explained to Vera and Arnie what he had discovered and how he would rectify the problem. Vera didn't really care that much; she just wanted the stairs silenced.

During the occasional breaks Donald took while ha drank the refreshments provided by Vera, Arnie quizzed him about something. "It seems that judging by the fact that the shower tray is flat on the floor and the noise when someone is taking a shower, there is not much or no insulation between the downstairs ceiling and the floorboards upstairs; is that right or has it just been forgotten? asked Arnie.

"It hasn't been forgotten" said the technician, "that's just down to design of the houses"

Arnie immediately seized on the comment and said "Another thing that the architect or designer didn't think would be beneficial and a way to cut down costs, I suppose." He also pointed out that he had requested a couple of other optional amendments that he had spotted as a result of walking around the show house, citing the additional light switch that he had put in. He added that he wouldn't think to run the shower to see what noise resulted downstairs — anyone would expect that to have been dealt with at design stage. "Another thing" added Arnie while apologizing for being somewhat lavatorial, "when anyone is having a pee upstairs in the bathroom, it sounds like a raging torrent downstairs. I'm not bothered that much, but I could well imagine a visitor might feel quite embarrassed after using the bathroom, when they in turn heard someone else having a pee!"

"I know what you mean" said Donald. "It could be addressed but it would need the ceiling downstairs to be taken down; it would be quite a job. But let me tell you something." Arnie quickly discovered that the technician was one who liked to use anecdotes to try to minimize criticisms or problems.

"When I were a lad, I was told that when I had a pee, I should aim at the porcelain rather than the water in the pan — that way there would be less noise." Arnie listened incredulously and thought: 'Do you seriously expect us tell our guests not to aim at the water in the pan, so that the noise is less noticeable?'

The technician continued: "A few years ago when my wife and I had just gone to bed, I got out and I told her I was just going to have a pee in the en suite. When I went back to bed, she asked me if everything was all right. When I queried why she asked, she told me that she couldn't hear me having a pee and suggested I should go to the doctor about it!"

Arnie thought 'Do I really need this amount of detail?'

The technician continued his story by saying "I told my wife that there was nothing wrong with my pressure and explained about how I'd been told as a lad to aim at the porcelain!"

For a few seconds, Arnie stood in amazement at the conversation he had just had. The thought then flashed through his mind 'Gulesrank need to put that suggestion on the marketing blurb to overcome the drawback of not having sound insulation between the floors.' Still in total disbelief, Arnie shook his head, just as the technician took a final swig from his mug of tea and said thanks very much. Vera and Arnie let the technician resume his work and independently decided that they wouldn't raise any other drawbacks, for fear of the solution this guy might put forward.

By mid-afternoon, Donald Sumpter had completed the job of securing the stairs. He had eradicated the noise and tested the treads repeatedly. Happy that he'd resolved the problem, he packed away his tools, vacuumed up the mess and told the Squires that he'd be on his way.

The three said their respective 'good-byes' and as Arnie closed the front door behind their visitor, he turned to Vera and said "There's the answer — I'll have to put a sign in the bathroom instructing people to aim at the porcelain so that there is less noise downstairs. What absolute bollocks!"

Over the course of the next few months, Vera added various bits and pieces to the house to transform it into more the home she wanted. The place now looked like the sort of place anybody would want to live. The only problem still to be addressed was the back garden.

When the weather allowed, Arnie made a start marking out where he would have the shed built. He wanted to empty the garage of garden and DIY tools sooner, rather than later so decided that instead of having the shed against the retaining wall — which would have needed immediate removal of the mound of soil against the wall — he would put the shed on the other side of the garden.

During April of 2014, using some cord and small metal stakes, Arnie marked out the area that he would prepare for laying a concrete base for a shed. He had gained Sean Matthias' agreement to have the use of one of Gulesrank's skips over the weekend, so that the soil Arnie dug out could be disposed of elsewhere on the development. They were not as large as commercially hired skips, so before the site workers knocked off for the weekend, Sean arranged for two to be delivered to the front of the adjacent property. The ultimate top surface of tarmac hadn't been applied to that drive yet, so it was safe for the skips to be placed there.

Arnie eyed up the area to be dug out and thought that it shouldn't be too difficult because there was only topsoil beneath the turf, so should be fairly easy going. While he was standing surveying the work he was about to undertake, his attention was drawn to The Rook's legacy of the pile of soil, left thrown against the wall, that was again staring back at him, like a grass covered alpine mountain. He cursed under his breath and returned to the primary task he had set himself.

As Arnie walked over to the place he thought best to start digging, he nearly twisted his ankle in a hollow in the turf. He inspected the offending area and widened his gaze around the rest of the garden. He hadn't noticed before, but there were similar hollows dotted in several other areas, as well.

He pushed the spade into the grass and was relieved to find that there was not too much resistance. It was true that the winter months had been quite wet, so the spade cut through the turf quite readily. He started to fill the wheelbarrow with the turfs that he was paring from the ground. Even before he had half-filled the barrow, he saw that his first thoughts were not being realized. Although the winter had been wet, he didn't expect the topsoil to have taken on the appearance and consistency of what was confronting him now. He was digging through clay and it was hard going. To be fair, it was not all clay. As he threw the spade into the ground to create some extra force for digging out the area, he heard the unmistakable sound of metal striking stone. He also felt it as it jarred his hand.

As he dug away at the area he revealed the offending item and believing he'd uncovered the edge of the stone, he tried to prise it from its clay enclosure. As he worked at the stone, he discovered that the thing was about 8 inches long and not far off that in depth. He thought it was strange to find that less than 6 inches down from the surface. 'Where's the bloody topsoil?' he thought.

This process went on for a few hours more with the added aggravation of water. As Arnie dug further down, confronted by increasing depths of water, he pondered as to whether he should wear waders or try digging wearing flippers and an aqualung.

Arnie continued digging out more stones similar in size to the first that he had excavated, some even larger. 'Really good bit of ground preparation here by the ground-workers or gardeners' he thought. 'Never mind topsoil, I bet this hasn't been rotavated either. At that moment the mini mountain against the garden wall caught his attention again. 'This garden must have been out of bounds to anyone pushing a bloody rotavator. Elf & Safety would never have allowed anyone to use one on that bloody heap, unless there were such things as 4x4 rotavators' he pondered.

While he had been working Vera had been bringing out cups of tea and glasses of water, so she had seen the slow progress. Eventually, he walked across to and tapped the kitchen window to attract his wife's attention. She came out of the back door from the utility room and asked how things were going.

"They're not really" answered Arnie. "They haven't put any bloody topsoil down in here. I bet I could dig anywhere in this garden and not find any." He pointed at the wheelbarrow containing the mini boulders: "Look at this lot I dug out — and they're from just a small patch. I'm not putting up with that."

At that moment, without saying so, Arnie decided that he would contact Gulesrank to send someone around to investigate and put the matter right. He wheeled the barrow of stones over towards the opposite side of the garden from where he had been digging and tipped them onto the mini mountain against the wall. He then loaded the barrow once more with the clay and turf that he had excavated and wheeled it out to the skip next door; then he packed away the various tools in the garage and went indoors to clean up.

Arnie sat to drink another cup of tea, while he browsed through the information folder that the sales woman had given them. He looked to see what the process was for raising an issue that was not purely construction related. As he scanned the various pages, he found a marketing sheet that Gulesrank provided; it stated that front and rear gardens are rotavated, covered with 150mm of topsoil and front gardens also benefit from turf. He thought back to the list of freebies that Christine Boar had added to the reservation list when she told Vera and him that she couldn't do anything about the price. 'Turf to the rear garden…' he thought 'and I'd bet that was to conceal the absence of topsoil and also ensure that she was creating work for her son's gardening and landscaping business.'

Arnie was pleased that he'd discovered this information; it was enough ammunition to go back to Gulesrank to insist that someone should investigate. He decided that his next course of action should be to contact the customer service department. Rather than simply telephone to report the issue, he went upstairs to fetch his camera and then walked out into the garden to photograph the incriminating evidence.

After he downloaded the images to his computer, he created a PDF using Adobe InDesign. In total, he had shot enough images to compile a four page document. He then created an email message to the customer service department, citing the information he had read in Gulesrank's marketing bumph, attached the PDF and clicked the 'Send' icon. 'Right, you bastards, argue the toss about that!' he thought.

A week after logging the issue with Gulesrank's customer service department, Vera and Arnie received a visit from the customer service manager, Alun Watkinson.

Arnie led the visitor out to the back garden, recounting his findings and suspicions as they walked through the house. In readiness for the visit, Arnie had thrown the stones back into the wheelbarrow and then while continuing to explain his findings, pointed them out to the customer service manager. Mr. Watkinson asked Arnie where he found the stones. Arnie, puzzled and thinking this was a trick question, stared in disbelief at the customer service manager, before slowly moving his gaze from Alun Watkinson to the area from where he had excavated the offending items. “Well, over there” he said, curbing his urge to say 'you idiot' and pointing to where he had been digging.

'Where the hell do you think I got them?' thought Arnie. He took this as a clumsy inference that he had somehow fabricated or staged the whole scenario. As if he didn't have enough to do without searching the development for boulders to 'take home', just to make his grievance look more authentic. 'Bloody imbecile' thought Arnie, shaking his head.

Watkinson examined the stones thoughtfully, before postulating that the topsoil must have become compacted. Seemingly, not even sight of the actual stones that had been excavated, was enough to convince Mr Watkinson that Arnie’s complaint was justified. Such temerity on the part of the Squires!

“Excuse me” said Arnie. “Compacted?” he added unbelievably. Arnie received no immediate response.

After making what seemed to Arnie like no more than a cursory inspection of their garden, but obviously using acutely trained eyes, Mr. Watkinson’s assertion was that the garden had been prepared properly with the correct specification/grade and quantity of topsoil during the build in late Summer & Autumn 2013, but now, it had become compacted.

If his claims were to be believed, the extreme forces of nature had been so great in some areas, they had compacted and transformed some of the topsoil into stones up to 10 inches long and the rest of it to clay - and this just in the time it had taken Gulesrank to build the most recent 9 or 10 houses on the development. So actually, it seemed that they had not being deprived of any topsoil by Gulesrank — instead, they had been unsuspecting victims of nature’s cruel behaviour. 'What bollocks!' thought Arnie. 'Does he think we came down in the last bloody shower?'

In his mind, Arnie was mulling over what he had just been told and he extrapolated the customer service manager's theory further:

Apparently, (if Watkinson's theory was correct) the reality was that Vera and Arnie had missed the most cataclysmic geological phenomenon right under their very noses - or rather their feet. Quite clearly for the topsoil to have been transformed into stones of the size that Arnie had dug up; the ground must have been subjected to really extreme temperatures and pressure - at times, only inches below their feet when they were in the garden.

He contemplated further, that they were actually quite lucky to escape any serious injury during these dramatic natural events. Arnie genuinely did not realize that such an incredible metamorphosis could take place in the space of just about 6-9 months. He foolishly thought that such transformations took millions of years to take place. How wrong could he be? What else might they expect living here in the next 18 months to 2 years? Could their whole garden be transformed into one huge rockery?

Convinced that Arnie was not going to be swayed by his argument, Mr Watkinson agreed to authorize a geotechnical investigation with which to try to locate - as you were, confirm – the presence and quality of the topsoil. Arnie accepted that — he knew that Gulesrank didn't have a leg to stand on with this.

After he had secured that commitment from the customer service manager, Arnie diverted his attention to the 'elephant in the garden': the huge mound of earth against the retaining wall.

"When we had our first plot visit — the house was just at roof level, but first fix hadn't been done; I told the site manager that I wanted this garden levelled" explained Arnie. "He told us that he'd level it as much as he could, but as you can see, we've been left with this heap" he said, pointing at the monstrosity.

"I don't know anything about that" admitted Watkinson.

"Well maybe not, but I have just told you" answered Arnie, somewhat impatiently.

Watkinson considered the situation for a moment, not wanting to incriminate himself. "But you must have signed the PMA form" he said.

Arnie had no idea what he was talking about. He remembered signing numerous forms during the initial stages of the purchase, but 'PMA form' meant nothing to him at that moment. "I can remember signing some forms, but I don't recognise that reference" he responded. "What does PMA stand for?"

"Property Misdescriptions Act" said Watkinson and duly gave Arnie a brief synopsis of the purpose of the form. This still didn't help Arnie recall the exact form in question "The sales negotiator would have given you a copy…" added Watkinson. "and I'm afraid I can't do anything about it now, if you have signed the form."

Arnie was not at all happy with that response but saw quite clearly that Watkinson would not deviate from his stated stance. He immediately decided that his next course of action would be to go over this bloke's head and contact the M.D. At that, Arnie said to Watkinson: "OK, I'll look into that separately, but in the meantime I'll look forward to the soil test. How soon can that be arranged?"

Watkinson told Arnie that he would email the necessary request to the geotechnical survey company on his return to the office later in the afternoon. He then said his good-byes to Vera and Arnie and followed Arnie back through the house and went on his way.

Arnie's mood following that meeting was not good. He knew he needed to check the PMA form that he must have in his folder — he hadn't thrown anything out, but first he just wanted to take his mind off things and relax for an hour or so.

He had a strange idea of relaxation. Instead of doing what most other people would do, he picked up his iPad to find out what he could about the clown who had visited them that day. He contemplated how he could raise the public awareness of the diatribe he had just been fed, possibly by creating a web page to broadcast his ludicrous hypothesis to explain the apparent absence of the topsoil from the garden.

As part of his research to learn more about the person with whom he had been dealing, Arnie referred to LinkedIn. This invaluable source of information revealed that between 1983 & 1985 Mr Watkinson was yet another one who studied for a building/construction degree. Given the authority and conviction with which he spoke on the subject during his visit to the Squires’ property and the theory he put forward to explain the Squires' experience; Arnie concluded that the subject of his degree thesis must have been along the lines of: "The effects of natural geological phenomena on the planning and development of residential gardens, within the housing construction industry". Arnie smirked and thought I really need to seek out this tome from the university’s library, so that I too can broaden my own knowledge on the subject.

Arnie mused further that, after these amazing events and the explanation put forward by Gulesrank’s very own Customer Service Manager, it seemed feasible, (at least to Arnie) that all of the geological reference books may need to be re-written; perhaps with the assistance of he who undoubtedly must be the “soon to be appointed honorary Professor of Geology" ‐ Alun Watkinson. Could this even prompt for calls for Mr Watkinson to become recipient of the prestigious "Bolitho Medal" for his notable achievements in geology? Or given the existence of Astronomers Royal and the immensity of Watkinson's ideas, could a case be argued for him to be made the inaugural "Geologist Royal"?

Considering what form of homage he could compile on his website, Arnie went on to surmise that, if found to be true, Mr Watkinson’s claims also could have quite major consequences on previous theories on associated subjects that had been developed by other great brains in the fields of geology and palaeontology. The principles would need to be tested by exhaustive experiments in the field or laboratory; but if proven, amongst other things, might bring into serious question, centuries old theories of just how old fossils really were. Rather than be millions of years old - could these petrified remains be just a few decades old? Had the world’s population been distracted or simply been looking in the wrong direction, while the questionably “not so prehistoric” creatures had been roaming around our continents even to this day; only becoming fossilised in the last few months or years, caused by the same phenomenon that created the stones in Arnie's garden?

In piecing together in his mind his own digital ‘masterpiece’, Arnie thought that he could raise the awareness of potential readers who might be interested in the contents of Watkinson’s Theory. He could advise them to keep a special watch on Amazon or in resellers of scientific books, for first edition volumes of the “The Geological Works of Alun Watkinson”. If substantiated, these radical new claims would cause any first edition publication by him, immediately to become more valuable than first edition copies of “On the Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin. Readers would need to be warned; however, not to expect it to come cheaply - but oh boy, what an investment!

'Of course, Watkinson just may have made up his hypothesis to cover up Gulesrank's failure to do something that it publicly advertized — and anyway, most people wouldn't understand or appreciate my sense of humour' thought Arnie.

Just then, Arnie's train of thought was broken; Vera was calling him.

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