I know, it’s been a while. But that’s ‘cos I’m (a) both lazy and busy plus (b) I’ve been working on a little side project.
Announcing, for those who didn’t already know, the imminent publication of ‘The Big Hairy Green Book all about Artificial Grass’, hopefully available for purchase on Amazon by the end of this week.
It’s been a long time in gestation and it’s exciting to finally get it out into the world. I’ll send on a link (including to Kindle) shortly.
Meanwhile there are several yarns that, for one reason or another (sometimes legal) never made the final edit. Here’s the first couple. More to follow.
Keep on Truckin stories
Currently we’ve a modern(ish) fleet of 8 vans and 2 larger grab-lorries on the road. I don’t need an expensive tracking system for them. People often say to me ‘oh, I saw one of your vans on the M50 / in Mullingar / coming back from Cork … at lunchtime yesterday’. The office often gets calls – ‘hey, I’m behind one
of your vans, could you come out to quote me for my garden?’.
Initially we went with a simple green covering plus our logo and phone number. But over time it’s evolved into something more. I pride myself on giving our fitters artistic freedom so the lads enjoy pimping their rides. They have personalized their vans with Irish and Polish flags, GAA county colours and each van is now unique but recognisably a Sanctuary van.
I guess we’ve been paid the ultimate compliment of being blatantly copied by several competitors. The rotters. One of the leading franchise brands in the UK, following a visit to our offices, suddenly rolled out a fleet covered in grass. They then had the cheek to send stroppy solicitors letters to other companies in the UK who followed suit. No, I didn’t get the idea from the doggie van in the movie ‘Dumb and Dumber’. Several trade customers have since done the same, either on their entire vehicle or just the roof, wheel arches or on trailers. Hey, it’s a good way to use up offcuts.
Over the years we’ve covered double decker buses, trucks, boat decks, trailers, a dozen tipper vans of our own, the mini vans of the Innocent drinks fleet, a golf cart, a mini digger and muck trucks. Although it’s slow and technically challenging work to stick artificial grass to vehicles it's been great fun to do.
In late 2009 we were well into the ‘great recession’, property values had halved as unemployment quadrupled. We were very much in the doldrums.
Needless to say consumer confidence was at an all time low. The customers we did get would often ask us to keep a low profile lest their neighbours see them spending money, in deference to the fact that many had been made redundant, finding themselves in negative equity, unable to keep up mortgage payments.
Bleak times indeed.
Someone once said – ‘when you are broke put on your best suit’. That Autumn it was becoming apparent that our trusty green machine was on its last legs. A replacement was needed.
We could have easily found another second hand van but as a bold morale boosting statement of confidence in our business and it's future potential, I plucked up the courage to borrow for my first ever brand new van. Dealers were desperate for business and in January 2010 we availed of a hefty €5000 discount from Ford and took delivery of a €33k list price shiny new Ford Transit pick up tipper.
The next day it was raining (no surprise there) so we parked it up in the shed and got to work. We were busy covering the entire vehicle with artificial grass when my Dad walked past and stopped in his tracks.
‘What…’ he asked looking vexed ‘…the hell are ye doing?’.
‘Covering the new van in grass’ I answered.
‘But you’ll never be able to get that off, you’ll never be able to sell it now….’
Indeed. Much like Cortez when he burned his ships having landed with his conquistadors on the Mexican coast or the crew of the Bounty on Cooke Island after their mutiny, there would be no going back. Shit or bust. We’d drive this
baby for half a million miles. Or so we thought.
Junior, a relatively new employee and another young lad were sent off on a job the far side of the republic’s second city Cork (they claim its the real capital). It’s a 600+ mile round trip so, thinking ahead, they filled a drum with spare diesel. All went well with the job and they headed for home. Running low on fuel Junior decided to top up. On board the back of the van were miscellaneous tools and equipment, cut branches, offcuts of grass, the spare diesel and a drum of Roundup, aka weedkiller.
You may already see where this tale of woe is going.
After only a few miles the nearly new van started acting up. It started spluttering, spewing out weird smoke and was way underpowered. Whatever could be wrong? Undeterred Junior nursed it slowly along the motorway.
The first I heard of it was via a phone call from a lay-by outside Portlaoise more than half way home. Just before it conked out for good he decided to stop and seek help. By mistakenly pouring in gallons of roundup instead of diesel into the fuel tank and pressing on for so long he had made damn sure that all the pistons and
injectors were destroyed.
It being late I sent a rescuer down to collect the lads but the tools and the van had to be abandoned for the night. By the time the tow-truck arrived early the next morning the drivers side window had been smashed in. The radio
and other contents were nowhere to be seen.
Eventually all the damage was repaired, costing thousands, but the van was never the same. However it worked on for seven more years doing over 300,000 miles and carrying more than half a million tonnes of soil and stone and grass.
I later parted company with Junior for (a) constantly coming into work hungover and (b) speeding in company vehicles. Good riddance. I will not knowingly put the public at risk. One thing is for sure. There were never any weeds found growing in that Transit van.