Being Soilman: The honest insight

Said my piece about the RHS on the Guardian today… for those who’ve not read the uncensored version already.

I was perhaps a little disappointed that the responses come, by and large, from the gardening industry; those who work in horticulture or earn a living writing about it (or work/volunteer for the RHS itself). They are influential, to be sure, but they’re not punters. Their coin is green-tinged. They must comment delicately on one of the biggest, richest and most influential players in their industry… if they intend to make a career in it.

That’s partly why I volunteered: I’m an outsider. No such worries for me.

It’s got me thinking, though, about my outsider status… which I wear as a badge of pride. Regular readers (you need psychiatric help, but thanks anyway) will know that I miss no opportunity to be vulgar, shocking and boorish. Rejoice in it, even. Kicking down folks’ expectations of the middle-class, educated, 40-something suburban gardener is an unspoken mission statement of this blog.

In case you hadn’t figured that out.

Most of the time, this suits me fine. I’m used to the outsider role. I’ve played it all my life. Like Groucho, I never want to belong to any club that would actually have me. The kicking, screaming inner child couldn’t bear it. And somebody has to throw bottles from the back.

But now and then, like today, I’m forcibly reminded of the main consequence of taking that role: Namely, that you influence nobody that matters… ever. Your views are too vulgar, too weird, or just too ‘unhelpful’ (the dread adjective that invokes, in three syllables, the full lexicon of British patrician hauteur and contempt).

Perhaps the reminder is good for my humility (there is some, honest). At the very least, it helps me with the midlife crisis problem: I suddenly remembered, today, my favourite childhood book: ‘The Outside Cat’ by Jane Thayer (scroll down a little to read it). And that’s been worth a fortune to me.

10 Responses to “Being Soilman: The honest insight”

  1. VP Says:

    I’ve written my essay over at the Grauniad 🙂

    A lot of what you say is right, but the RHS also does a lot of good – it’s just not getting that side of things over that well. They’re funding research on climate change for example and at the rate things are going, they stand to be the last great funder of truly independent research. I shudder to think at research being left in the hands of companies like Monsanto.

    So, I’m happy to be a member and I’m also relatively happy about Chelsea (as long as it strives to become more sustainable) because I found a lot there this year about the kind of gardening issues I’m passionate about e.g. Nigel Dunnett’s research at Sheffield Uni

    I’ve experienced this kind of disenfranchment before and changing can be a bit like getting a juggernaut to change course. But it can happen, I’ve seen it for myself, so I’m happy to remain a constructive, critical member!

  2. VP Says:

    Actually, looking at who’s commented, I’d say quite a few of them are punters.

  3. Soilman Says:

    VP, I’ve never questioned for a second the stuff the RHS does right. I love the science, the research, the knowledge, the gardens, and have profited from it/them as a member in the past. Most commenters mention it, and I agree.

    But all that excellent stuff is so overshadowed by the image problem that it gets lost. And I’m not one for patient evolution, that very British way of paying lip service to change while slowly – over centuries, if necessary – stifling it and keeping things much the way they’ve always been.

    I’m a Cromwellian, which pits me against the tide of history in the UK. But there it is.

    PS/addendum: More than half of the commenters, by my reckoning, are ‘interested’ parties to some extent.

  4. VP Says:

    Agreed there is a real image problem which needs addressing as quickly as possible. However, we’re talking about culture change which is always the most difficult thing to achieve both organisationally and in the perceptions of people outside of it.

    In my experience revolution leads to both good and bad aspects of an organisation being thrown out. It’s led to me being lost to the IT industry for a very long time and then led to me leaving the charitable/environment sector forever, except as a volunteer.

    We’ll have to agree to disagree on the way forward, but I hope we will both continue to strive for change in our own different ways.

    AND I also believe disagreement and debate is a most healthy state of affairs. You don’t tend to get that with revolutions 😉

  5. Soilman Says:

    You’re of course right about debate and consensus, VP. Amen to that. Defend to the death people’s right to say etc etc.

    For me, though, there is a point where things get so rotten that ‘evolution’ is no longer possible.

    Take our current parliamentary system as the most salient modern example. I see no alternative to chucking them all out, razing the building, scrapping the wigs, the garters and all the flummery, and starting from scratch. The centuries-old accretion of pomp, pomposity, ritual, complacency, graft and venality cannot – at this point – be gently, ‘Britishly’ reformed. We can’t get there from here.

    Obv I’m not comparing this situation to the RHS’s (!). But I suppose I AM saying that my patience wears thinner than yours, and faster!

    Does anyone else ‘out there’ have a view on this? I’d love to hear from you.

  6. Soilman Says:

    PS I’d love to believe in civilised change management, but I’ve been through the pantomime of cultural change too many times, as both change-instigator and ‘changee’. Most of us have.

    The rules, the roles and the script are always the same. It starts with a plan for slow, persuasive, ‘evolutionary’ change and ends either with (a) no change at all (the usual outcome), or (b) a strong man/woman kicking arse and taking names amid recriminations and tears. The bigger and older the organisation, the more likely option (a).

    I hate both, but at least (b) works – albeit imperfectly.

  7. allotment blogger Says:

    I couldn’t agree more. What gets my goat is that much more ‘grassroots’ organisations like Brogdale, who are quietly getting on with trying to save precious biodiversity in fruit trees and the ways of life that allow those trees and their growers to survive, are pushed to the limits by funding cuts, while mad extravaganzas like Chelsea take all the front pages.

  8. Manor Stables Veg Plot Says:

    Just read the piece in the Guardian, and all the comments that have been raised – a good read SM, and as always, something for all to comment on. Well done!!

  9. Manor Stables Veg Plot Says:

    SM – I worked – I’m posted…..or can I only see it?

  10. Soilman Says:

    No, it’s OK… we’re back in business!