A truly Sad Tale that will haunt me always

By far, the biggest Koi pond I have ever designed must have been in excess of 500,000 gallons although it was never checked accurately. The owner was a true gentleman and an incredible human being whom I became involved with over a period of some five years. He owned an enormous civil engineering business in the UK and his beautiful home was a listed stately home with enormous grounds surrounding it.

It is often said, although not confirmed, that he ‘won’ the entire estate over a late night card game in a nearby village pub after the owner could not possibly afford the upkeep of his ‘Folly’, let alone carry out necessary and very urgent repairs. It is also said that the stake involved was £25.00.

When he moved into the new home, he researched exactly how it must have been when first built, and, after several years of work by expert craftsmen, it was restored to its former glory after untold sums had been invested. The gutters and downspouts of the building had even been replaced with the original lead ones after each had been inlaid with the original designs. I came onto the scene after the owner became enamoured with Koi and that’s when I saw the inside of the enormous building which was simply breathtaking and had a real hallowed atmosphere to it all.

The grounds were manicured and kept in check by teams of gardeners, on another part of the land he built a full research laboratory and employed technicians to keep and develop the breeding of pedigree Frisian cattle. That was only a small part of it. I designed and built a 10,000 gallon Koi pond for him and he kept some very nice Koi in the collection, he spent some of his rare leisure time sitting by the pond with his two precious boxer dogs who followed him everywhere. They also bit anyone who strayed too close to him – me included.

One day he took me to a huge quarry on his land, it had been gouged out many years ago and looked like a flat bed around the size of three football pitches that were surrounded on three sides by rock walls some 100 feet tall whilst the exit part met with ground level. The stone taken from this quarry later went to re-build the Manchester Cathedral after the end of WW2. He then told me of plans to build a half-sized, exact replica of his existing home right next to one rock wall of the quarry and that the narrower wall of the quarry would then be a waterfall emptying into a huge Koi pond below. It is sad that all pictures taken of this have been lost long ago. After many meetings with his very clever engineers, I came up with a plan that was finally accepted and work commenced. The pond would have a large Japanese-style house in the centre accessed by a stone pathway and the entire surrounds would be finished in the existing boulders that were readily-available after excavation. Part of the Japanese house would also house the electrical controls of the system.

I cannot recall exactly how many bottom drains were installed, or the latticework of 4” pipelines connecting them all. However, I do recall the block-built filter system comprising of ten feet square chambers with a depth of six feet to each. They were placed alongside each other in a line of 25 units. The huge water pumps to power the filters were lowered into the respective chambers on stainless steel tracks whilst a far larger pump to be used for the waterfall supply took its supply from a 20 feet square and six feet deep chamber fed by gravity from the pond by three 12” bore open tubes protected from the Koi in the pond.

There were a few isolated times during the installation where the owner took me to task, one in particular was after I had sent a very good guy who worked for me to install 25 200lpm air pumps to power the entire aeration system for the pond and the filtration system after all large bore supply lines had been carefully routed. I was summoned to his pond in no uncertain terms to inspect ‘the disaster’ which he referred to in the air pump installation. I entered the room with trepidation only to find before me an absolutely perfect view before me, it was neat beyond belief. I checked each joint to find not one trace of solvent cement visible and switched each motor on one by one to witness all were working perfectly. I then double-checked everything and was almost ready to ask what the bloody problem was when he pulled out a short metal rule from his pocket. He then measured the space between each motor and stopped mid-way when he pointed out that one space was 18mm wider than the other spaces. He then came out with a statement that has stayed with me since then, which was –

‘Peter, do not send little boys to do big boy’s work’.

He was used to perfection and expected perfection, furthermore he had ample funds from which to pay for it. I returned to the office and warmly congratulated the guy who had installed it all; I went back with him the next day and resolved the problem as requested to his entire satisfaction after which he invited us both into his home where we were both fed and watered.

On one Friday lunchtime, as the pond neared completion, the owner rang me and asked me to make an urgent visit to his home. I turned up as usual at the back door of the house where all the offices were, to meet with his secretary/receptionist. She looked surprised when I asked to see the boss and replied that he was in a hastily arranged meeting with bank managers, a solicitor and several other important people. I told her the boss had summoned me personally so she went through to interrupt the meeting. The owner came back with her immediately along with his dogs, he then asked me to walk over to the new pond with him. We stood on top of one tall side and gazed down into it; the footings of the replica home were well underway by then. Some small talk was exchanged after which I asked him if there were any problems, he shook his head, looked at me and just said – ‘No, I just want to know how much money I owe you now, I don’t like getting behind in my payments’. I assured him that his account was fully up to date but he frowned and then said – ‘I KNOW I owe you a lot of money, I can pay you right now’. I tried to assure him he owed nothing at all but he would not stop insisting I was wrong. He then mentioned new invoices that had not yet been submitted and that I could send copies later after he had paid me right then, he then mentioned he had to bring his financial affairs ‘to date’ immediately.

I got back to the office as everyone was leaving, I took out the book, which listed all outstanding payments due to me, and there was nothing at all outstanding, just as I suspected. I was about to lock up when the phone rang to hear him say ‘Have you checked everything?’ I said I had and that his account was paid up to date with no other invoices awaiting preparation. There was a long pause at the other end, he replied by saying – ‘Oh, OK’ and then he said ‘Goodbye’. I was about to ask why the ‘goodbye’ but decided against it.

It was the following Wednesday when I received a call from another long-standing customer who had an outstanding Koi collection. He asked if I had heard about ‘X’ mentioned above? I said I had heard nothing since the previous Friday and so he related the story whilst I started to get colder as the tale progressed.

On the Monday lunchtime, he had taken his wife for a meal at a local restaurant and returned to the house where he dropped her off. He then drove his Range Rover under a tree and opened the sunroof – there was a rope already in place hanging from the tree that he fastened around his neck and then fastened his seat belt after which he hit the accelerator. He was found minus head in the overturned car a quarter of a mile away.

I could not get warm for the rest of the day.

Then followed endless requests from his estate executors with a copy hand-written note from him saying he owed me a ‘substantial amount’ of money that had to be paid. I think this went on for at least four years but all were thrown into the bin. In final desperation, a solicitor arrived with all the paperwork, anxious to get a final figure that did not exist. Here is not the place to relate my terse reply to him.

I did find out the reasons, it had nothing to do with health problems, nor had it to do with money but again, here is not the place to mention it but I do know the reason behind it all. Had it been me, perhaps I would have made the same decision.

One thing I do know, had I said he owed me £5,000,000.00 – he’d have paid me, there and then!

One hell of a human being.

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