A Japanese gentleman contacted me one day and made the above request. He wished me to go to see a pond in London that he’d installed and was already filled with water and all he needed was a filter for it. His statements were very brief and abrupt, London and back was a days’ travel for me, especially if it was just going to be a wasted day with unnecessary and wasted travel costs. I mentioned that there were several nearer to him who could assist but he insisted that he’d been told that I was the person to contact. I then told him he would have to pay me for a days work and he immediately paid me by credit card. I then asked him for address details but he said it was ‘complex’ and so we agreed to meet at the Toddington service area on the M1. After meeting him, he asked me to follow him to the pond in question and we headed directly towards the centre of London. We arrived at the destination where a large central block of land was in the middle of two rows of expensive mews cottages that were all kept in immaculate condition – these were also owned by the owner of the central block. The huge central rectangular area was surrounded with a 6 metre tall Japanese-style stone garden wall, my guide pointed to it and told me he had built it. He then presented his card that bore the name ‘The Japanese Garden Company’.
I followed him into the grounds of the Japanese garden that surrounded the extremely modern, central dwelling house. The gardens themselves were breathtaking as my guide well knew, he pointed out all his work in detail, I had no illusions whatsoever that he was a true master of his craft. He showed me some amazing sculptured garden trees and some incredibly beautiful boulders then told me of the specialist suppliers in Japan who had shipped them to him. He then showed me photographs taken of the many huge mobile cranes required to lift and install them into position.
(I later discovered that the owner of the crane company used was another customer of mine and he’d often recalled the expense involved in getting the expensive road access routes granted to allow his cranes into central London – usually only from 12.00 midnight to 6.00am plus all the associated extra labour costs. A small fortune sprang to mind here.)
My feet returned to terra firma when he led me to his ‘pond’ where I stared in disbelief at the sight before me. If it had anything at all going for it, it could only be the total length which he pointed out was 30 metres. Alas, the shape was that of an anaconda making its way through water and the width and depth was one metre maximum – in truth it was a twisted canal. I had to kneel down and feel the sides of the pond to find it was waterproofed with butyl, I do not know how he’d done this because there was not one single crease or fold anywhere to be seen and the surface rocks and moss edging hid any traces of rubber.
My guide pointed out to me that he was very aware of the aesthetic limitations of liners and had originally specified construction by concrete as usual, however this client did not wish to wait for the concrete curing and waterproofing as he needed to get ‘some large Kois’ to put in his pond as quickly as possible, he then stressed his client was fascinated with ‘the large Kois’.
I then turned to my guide in utter disbelief and asked – ‘You wish me to filter this so that your client can stock it with Koi?’ to which he replied
‘Of course, the main reason this house and garden has been designed and constructed is as a surround for the pond of Kois – he is a great lover of the Kois.’
Upon hearing this, I sat down on a rock and started to explain things to him as gently as I could. I mentioned that it could be kept clean as in a swimming pool as long as Koi were not involved; I suggested some water plants and a few goldfish; I mentioned that a ‘proper’ Koi pond could also be built on the same land by using some of the same area – I mentioned other suggestions but sensed all my words were falling upon deaf ears.
My guide then informed me of all the ponds for very expensive Kois he had designed and installed for the wealthy collectors of the Kois in Japan.
(It was then I reflected I had probably seen a few of them, absolutely beautiful as something to gaze at but a nothing more than ‘a perfect sewer’ in which to keep fish of any kind.)
At the end of it all I advised him I could not possibly ‘filter his pond’ and further warned him of the dire consequences that would occur if he introduced Koi of any size into his miniature ‘canal’.
He then replied by screaming – ‘If you can’t do this, I’ll find an expert who CAN do it!’
As I made my way to the exit steps near the house, a very lean and diminutive figure stepped out of the open glass doors. He held a warm drink in his hand and was clad in tee shirt and jeans but had bare feet; he couldn’t have been much more than five feet tall. As I was passing he raised his hand and said – ‘You the guy that’s going to put the filter on then mate?’ I stopped and saw my ex-guide approaching from behind so I quickly replied ‘Look mate, PLEASE take my advice, do not even think about putting Koi in that sewer you have here. I promise you, if you do, they will all die!’ He just stared at me through strange, sunken eyes.
As I was going down the steps I heard my ex-guide saying ‘Please don’t worry, I’ll get someone else.’
I think it was after I finally found the M1 northbound that the penny dropped and I realised that I’d seen the same guy performing on Live Aid a few months before where he came over as a perfectly formed, veritable giant of a man. I have never been a Queen fan but this was the Freddie Mercury as seen on that day, it was hard to accept that it was the same person – but unfortunately it was.
That was just under a year before he passed away, it is said he bought Koi to the value of some £35,000.00 from a London garden centre outlet that had been trading for many years. I doubt if they had ever had that value of Koi on their premises if you added the total Koi they had ever offered for sale over all their years in business.
The Koi were introduced to Freddie’s delight but problems started within days and another expert was called in. He removed them and took them away for ‘treatment’ whilst Freddie just bought some more and the further expected disasters followed.
The tale does not end there, almost a decade later, a firm of London solicitors contacted me to ask me to give a valuation of a Koi collection that previously belonged to one of their clients. The Koi had all been lost due to an electrical error made by contractors whilst installing a new garden lighting system at their client’s premises but photographs had been taken of all the dead Koi. The Koi had been removed into large temporary ponds as advised together with temporary filtration and aeration. It was said that no circuit breakers had been included and a shortage occurred one night, the entire collection had been lost immediately.
A close lady friend of Freddie had inherited the London property and he’d stressed to her the significant value of the Koi before he died. The lady had always kept this in mind convinced they were truly rare specimens of world class Koi.
If I recall correctly, they sent over 50 photographs to me, some had one Koi and others up to four Koi, each picture had the sizes on the back of the photo to find an average size of 60cms. I listed each one to find only 10% could be classified in any kind of ‘variety’; there was not one that could possibly have ever seen Japan; many were orange with black speckles in different sizes; some were simply carp. I put my valuation besides every listing and then totalled the final amount, which came out at a little under £2,000.00. Some days later my account was paid and that’s the last I heard.