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Hand in Pocket Time

I don’t get out much but from what little I do see, in some parts I understand times are hard. I do know we are all being f****d by our immoral, corrupt and feckless leaders. In fact let me correct that, they are no leaders at all are they? So, it’s good to know there are some folk who are doing their bit to help out those most in need.
One aspect of modern society that leads me down a dark path of depression is the widespread proliferation of misandry (look it up) in the media in all it’s shades. I know the ladies got a rough deal in the past from some quarters. I also know a lot of other folk in society got the shitty end of the stick. Seems to me that’s human nature, it’s not right, but it’s our nature and there is not much hope for our race. As agent Smith so eloquently put it…..
“Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment; but you humans do not. Instead you multiply, and multiply, until every resource is consumed. The only way for you to survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern… a virus
So, hoping you all went and looked up the meaning of that M… word can anyone tell me why we don’t hear it more often? I would like to hear from anyone who actually knew what it meant or has heard it in common parlance. My thought is this…. In todays PC, puritan, self righteous poor old me, ‘my life is so hard‘ culture where we cannot speak our minds and everyone is a delicate and beautiful snowflake and harsh or true words leave folk reaching for a bottle of pills or an automatic rifle I think the act of taking offence has become the de-facto position for many. It appears to me many loud mouth people are actively looking for a chance to be offended which gives a great opportunity to be the object of others sympathies. Being a victim can bring a moment of fame, and quite likely a little fortune to boot.
For sure a lot of folk have been hard done to and we have all suffered at the hands of our elected dictators and many others. So, in the interest of balance can I ask if, at this moment in time there is a more reviled section of society than the middle aged, overweight, smoking, beer drinking, petrol car driving, heterosexual, badly dresses English white man? Anyone listened to BBC radio 4’s Woman’s Hour recently?
Life is getting tough for many folk just now and us pudgy old (older) blokes need all the help we can get. I recon we have got a lot on our plates just now and nobody is going to protect our so called rights, regardless which of those is most important to you.
In the interest of communal responsibility and altruism I need all my good friends and loyal readers to help me out today by stumping up a little cash. It’s not for me of course but I am putting my arse on the line, well, actually in a really uncomfortable seat this coming Sunday in an attempt to raise some money for a very good cause.
So, after a Covid enforced hiatus it’s great news that The Distinguished Gentleman’s is back on again this coming Sunday 22 May. If you ride a bike, sign up today and get involved, trust me you will be glad you did.
This is a great worldwide event that raises money to help men around the world by funding research into prostate cancer as well as mental health programmes.
Once again this year I will be chuffing down into Suffolk to join the Bury St Edmunds ride, that’s a good run (over 150 miles) on an 80 odd year old bike with no suspension!
It would be wonderful if just a few of my friends here could sponsor my modest fundraising goal of £400. I recon us guys need all the help we can get!
PLEASE DONATE EVEN IF IT’S JUST A FIVER.
Thank you!
G.

My steed from the last DGR.

This years torture device.

Organised chaos in a posh part of Suffolk.

Equally posh mounts put to good use.

Trees, Trees, Trees

Since Brexit became a reality our esteemed leaders have introduced some pointless draconian laws that make it (probably) easier to bring nuclear weapons into the Uk than it does plants. Therefore it’s no longer possible for KB to bring in the 1500-2000 plants a year we were doing for a long time. Therefore we have taken the action of withdrawing from tree sales entirely for the foreseeable future.

However after more than 30 years mucking about with bonsai I do have a LOT of stuff in my personal collection that litters the place up. Like most folk I can’t resist poking a cutting into a pot then putting it in the garden. I still have about a thousand plants myself. Most of those are not available for sale or swaps simply because I like having these things around me. But, in light of the short supply bonsai is in and the fact there are a couple of vintage Harley Davidsons I still need to add to my ‘other’ collection I just might need to let something go.

To that end here are a few very rough snaps of the butt end of my benches. These  ‘could’ be available either now or later in the year. These will NOT be appearing on our web site. If you are interested just drop me a line and do include the relevant image if you want details.

G.

Juniper

Privet

Sabina.

Sabina.

Japanese yew.

English elm.

English elm.

???????????

Privet.

Scots pine.

Hawthorn.

Hornbeam.

Chinese elm.

Cork Bark elm.

Chinese elm.

Chinese elm.

Scots pine.

Cork Bark elm.

English elm.

Field elm.

Japanese maple.

Privet.

Forsythia.

Field maple.

Spruce.

Hinoki.

Chinese juniper.

Scots Pine.

Privet.

Hawthorn.

Juniper.

White pine.

Squmata juniper.

English elm.

Portuguese oak.

Japanese maple.

Japanese maple.

Portuguese oak.

Japanese maple.

English elm.

Kojo-no-mai.

Wild privet.

Ranting and Raving

I know y’all missed me ranting and raving. So, apropos of nothing other than my own therapy here are my thoughts, revelations and reminiscences for the Easter holidays based on my year so far. Should pass a little time if you are stuck in a traffic cue or airport. No need to comment 😉

Funny world we are living in just now, perhaps not the most appropriate term but it’s my way of looking on the bright side, I think they call it irony. I spend most of my time dazed and confused, frustrated and angry and frankly entirely bewildered by a cacophony of noise from a world I barely want to inhabit anymore.

Anyone remember the first series of One Foot in the Grave? In it our beloved Victor, aged 60, is forced into early retirement from his job as a security guard when the office where he worked installs an automatic security system (which he describes as “being replaced by a box“). The series follows Meldrew as he tries to fill his new-found leisure with odd jobs and unusual idiosyncrasies, whilst trying to get a new job. However, he regularly finds himself mistreated, misunderstood or simply the victim of bad luck, and consequently leads to his complaining heartily. Remind you of anyone?

As usual it’s been a frantic year so far here at KB, we call it soil season. It’s the time of year when we have to hump massive weights around all day, day after day. It might make money but my dead God it’s hard. I didn’t come here to complain (“bollocks” I hear you cry). The year started well considering my tribulations late last year that I would rather not revisit. However things quickly went downhill. Turns out I managed to dislocate a rib. Who knew you could even do such a thing. In case you were wondering I didn’t crash a bike, get in a fight or fall off something. I was pruning a tree…… I shit you not. It’s taken four months, numerous trips to the osteopath and a boat load of painkillers and even now I have some bad days. At my most restrained I say “Fuck getting old, it sucks”.

It’s been a while since I sat down at my desk to vent but here goes……

Since Brexit our government has taken a draconian approach and completely crushed all our (possibly) new found freedoms into oblivion. I could say it’s a plot to take us back in but I think it’s more likely the result of being “governed” by feckless, unimaginative, brain dead, self-serving, power-grabbing, over-privileged public school twits getting their chains jerked by a narcissistic British left-wing socialist media who seek to govern the country by manipulating public opinion therefore dictating policy in government and ultimately who stays and who goes. Anyone who believes politicians have any answers has their head up their own wotsit IMHO.

I have asked everyone I know this simple question. Just tell me a single example in recent memory of when politicians made something better than it was before?

As a business owner I spend the bulk of my time on official bullshit. Complying with legislation and tax laws takes as much of my time as purchasing and marketing combined. We (2 of us) recently spent the whole day supplying information to my bank (of 20 years and who hold more than the value of my house on deposit) that we are in fact who we claim to be before they froze our account. Apparently, this is for compliance with some government diktat or other. I reckon they owe me £250 in the wages it cost me.

It’s a sad fact that there are only two tricks our f***wit leaders have to fix anything. The first is to chuck money at it. This never works because most of the money never gets to the coal face once every committee, quango and mid level administrative organisation has taken their taste. The other thing is legislation. The amount of legislation we face today makes me feel like a death camp inmate. The constant notices of new legislation compliance required, the relentless threat of fines and the sheer weight of oppressive legislation make me wonder daily if I would not be better delivering groceries.

You can’t legislate the ills of society. You certainly can’t legislate goodness into a morally bankrupt self-serving society and, above all you cannot legislate against criminal activity. Dohh! Criminals don’t give a shit and won’t obey however many laws you propagate. All that legislation does is oppress the law-abiding citizen and does nothing to stem illegal activity. As an example just look at Partygate. The criminals carry on whilst the masses are oppressed by arbitrary overbearing government rules.

There are two types of law in existence, those that are absolute like gravity or ageing and then there are the laws man makes to govern his own society for the common good. Those laws are arbitrary, random, subject to change and………abuse. The Covid ‘laws’ were a bunch of bullshit put in place to try and legislate what we used to call personal responsibility and consequence. If you believe in your own head that the ‘government should do something’ about this or that you are, in my opinion betting on a busted flush. The government is like a one-trick pony with memory loss.

Much like Martin Luther King Jr I too “have a dream” or at least I had one. I wanted a little family business, working from home, making our way in the world and not bothering anyone. All I wanted to do was pay my way in the world, do a good job and buy my daughter a house for her family. The core part of my dream since I fell into bonsai was to import my own trees both to own and sell. However since Brexit our esteemed leaders have introduced such stupid legislation restricting the movement of plants that my dream is dead. I spoke to a nearby nursery owner recently and the moment i made reference to DEFRA inspections he chucked up his lunch and passed out on the floor in a puddle of his own piss.

Words are simply insufficient to describe what has happened to us here but in a country run by politicians, of any colour, only failure can be assured. So let’s move on……

For two years now I have been predicting economic hardship. Today they are saying that inflation has reached 7%. I doubt that, it’s higher and for a year I have been predicting 10% at least. There is a reason for that. For sure Covid caused some waves. What it did do was turn off the economic machine and restarted it. Trouble is everyone woke up and some realised they had been working for nowt for far too long. As everything began to pick up there was a vacuum, a backlog that needed to be filled and before we got back on track demand increased to boot. That just means extra costs as demand outstrips supply.

All of my life I have seen prices of goods falling. When I was born my dad had a ten-year-old Triumph motorcycle which quickly gained a sidecar as newborns make lousy pillions. Cars were too expensive for most young single income families back when we didn’t get paid for breeding. My grandparents spent 20% of their income on food. I have said a million times, today we sell branch cutters and wire cheaper than they were back in the early nineties when Bonsai Mart started. Back then I bought a 3-bed semi with a garage and a big garden and off-road parking for 3 cars for £51k. A while back a great friend of mine who is well in his eighties was looking at a tree I had for sale at just over a grand. After a while he said “That’s more than I paid for my first house”. Thinking about it myself a bag of Akadama now costs more than I paid for my first bike. Relatively speaking we never had it so good.

So how have prices gotten so low? Not simple but, advances in manufacturing and materials technology and the de-skilling of processes alongside automation have a great deal of bearing. However, again in my opinion, the primary factor is the reliance on cheap oil to allow manufacturing in the cheapest parts of the world, currently China, to be delivered to our shores in an almost criminally cheap way. That coupled with dumbass businesses that believe the only way to sell anything is to be the cheapest has led us all down a rabbit hole and now we are stuck fast and the ferret is on his way, it’s going to be a bloodbath. We have all been making hay in the glorious sunshine of cheap energy and it’s irresponsible use but now with a population of eight billion people those days are over folk.

Here’s an example. A couple of years ago I wanted to source copper wire. I know a guy with a factory ‘oop north that makes wire of all sorts. So being a patriotic fellow I decide to source what I need right here. It takes two months to figure out my guy can do what I need and another month to get a price. I need to buy 2000Kg minimum paid up front with a delivery time of at least two months. The price? £13 a kilo (£26,000 outlay). Plus the usual taxes and transport (30%). In China I can buy the same with a lead time of 30 days, no money up front and no minimum order at 30% of the UK sourced product. The cost of running a business in our country is simply not viable anymore with retail prices where they stand.

However that’s ALL changed now. For decades we have all been working on the basis of 10% inbound shipping. When I started we airfreighted tools out of Japan and incredibly the cost was only 5%. Today that cost is 50%. For years a 20 foot container from China to the UK has been around the £1200 to £2000 mark for small operators. Since Covid that has risen in many examples to £10-12K and I have heard of folks paying even more. So, today we have to work on the basis of 30+% inbound shipping wether that’s by road or sea. Many low cost products will simply disappear. I was recently talking to the boss of the biggest horticultural wholesaler in the south of the country who told me he was no longer going to be able to import the little plastic pots and trays so vital for the nursery growing industry in this country. Rising costs in China and import costs and charges mean that’s all over which potentially spells the end of the nursery production trade unless everyone pays more, a lot more.

As an aside I remember, as a kid, going to a local nursery. It was a bungalow down the road, the guy turned his living room and conservatory into a public shop where he sold plants and vegetables he grew in the extensive plot at the back. The front garden had parking for three cars (didn’t matter, we were always on our bikes or Shanks’s pony) and was full of weedy pots of random plants for sale. I actually bought my first bonsai raw material from there. The old guy looked a lot like a rustic BoJo crossed with a son of the soil. Blue ankle swinger dungarees with a massive leather belt around his middle, checked shirt and huge brown leather ankle boots with Blakey’s in the heels and a soppy great knitted bobble hat with tufts of coarse blond hair peeking out…… Oh and he was built like a brick outhouse with hands like battered pan lids. What a sweetheart he was too. I remember going there from time to time with my parents and grandparents. Mum got ‘taters weighed in a big Avery shop scale and tipped, soil and all, into her vinyl shopping bag. Whenever we bought bedding or vegetable plants they were pricked out of wooden seed trays and folded into damp newspaper. I doubt that old fella sold a plastic bag or tray in his life but he made his way in the world, living a simple life, taking what he needed and little more. There truly is honour in hard work.

So, after that charming saunter down memory lane lets get back to less idyllic times. The media are very keen to be blaming Putin and his bullshit for much of the world’s subsequent ills. Part of me has to say Duhh, WTF did you think was going to happen. We put ourselves at the mercy of a political system that has historically been at odds with our own values in the deluded belief that the leopard had changed it’s spots. Turns out (Putin) one can grin and bear a lot of bullshit in exchange for billions of dollars a day when it’s financing a political ideal. It’s all very well those ER idiots telling us to abandon oil today but truth is 90% of our country would starve to death within a month without it and if you think electricity is coming to the rescue go get yourself checked! Not developing home grown energy solutions might make a few deluded do-gooders feel better, what’s the acronym? NIMBY it’s coming from somewhere folks but buying energy, or anything for that matter will only impoverish our own country and empower others. In this case someone we perhaps ought not to have done.

The long and the short of this is you and I are going to have much less privilege than we have been fortunate enough to enjoy thus far. The relentless devaluation of the pound in your pocket is dictated by many factors. Not least being the time we abandoned the gold standard, sold our national gold reserves and started printing money, coupled with bad fiscal management, spiralling national debt and expenditure we can ill afford etc, means our great British pound now has about the same value as an old sticky sweet found in the corner of the pocket of a jacket rarely worn.

Above and beyond all of that in my experience is the simply incomprehensible burden of tax and charges levied on us all. It’s my considered opinion that the average guy working for a living, raising kids, running a car and paying a mortgage is losing up to 70% of his income in direct and indirect taxes. 20%, or 1/5 of everything you spend is tax. Income tax and NI accounts for an additional 20%. The cost of goods, imported or otherwise will have attracted a lot of tax before it ever gets offered for sale. Fuel is a big chunk of the cost of everything and that’s 50% odd tax and 20% of the cost of fuel is fucking VAT. So they are charging 20% tax on the 50% tax portion of your fill up.

Here’s an interesting factoid. We have all recently become familiar with the price of a barrel of oil. Brent Crude is measured in 42 (US) gallon (159 litres) barrels. Today 13 April 2022 that cost $105 or about £80. The end products from that oil make up about 2.6 gallons more than the original amount of oil, or about 44.6 gallons of end products from a 42 gallon barrel. Purely distilling the fuel yields about 11 gallons of gasoline per barrel depending on the oil source. However, cracking and advanced processing can actually yield a maximum return of about 42 gallons of fuel per 42 gallon barrel of crude. This includes Diesel, aviation fuel, kerosene and fuel oil out of the 42 gallon barrel. This is pretty ropy maths but that makes you average fuel 50p a litre excluding processing costs and delivery and the all important tax.

Our supply chains soak up a huge amount of money and every single time a product is moving or landing it’s getting taxed and charged up the wazoo. A factory gate price in China of £1 will translate into a shop price here of £4 to £10 and at that nobody except the chancellor is getting rich. As an example I thought I would share with you a bill that recently came across my desk. Bear in mind I already paid for the shipping fees, import VAT, import duty and associated charges. These are random fees imposed by the UK port. Add to that inland transport and handling. So my total factory gate product cost of £7000 cost me an additional £4200 (60%) to put on my doorstep. Every time we import, these random fees change. On occasions we get very little and other times we get the lot. What a fucking extortionate racket, were all getting fleeced.

Much is made of ‘trade deals’ by our esteemed leaders. This largely removes tariffs on goods known as duty. Politicians like to make a lot of fuss about how much they are doing. So, how much duty did I pay for this lot? £21.72. so let’s hope they get a deal done soon because that twenty spot will make all the difference won’t it?

In conclusion, this won’t be getting better so hang onto your wallets folk. Politicians, far from having the answers we need are actually the problem. But let’s face it most of us live like kings compared to our forbears and it’s still possible to make a living here with a lot of effort and imagination and for now at least Putin’s artillery isn’t falling on our heads, thank God, so we all need to be grateful for what we have because it could all be a lot worse and at least my glass is half full. Just need to prevent the government getting a longer straw!

Meanwhile here are a few pic’s from the garden.

Have a great Easter break folk!
Graham.

Untrained hornbeam awaiting its turn.

Humungous Chinese elm coming into leaf.

Old Chinese elm getting underway for another season.

Wild Privet Forest. FOR SALE. The largest yamadori group planting we have ever had, nearly 5ft wide.

From a private collection and available now. Email for price.

Black Friday My Arse!

Black Friday My Arse!

Just in case anyone was tempted to ask me about “Black Friday” deals I thought, for once, I would get ahead of the game. If you know me you know what comes next so let me step aside for a moment. Here is an excerpt from an email I received this very morning from an outstanding UK producer and supplier.

Our position of not jumping on the band wagon with Black Friday deals is not only because we don’t agree with the concept of fuelling consumerism to the detriment of our planet. It is because we don’t need to – we combine high quality, with great value for all our bird food products throughout the year.Vine House Farm

I entirely concur with those sentiments but also let me add….you knew this was coming, my two penn’orth.

Personally I consider it offensive to be offered a ‘deal’. Let me, at length, explain.

Running a business these days costs a LOT of money. Even before one makes their first sale there will potentially have been many thousands of pounds spent. In modern Britain, just for a company to exist costs money, to actually have the audacity to trade will cost an eye watering amount. When a business gets a little bigger the amount of money needed every day, just to open the door, even before making a sale, is best NOT thought about. I believe they call that your ‘burn rate‘, costs not directly attributed to sales that have to be paid regardless of economic activity.

So, everyone has to make a (dirty word coming up) PROFIT. That’s not so your local friendly business owner can get rich, fuck off on a yacht and make a spectacle of himself in the Caribbean wearing a loud shirt and budgie smuggler. Profits pay wages and taxes and they pay those who choose to work as well as those who cannot or will not? Profits are a good thing, at least in the hands of honest and responsible folk.

So, I went out to buy a massive ‘dining’ table and a bunch of chairs. At the time my circumstances were straitened but I will never let a lack of ready cash dictate what I buy. Neither will I borrow money. Rather than buy cheap crap I will go without until I can afford what I want or need. I was in my own home and married about eight years before I got my first sofa and because I waited and bought well I still have it thirty years later.

So, the table? We went off to our local family owned furniture emporium, who were famous for their massive discounts, and pretty soon I found the monster table and chairs I was looking for. It was on offer at something stupid like 60% discount which made no difference to me, it was what we needed and I had the folding in my pocket so we loaded it up there and then. Fifteen years on I still have it.

Some time later we decided we needed some sort of sideboard, dresser thingy and so we headed back to the same store with a roll of Her Majesties finest paper currency. Once again we found what we needed pretty quick, I must be easy to please. Having agreed to buy said item the salesman, who knew me pretty well by then, thanks to multiple visits, told me that if I waited a week I could get the item at a……you guessed it…….60% discount. I told him he was a c**** and walked out never to return. A couple of years later they had a genuine sale because they went bankrupt. I’m old now and so have many examples of bullshit discounting. I would not like to insult anyone’s intelligence by doing the same.

A while back I saw one of the big DIY sheds offering an 80% discount on kitchens. Just think about that for a moment. This advertisement was on TV which is really expensive to do right? VAT is 20%. I can really only think of four possible explanations for this….

  1. Their original prices were artificially stratospheric
  2. They were going bankrupt
  3. Their kitchens must be absolute shit
  4. Their goods are radioactive or really unfashionable.

Seeing as they are still in business my intuition leads me to believe it was number 3. Is anyone REALLY taken in by this bullshit? I guess so as we keep seeing more and more of it every year.

I was recently offered a ‘deal’ on some power tools. That got me to thinking I could really use some of those. It took me about as long as it takes to read this sentence to find the exact same items at a better ‘regular’ price from a reputable retailer. Then, in the end, I went back to a small local firm I use and paid more from them because they are nice people to do business with.

One thing I have learned and will pass on willingly is that, often, just buying from the cheapest source is not the best deal. I like the old fashioned notion of customer loyalty, not because it will get me a better price but I like to be invested in the folk that I spend money with. Trust me folk IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT PRICE.

Sure we can all get a low price (no prizes for that) from some big faceless corporation (or somebody going broke). But, what happens when things go wrong? Then you enter the Twilight Zone of ‘customer service‘ where emails are not answered or mysteriously get lost, telephones and automated “Please choose from the following 45 options menu“, “sorry I did not understand that answer” “please hold“, listen to this intensely annoying shit music for the next 40 minutes, “You call is important to us, please continue to hold“, “All our operators are busy right now” because we are too cheap to employ enough folk to take care of you…… BULLSHIT, BULLSHIT, BULLSHIT. Anyone been there? They should call it “Fuck the customer services“.

However place your order with a GOOD small business and the whole experience will be better. Small businesses generally do not have call centres, automated phone systems, live chat, app’s or any other tech’y bullshit. Buy from a firm with a landline number and a front door you can walk through and a hand you can shake. It’s worth the extra few quid and I think we will all feel a little better about ourselves having a bit less stuff and knowing our money is appreciated by people who don’t give it to shareholders and that just may become friends in the long run.

Talking of front doors, brings to mind the story of a good bonsai buddy of mine, sadly no longer with us. Smart as a whip, successful and wealthy my old mate was Norfolk through and through. Back then we all used Norwich Union for a great many financial services simply because they were based in Norfolk, as I recall they occupied about half of the fine city of Norwich. Anyhow, my buddy had an issue he needed to resolve and gave them a call which ended up in India or some such place. After a while it all started to get ugly so my short-tempered mate decided enough was enough, jumped into his truck and went to Norwich. Those were the days when you could just walk into a building without a cavity search. Now obviously we know this was not going to work but me ol’ mate stormed in the door demanding satisfaction. The bewildered staff, not forthcoming resulted in my guy going out to the car park to fetch the pick axe handle he always carried in the back of his truck. Eventually the police were called and satisfaction was NOT had.

I learned a lot from that, all of our insurance is handled by a local family-owned agent with a shop in the local high street. Should there ever be a problem the sight of my looming hulk over the counter will get some action. I can call my guy any time, directly and he knows me. I get prices better than I can find online, sound ‘inside’ advice, no telephone menus. Now that really is fucking “Simples”!

Kaizen Bonsai also deals with little family businesses all over the UK and beyond. Over the years we have built up good trading relationships and it’s nice to be taken care of by folk who know us and know what we need. Also as the years pass it’s nice to see other folks businesses grow and their families prosper, kids grow up etc’ and to know we helped in that does us a world of good.

Don’t get me wrong, i’m not against buying what we need at a decent price and I have made my living for decades now by haggling and stumping up that all important £ sterling to get what I want at the right price. I just hate being deceived and lied to by dishonest businesses and bullshitters.

Kaizen Bonsai have never had a ‘sale’. However I have, on rare occasions offered ‘discount‘ items. The discounts on those come in two forms.

  1. I negotiated a special price from a supplier and passed on the saving.
  2. I got so sick of looking at something I either sold it for what it cost or even at a loss.

Sometimes I suffer a lack of good judgement and buy stuff that is all wrong. On those occasions I have to ‘man-up’ and take the hit by which I mean I lose money. So if you see a discount on our website I suggest you feel really sorry for me whilst developing a wry smile at my expense. I firmly believe in personal responsibility.

The whole essence of a ‘SALE” is to get rid of excess stock, bale out of bad buying decisions, clear out seasonal stock and generally move stuff on to free up cash and make space. The very day business started buying in sale stock the integrity was lost and these days clever marketing of ‘events’ like Black Friday are symptomatic of a distinct lack of integrity and respect. I say “give me your best price EVERY day“. Show me some respect and value my business, not just because you want a good review, or because you want me to come and spend even more. The way a lot of business is conducted today is losing dignity and respect. It’s a dishonest approach to selling good folk stuff they probably don’t need and persuading those same hard-working folk to part with money they often do not have, via’ debt cards, easy finance options and the like. FOMO is a powerful thing.

So, if you genuinely need to get something and you find a good offer knock yourselves out. Personally, I’m not easily swayed into parting with my hard-earned and have spent the morning unsubscribing to every single email offering me a Black Friday ‘deal’. Every bit of Black Friday mail through my door went back into the post box “return to sender”. I know it makes absolutely no difference whatsoever, i’m just a dog howling at the moon but things have got to change, the way we are going is destroying every one of us.

So, I have wasted enough time on this and if you, dear reader,  are insane enough to have read it there are Black Friday deals you are missing. I have to go sort this mess out now, video coming soon.

Graham.

P.S ‘SALE’ items are listed here. Bonsai Bargain Basement.

Soon to be a new bonsai video, the 4 year journey of this privet. Was it worth the wait?

 

 

 

 

Littered With Contradiction

I’m on safe ground here when I say Bonsai is Littered With Contradiction. But then perhaps it’s not the trees fault and it’s not inherent in the programme. Nevertheless there are a lot of variables and those can throw us into confusion at times especially where an individual is not reclining upon the comfortable lounger of experience.

After thirty years mucking about with bonsai trees, and, as has often been remarked upon by those who know me, having a capacious gift for memory, at least as far as our beloved little trees are concerned. I am lucky enough to be able on occasions to see the bigger picture and take into account a lot of variables when considering a particular course of action or outcome.

I recently wrote about how I love to peel away the autumn colour of maples and other deciduous trees in order to reveal the fruits of my labours and a trees development over the preceding summer. That’s preferable for me over a bold display of colour. Littered With Contradiction or just impatient?

Little Tommy Opposite

Having just spent ten days in abject agony with sciatica following a very stupid and self inflicted hip injury that ended up with me in hospital and subsequently incoherent on the highest strength pain killers available from Her Majesty’s health service. I have largely missed the best display of autumn colours there has been in our area in twenty years.

A couple of days ago at sunrise I managed to slip into my de-laced boots and still attired in my best nightwear placed a tentative step out onto the yard. Gingerly I stepped one cautious foot at a time and after some considerable effort and care arrived at the end of the garden where a spectacular sight greeted me. A display of coloured leaves the like of which our exposed east coast location rarely provides.

Almost every year late season foliage here is blackened and scorched by vicious north winds. However this year they held off and thanks to my incapacitation there were no fumbling fingers to meddle either. Despite an appalling summer, one of the worst I can remember for tree cultivation my lovely little trees have stuck a defiant middle finger up to the British weather right at the last and, following my traumatic recent experiences I joined right in with a lightened heart and mind.

Earlier in the year I wrote about defoliation in my interminable and loquacious manner. The subject that illustrated that article has now rewarded my efforts and created one of the best displays of colour I have enjoyed for many years.

Defoliation – What You Need To Know

One of the contradictions of this technique that certainly deceives many folk is the thought that it will weaken a tree and I have seen this expounded in several books. Whilst it may upset a poorly or weak tree and as I said in my previous diatribe it is not suitable for all species, in some instances the result is likely to be the opposite of what one might expect. All things being equal, and assuming one is sufficiently adroit to consider and exploit all the associated elements and factors the reverse is in fact true, it just might increase the strength and vigour of a plant. I dealt with that at great length in my previous post……

The Tale of Two Maples

So, having defoliated this Japanese maple, that I am in the process of restoring after several years of neglect in a commercial nursery, I am pleased to see that it still has a full head of leaves in November. That’s a full MONTH after all my non-defoliated maples dropped their leaves. Seeing as the last month has been utterly beautiful here means this tree is now much stronger, it will endure the winter better and grow stronger and with improved uniformity next spring. Notice how uniform the colour is top to bottom? It all arrived evenly and at the same moment which tells us a lot.

Whilst I am itching to remove those leaves now, in order to see how the summer development has progressed I will, on this occasion refrain and let nature take it’s course.

Having had a very traumatic couple of weeks which only a small number of you will appreciate I am very pleased to be largely pain free. I can see properly again and totter about my garden with only minor apprehension and I am seeing my bonsai trees and their surrounding big brothers in a fresh clear light the value of which I may have lost over the last and most dis-agreeable year.

Enjoy the season folks and be thankful for small mercies.

Graham.

Japanese maple November 2021

We almost never get to see a display of colour like this.

Littered With Contradiction? Na’h we’re good.

Littered With Contradiction? Work progresses.

I’m on safe ground here when I say Bonsai is Littered With Contradiction

We’ve Got Your Back.

Just a quick update on what’s been happening recently here at Kaizen Bonsai world headquarters. It’s nice to know that when things are uncertain, to quote a modern idiom ‘ We’ve got your back‘, or at least someone has.

None of us really know what’s just around the corner as we go through our lives. Most of the time nothing happens, life goes on. Sometimes there is a nice surprise waiting to shower us in blessings, rare but it does happen. And then, there is what most often seems to happen. Life is going along nicely and just as you turn a corner life lays you out like you were caught in the side of the head by Joe Root swinging for the perimeter wall.

2021 has been a thoroughly shit year for Catherine and myself for any number of life changing reasons I don’t need to go into. However last week will prove entertaining for those who take joy in other peoples misery, in this case mine.

It was a long tale of abuse that started in me resurrecting a big 1980’s Suzuki dirt bike from several years of slumber. It’s big, very tall (i’m short) and hard to kick start (no electric foot). Couple that with a carburettor containing several years of nastiness and some tired electrics and even though I got it going just fine, eventually,  I was left with a very sore lower back and hip on my right side. I am a bit odd in that I am left footed and right handed.

Next day was a long dog walk and then I had a couple of days of hard graft with new imports of goods arriving from overseas. Tuesday saw me humping a couple of tons of wire into a confined space before wrestling tons of pots into storage. The following day, a bit beaten up, i thought a gentle dog walk through the local woods would settle down my aching joints but, as always I overdid it. By lunch time I was laid out and terrified at the pain with which I was wracked.

Now, as regular followers of my nonsense will know I have had some run in’s with injury and pain before. You name it I have done it. I have cut, burned, crushed and busted everything in my time. I have had a bout of sciatica that, had it not been for my good lady, would have seen me dropping headfirst out of an upstairs window onto the concrete below.

However this time was a new experience. In retrospect I know I hyper extended my hip wrecking tendons in the process and that caused the sciatic nerve within my hip to get nipped up. Anyone who has done something like this will now be wincing in sympathy. So after 3 days laid out on a hard floor, screaming down the house and crying like a baby with a full nappy, and without a wink of sleep, I found myself in the back of  a vehicle impressively operated by the East of England Ambulance Service. Thank GOD for Entonox.

Interestingly as the ambulance crew and I sat/laid in the back of their van sharing an hour in an NHS queue the lovely lady present was sharing her experiences of back related sciatica (which I have also suffered with). “i’ve had five kids and that was NOTHING compared to the bouts of sciatica I have suffered with.” So, ostensibly I have been in child birth for the last 10 days which just might explain why I have been hard to get a hold of. Please accept my apologies for abandoning my post but thankfully I’m getting short periods of vertical time now which is just as well because there is a lot to do.

I have been banging on for ages about how hard I felt things were going to get here in Blighty and sadly that’s now all coming to pass. Thanks to an unprecedented rise in the cost of everything from raw materials to shipping cost and the inexorable and entirely unreasonable increase in government bureaucracy and endless pointless paperwork and levies placed upon businesses, costs are rising fast. That’s fuelling inflation which means likely interest rate rises, one of the dumbest responses imaginable in this current climate and experts in the forwarding industry agree there is unlikely to be any easing of the situation until at least the end of next year or into the next.

Just look at the cost of Akadama, a benchmark price in bonsai trading. Even though the price has increased 65% since the beginning of this year nobody is making additional profit except the government who’s 20% tax just goes with the price. Their cut for a bag has gone from £2.83 to £4.66 at our selling price, that’s since March this year. KB are making the same margin as always and it’s less that the tax after incoming transport and warehousing cost. So, hang on to your hats folks the pain is coming and your government is rubbing their hands and wearing a big F*ck you! grin.

Still, I guess we should all be thankful because at least most products are still available. We will all have to budget a little more carefully, consume a little less and make what we have go further (or forego some other luxury like a holiday). That’s what I had to do at the outset of my bonsai career (30 years and still no holiday) when I was as poor as a church mouse. In a strange way it was kind of fun.

So, whilst Kaizen Bonsai is slowly winding down our tree sales for a considerable number of reasons (more news on that to come soon) we are FAR from chucking in the towel. Having freed myself from the yoke of three thousand trees I can now begin to apply myself to other exciting new projects. One of those is the import of tons and tons of Bonsai Pots, thousands of Bonsai Tools and tons of Bonsai Wire and the like. From fertilisers to carving tools we are stacking our warehouse.

Our warehouse carries upward of 40 tons of soil, containers filled with wire, tens of thousands of pots and everything you can imagine or are ever likely to need in the pursuit of bonsai perfection. We buy a lot, often months in advance, so we can ensure continuity of supply to make our dear customers life as easy as possible.

Part of our warehouse filled with bonsai goodies. If you need it chances it’s in here somewhere.

Tons of wire and tools fresh off the container ship ready for unpacking. This is what laid me out for two weeks because I am a knackered old git.

As we start to move in different directions we have the chance to bring in products from new and different manufacturers that may not have been seen before. As far as bonsai pots go, it has been a considerable cause of concern to me for years now that what we see is most often the cheapest nasty quality available. This is because they have passed through too many hands before reaching your bonsai workshop. In order for the retail price to be acceptable the factory gate price has to be very low indeed. This results in poor quality at a high price.

Another aspect of low quality goods is the number that are simply not up to standard for UK retail. With some pot ranges we have often had to dump up to 10% right out of the box due to significant faults and that adds a lot to the final cost. I hate waste and to make a pot, ship it to the opposite side of the world and then simply drop it into the bin looked like madness to me. That is NOT what you call good husbandry of our environment and resources and it’s certainly not good business.

Pots are a funny thing. In my experience unless you are paying upwards of £8 an inch the quality is never going to be the best but then not many bonsai need the best pots. Something that looks nice and sympathetically balanced often is plenty good enough and that’s the bulk of what we sell. Some people will always want to buy a signed antique pot from a Japanese master and whilst that might be the gold standard 99% of us are content to lower our sights besides the fact that few of us can afford those beautiful items.

In my experience a bonsai pot needs to be fit for both purpose and pocket. Not too good and not too poor, it needs to be ‘just right’. But then that means entirely different things to every single person with a bonsai tree to home. To that end Kaizen Bonsai do our best to offer as wide a range of options as possible from plastic to aforesaid antiques (on rare occasions).

Last week I was very excited because we received our first shipment of Japanese made bonsai pots. Back when I started tinkering with trees bonsai pots were a lot of money and a regular subject of discussion at our local bonsai club. Nobody wanted to produce large bonsai trees because few could afford the pots. Back then we had plastic Mica bonsai pots which saved the day….at least to some degree.

Part of this reason for high prices was that by and large nobody was bringing in Chinese made pots, most were Japanese (where wages are much higher). Since the mid ’90s we have been drowning in cheap Chinese product. The Chinese can make exceptional pots every bit as good as their neighbours but sadly our importers mostly went for the cheap end of the spectrum to maximise throughput and profit margins.

Now that’s all changing. Environmental concerns are bringing huge government pressure to bear on manufacturing that consumes large volumes of energy and materials like ceramics. Back in the day I heard tell of massive Chinese, drive in pot kilns fired by everything from the local woodland to coal and bizarrely even diesel. Of course that’s all largely being stopped now and the result is more costs to producers and higher costs to you, dear customer.

It would appear we are beginning to close the circle now because here are those Japanese pots of yore once again. Thank goodness the factories survived. The Japanese have always been responsible manufacturers of quality goods and we are very pleased to be able to support their endeavours once again. To the best of my limited knowledge these good quality pots have not been imported into GB for at least twenty years and I for one think it’s very nice and reassuring to see them back again.

We have in excess of 1600 sets in over 50 designs with multiple colour ways. Here are a few pictures my lovely daughter snapped yesterday of the first sets out of the container. I will be doing my best to get them listed before Christmas assuming I can avoid kicking over any more large motorcycles for a while.

These new pot ranges are predominantly in the smaller sizes up to 12-15″. Put alongside our standard ranges of Chinese made pots from 3″ to a spectacular 40″ I am hoping we have got what you need but take my advice, if you see what you need today, buy it now because pots move fast and there is no guarantee it will be there come spring time when we are selling dozens of pots a day.

So, thanks for you attention but I now have to excuse myself and go for a lie down as sitting this long is quite literally starting to get on my nerves.

God bless y’all.

Graham.

Typical Japanese attention to detail with understated colours and finish.

Nice thin walled mame bonsai pots. There are dozens of designs and colours still to be unpacked.

I’m getting into little bonsai!

Hundreds of high quality miniatures available in a huge spectrum of colours.

Lots of new informal glazed and unglazed designs not seen before.

Informal shell pots available in several popular sizes.

Lots of unusual and contemporary designs and colours for accent plants and unusual bonsai trees.

Japanese Bonsai Pots in our warehouse.

Dozens of full shelves. We got you covered!

Just a tiny part of our bonsai pot range available from stock.

Quality, responsibly produced Japanese quality bonsai pots.

Lots of interesting new designs and colours and some old favourites not seen for decades.

Dozens of interesting unglazed bonsai pot styles.

There is a lot of stock here!

Classic understated Japanese colour, finish and design. Class on a budget.

 

Little Tommy Opposite

By and large I was a sullen little kid, never happier than in my own company, doing my own thing. I was hopeless at being told what to do and my mum used to call me ‘little Tommy opposite‘. It didn’t seem to matter what my parents had to say I would want to do the opposite. Chips for tea? No, I want pie. Lets go to the beach! No I want to stay home. Let’s stay home and watch TV. No I want to go to the beach. Don’t hit your sister!……..You get the idea.

Back in the late 70’s everyone was losing their minds over punk rock and later new wave synthpop which just made me retch. Me? I was a hold out for the heavy metal bands of the sixties and very early seventies: Status Quo, Deep Purple, AC/DC, Judas Priest and the like. The closest I got to being up to date was Iron Maiden who I came across when, aged 12 my mate Woody and I took off school, jumped on a bus, all alone, and went to see the band up the coast at a little hellhole in the countryside. It’s safe to say I have never been a slave to fashion.

I have written here before about Warren Buffet’s theory of, effectively, swimming against the tide. The fact that almost everyone believes a certain thing to be ‘true’ does not make it so. Life is governed by some immutable laws; jump out of an upstairs window and the result will be the same today as it was a thousand years ago. Sadly today we are governed by a great many fickle laws but, that serves us right for putting lunatic criminals in charge of our national destiny.

As humans we have the choice to live our lives by either conviction or preference. Loosely we might say we order our lives according to what is ‘right’ (those immutable laws) or what is ‘comfortable’ or convenient. This opens up a complex can of worms we are best to save for another day. Suffice to say that very often doing what is right may not be easy, convenient or popular. Bonsai is a bit like that…………..

Remember being at school? Learning was hard right? It certainly was for ‘little Tommy opposite’ here. It’s not that I was stupid, I have made a fair success of everything I have attempted in my life. However when it came to school learning nobody took the time to really lay out what was in it for me so I played the fool and at age 14 1/2 I took it upon myself to leave. I figured out how to turn up, get registered and then bunk off without being noticed. I did hang around for woodwork but that was about all.

Having said that I have had a wonderful time in my life learning. Applying myself and learning new skills has been a fantastic journey in so many different disciplines. For example I taught myself to operate a litho printing press which led me into the printing industry for more than twenty years. I didn’t need an apprenticeship, NVQ, SVQ, City & Guilds or any other silliness. I turned up with a folder of the work I had produced and got every single job I applied for. Put simply I could do the work and was motivated.

My bonsai journey has been much the same. Hard work and dedication made up for a lack of talent. My penchant for not listening to other folk and, as we say in Norfolk, ploughing me own furra’ helped a lot. I learned at an early age how to figure stuff out on my own and back when I started trying to grow little trees I was, once again on my own.

Those were blissful times, I had no internet, no TV and no telephone. The only source of bonsai information was books from the library and even in my embryonic state I could tell a lot of those were written by cabbage kickers. My go to source for all things horticultural was The Readers Digest Encyclopaedia of Garden Plants and Flowers. That wonderful book, which I still have right here, taught me all I needed to know about growing plants. The bonsai bit was separate and the easy element in the equation to understand and much like my printing escapades it only took me a couple of years to get the basics down pat.

Back in the day when I did actually go to school I always sat, sullen in the back of the class or failing that I was causing trouble being a smart-arse. So, here’s a thing that never happened, even after I attended the same class several times. They NEVER asked to stand up and teach the lesson. In fact I was never even asked for my opinion or thoughts. There were some subjects in which I excelled: English, woodwork, general science and darts but even there nobody asked me for my two penn’orth.

The problem we have today is that the whole of human history and ingenuity is right there at our finger tips. Never has it been so easy to learn wonderful new things but on the other hand never has it been so easy to choke to death on total bullshit. Much like my spotty young self sitting at the back of the maths class I might have thought I had it taped and could teach the class myself but come exam time it turned out I was a feckless clot and that’s all I have to say about that.

I got onto that because I realised recently, unlike many folk in bonsai I actually prefer the end of the season to the beginning. There is nothing better than the first warm sun of spring on your face but in a bonsai context all that new coloured growth and larch shaving brushes stuff leaves me cold. I also have little interest in autumn colour nice as it is. The really exciting element of developing deciduous trees as bonsai is when we can finally get rid of the pesky leaves and reveal the structure beneath, it’s the first chance to see the results of our summers labours.

Deciduous bonsai are ONLY really improved over summer. The old ideas about growing out 5-7 leaves and then pruning back to two is cobblers. There is so much both clever and intuitive technique in building something like a Japanese maple, especially in a northern climate,  that it’s not surprising they are so rare and valuable. Most folk are content to look at an upturned mop (of leaves) on a stick because doing much more is really hard and that explains why there are so few very good deciduous trees in British bonsai.

I do not need all my digits to count the number of UK bonsai growers that can do this work. Even despite the prevalence of broadleaf deciduous trees grown in this country, top quality examples with properly constructed branch structure and dense ramification are as scarce as the proverbial rocking horse teeth. A bonsai needs to be an authentic, if slightly stylised and tidied up example of a venerable old tree. Leaves can hide a multitude of sins and usually do.

I am sure that part of the problem is the lack of mature quality examples of good work. Most of those we have come from Japan simply because they have been using quality technique for decades where we have been fumbling around in the dark for little more than twenty years. Let me put this considered opinion out there. Assuming you begin creating a deciduous bonsai from the very best quality collected material it will still take at least ten years to get on the first rung. To build a top quality tree will take the fastidious application of complicated technique for twenty of more years. And that assumes one has the vision and creativity to know what will look good after that time and effort has passed.

In Britain Japanese trees are widely dissed as ‘cookie cutter bonsai’. To be fair cheap low end commercial trees are just that but once the price tag gets over a few hundred that’s not the case. However even at that level I have lost count of how often I have been told a fella has no interest in ‘finished bonsai’. That phrase cracks me up, there is no greater display of  ignorance that uttering those two words. The only time a bonsai tree is finished is when it’s owner runs out of skill. Unless of course that guy had no skill in the first place which pretty much guarantees a dead tree early on in the game.

Go outside when it’s quiet and spend some quality time with your trees. There should be a plan for every single one, ideally stretching into years of work. If you find a tree that you think is finished or you are satisfied with it’s time to go back to school and lean something new. Push hard, never be satisfied and keep on learning. If you can’t find the ‘man who can‘ help you out then develop your own techniques and disciplines.

A mature bonsai tree takes infinitely more work to develop and maintain that raw material. Don’t be afraid you will run out of work because both structural and refinement work is very time consuming and creative in nature.

Some folk out there will remember Danny Use’s Ginkgo Awards. Danny pretty much built the foundation upon which all European bonsai has been built ever since. I missed the inaugural 1997 show but under orders from Kevin Willson I got a passport and attended the 1999 show. I was crestfallen at how poor my efforts measured up to the trees on show and came away determined to do better and one day have one of my trees at a future show. To my utter amazement I had a yew tree that I dragged out of the woods accepted for display at the 2001 show. I was like a dog with two dicks, getting accepted was probably the highlight of my bonsai journey. I was thrilled, proud and terrified all at once.

I remember after the show as I wheeled my tree out the door Danny stood right there and as I passed he leaned in and said ” Nice tree, now go home and make it better.” That’s it, a simple phrase that encapsulates everything i have been doing for the last thirty years, the reason I chose Kaizen as the name of our business and the basis upon which I have set everything I have done.

Fittingly the last word here goes to Danny Use.  “You do not make a tree, you build up a tree”.

G.

Trident imported from Japan 2019. October 2021 and finally I get to unwrap my summers work.

I can’t stop pulling leaves off. It’s been a good summer.

When this arrived it took a whole day to clean up the structure, get rid of knuckles, threes, pruning scars and unnecessary branches.

Now at least the structure is clean, pruning scars have mostly closed and the taper is mostly good. Secondary branching is mostly acceptable tertiary branching has improved this year but there is a very LONG way to go yet but for a jumping off point i’m happy.

 

Per Aspera Ad Astra.

Living in modern Britain is not easy. We have always been a country that lurches from one crisis to the next but at this moment it does appear we are in a state of flux. That makes us feel uneasy and the more bone idle one is the worse the feeling will be. Many have become used to living the good life of rest and ease. It appears to me those days are over. Our country presents some fantastic opportunities just now but that’s going to require work on our part if we hope to benefit. As always opportunity comes in overalls.

There are few things in life that are certain, as Benjamin Franklin made mention, “except death and taxes“. The other I would suggest is government incompetence. It baffles my little brain why so many people think that politicians have any answers. There is a universal cry rising from the British people that “the government should DO something“. WTF are they going to do? Government is a one trick pony as far as I can see but just chucking vast gobs of money at a problem pretty much never fixes anything. If things in our fair country are going to improve it can only come from our own individual efforts.

There really is no point in our trying to change the world, protesting, ranting, raving and the like only serves to annoy others. The only thing we have any business changing is our own selves. Leading by example is the only real option to change the world. I would prefer to get my own house in order before going out and foisting my ideas on the world.

Talking of uncertainty lets talk about the weather. Having done bonsai in the Blighty for over thirty years now, I can categorically state the weather is not our greatest ally. Over those years I have seen it all. In order to create beautiful bonsai we have to grow our plants. Growth comes from sunshine and warmth is required for cell division. This year I did not see the sun in August, in fact we had to spark up the log burner a couple of evenings because it was so cold. North winds have prevailed most of this year and being right on the east coast that has come close to breaking our spirits on more than a few occasions.

Over those thirty years of frantic bonsai activity I can safely say that the summer of 2020 was by a country mile the best I have ever seen. That resulted in strong vigorous trees chomping at the bit in spring 2021 which turned out to be the worst I remember. Now the trees are poor with little energy in reserve due to so little sunlight and almost no growth or development as a result. Across the board I have seen very little development in any of my bonsai this year. Even the apple trees in my garden are at least a month late this year.

Doing anything that is reliant upon the weather in this country is a fool’s errand. I sure am glad I never became a farmer. I am also quite pleased I don’t do holidays, caravanning, camping etc’. “exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis” states if an exception exists or has to be stated, then this exception proves that there must be some rule to which the case is an exception. The rule being you can no more rely upon the weather than the actions of a politician.

The weather has put a dampener on the progress of my trees this year, and not for the first time either. However here IS the exception that proves the rule. The one tree that has grown spectacularly this year is this beautiful big olive from southern Italy. I have had it for about three years now and strangely it did not grow much in the balmy days of 2020 but in the cool dull days of 2021 it has grown faster than my lawn.

Considering that I have done nothing different, the development of this tree remains a mystery. It’s in the same pot, the same soil and lives in the same place. Last year it made a sickly few inches of growth that I did my best to wire into place at the end of summer. This summer it has grown and been cut multiple times and I had a huge mess of new growth to incorporate at the end of the season. I cannot explain why this tree above all others has done SO well but i’ll take it. Compare the pictures from Autumn 2020 and October 2021.

I guess it goes to show that even when everyone else is struggling we can, with the right attitude, do well and prosper even when conditions are not ideal.

Per aspera ad astra*

Graham.

*(Google it)

Olive October 2020.

The same olive in October 2021. 2 more years like this and i’ll be a happy camper.

Bonsai. It’s All About The Trees!

Warning: Pretentious opinionated bullshit follows!

 

I am not the first to say, of late, that the world has gone insane. To be fair planet earth is just fine and carries on much as it always has done with it’s ups and downs, it’s the bit that we humans inhabit that’s gone nuts. Personally I no longer feel the construct we have created for ourselves is worthy of habitation. In fact it looks a lot like we will create our own mass extinction within the next cup-full of decades and not by the means the media and politicians would have you believe. That will sort out climate change and the earth will recover without us and life will go on in some form or another, twas ever thus.

Within that paragraph there are two words we need to focus on World and Earth. I use these to mean the following…

World: humankind; the human race; humanity and the structure of our society

Earth: A biosphere, this planet as the current habitation of humans

The insanity all around us is almost entirely of our own making. It’s largely down to our lack of respect for the resource we were given, greed, selfishness and a self serving competitive nature. You know only too well I would be the first to point the finger of accusation at our pathetic shower of political leaders but sadly we are all equally culpable. Only a fool would think there is a way out of all this mess based on our current trajectory. It’s like a fly caught in a bowl of shit soup looking for an island of croutons (cretins?) to save itself. It looks to me like the human species was doomed from the outset hoisted by our own petard of smug cleverness. Whilst we may be clever enough to dodge some trifling thing like Covid there are graver enemies at the door. The only way through is to live our own life, the best we can and with respect and honour. In the words of Robert FrostThe woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.” Time to get busy.

Talking of poets reminds me of East Coker from T.S. Eliot’s  Four Quarters. The poem discusses time and disorder within nature that is the result of humanity following only science and not the divine. Leaders are described as materialistic and unable to understand reality. The only way for mankind to find salvation is through pursuing the divine by looking inwards and realising that humanity is interconnected. Only then can people understand the universe.

“So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years-
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l’entre deux guerres (between two wars)-
Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate,
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate – but there is no competition –
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”
― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

So, what’s all this jabbering got to do with bonsai trees? With my advancing years I begin to see there are two worlds we are exposed too. One is a deafening cacophony of discordant noise characterised by fear, anger, doubt, violence and destruction and silliness. The second world is the one that was here before us and will continue long after we are gone. We might call it the natural world with it’s cycles of life and death, cold and heat, light and dark. It’s where we came from and once our “miles” are done it’s the place to which we will return, of that there is no doubt. We may spend our waking moments and days in this human construct but make no mistake when this all ends we are no more than fertiliser for the trees we bonsai folk love so much.

That’s still a bit cryptic so in the words of a politician ‘let me be clear’. Bonsai success can only be attained through an understanding and appreciation of time and the natural world, it’s principles, cycles and rhythms. This esoteric wisdom is available to all who can quiet their souls sufficiently to find it. It’s like a wisp of morning mist laying on grass before a rising summer sun. Sadly most of us never make it because the writhing cacophony of the world keeps us from it.

Still not got it? ‘let me be clear’……. again. There is the right way to do something and there is the popular way to do something. It’s a rare day indeed that these two converge. I think we could all agree that lying and deception are wrong but that does not stop politicians doing it and because it is ever present we just go with the flow rather than make a fuss. Bonsai is a bit like that. These days our plate is piled high with goodies and, much like a chumpster at an all-you-can-eat buffet, we know what we like but figuring out what’s actually good, or necessary is a whole other issue. Just because a lot of folk tell you something is ‘right’ does not make it so, especially in a world where popularity is often lauded above fact or truth.

This is known as ‘crowd thinking’ to which we are doubly susceptible during periods of transition or uncertainty. We question the wisdom of the past and even our own experiences and learned behaviour. As billionaire investor Warren Buffet says….

I will tell you the secret to getting rich on Wall Street. You try to be greedy when others are fearful. And you try to be fearful when others are greedy.

I would call that swimming against the tide, not just going with the flow. That’s tough but when you do a couple of things happen. Firstly you will be more likely to find new ideas in a quiet less crowded space and secondly you are also going to find cracks, issues and problems with the popular position. A skeptical eye is priceless. And even if you go with the flow, you’ll see the potential pitfalls and will be more ready to succeed than others picking the path because it is the most popular.

A little peace and quiet for the mind, a skeptical eye and an assumption that anything is possible opens doors. Having the ability to shut out the noise and slow things down can really make all the difference. It’s what Kevin Willson calls ‘a moment of clarity’. But, we have to create the opportunity for it to happen. Just be careful what you put on your plate, just because it’s served up in front of you do not, for a moment, assume it’s good for you. If a blind squirrel can find a nut or a country clod-hopper like me can produce a nice bonsai tree from time to time how much better are your own prospects?

Bonsai is about an almost spiritual connection with nature through the medium of a living breathing tree. We might like to think we are bending the plant to our will. In fact the opposite is actually true, once we master the art it’s the tree that bends us to it’s will. If we fail to yield, the tree will likely die and we will lose our soul. The best bonsai are created by those who respect their plants and understand them and how this all fits together. It’s not all about wiring, styling and carving it’s all about respect, cooperation and understanding and the first step is to entirely dis-regard the opinions of other folk in pursuit of our own individual journey. All that matters is that silent little tree that is entirely dependant upon you for it’s life and survival. It could be said our trees are our prisoners but I prefer to consider myself a prisoner to my love of those little fellows whom I respect and care for so deeply and that give me so much in an entirely over crowded noisy and ruinous world.

Without trees all human life on earth would be lost. Trees are our air filtration system not just a source of wood for us to pillage. If bonsai can teach us anything it’s that OUR entire existence is thanks to them and not the other way around. Most of the trees on earth have already been lost. Bonsai is something that can help re-connect us to our most important ally. It’s not about winning a trophy or bragging rights, it’s not a competition, that’s all bullshit. It’s ALL about the trees we need so much and our very survival depends upon. As bonsai folk we should know this. We need more trees!  Spread the word!

As Mr Eliot said  “there is no competition – There is only the fight to recover what has been lost”

Graham.

 

Bonsai. It's all about the trees

Bonsai. It’s all about the trees