Mr Rose and the Psychedelic Garden.
In 1971 we took over a little bedsit in Man House London. It was on the top floor of this big block – four floors up. The flat had the dubious distinction of once being inhabited by Peter Noone – Herman of Herman’s Hermits.
It was a great place and we lived there for four years. That was partly because of the rent – which was £6 a week with 50p for unlimited electricity, because the meter was broken, and partly because of the great people who lived there.
The whole block was owned by Mr. Rose. He was an old, rotund, Jewish gentleman of eighty six years old who was the most amazing character. He had been many things in his life working in sewing and stain glass. In his flat there were these separating doors with the most amazing panels of stained glass depicting a rising sun and scenes of the countryside.
Mr. Rose proved that age wasn’t a barrier to being vital or extraordinary. Every morning he would be outside at the crack of dawn tending his garden. He could not bend down but he’d found a way round that. He tied a paint-brush on a stick and used that to paint his colourful psychedelic whirls and swirls.
That garden was like no other I have ever scene. It was more like a cross between Disneyland, fairy-land, a work of art and a theme park. There were thousands of lights of all colours, every tacky statue and plastic trinket possible, swing-boats, hoop-la, all painted and festooned with creepers. The effect was incredible. It all pulled together into something wonderful. Mr. Rose was constantly tending to it, painting, repairing and improving. You could walk through it and be transported. You could swing on the swing-boat, sit on these swinging seats or play with the quoits or hoop-la. The colours, lights and trailing creepers were like something out of a wonderland. It did not feel tacky because Mr Rose had brought it together with such creativity. All his swirling paintwork was intricate with colour and pattern.
Everyone took to sitting out in it and immersing themselves in its incredible brightness and peace. I often found little groups of people tripping and muttering ‘wow’ as they gazed around at it.
This was not merely me. Everyone who had seen it was amazed by what he had achieved. It was wonderful. The TV channels wanted to come in to film it but he refused to let them. He thought that if attention was drawn to it that it would become destroyed. I wish he had. I would love to have a record of it. All I have are a few photos that utterly fail to capture the magic.
He was right though.
One evening a bunch of local kids broke in and rampaged through the place smashing everything and ripping down everything they could. They did a lot of damage but I’m sure that it would have been repairable if it had not been for the electrics. The yobs had damaged the wiring causing it to short out and setting fire to the whole thing so that it went up in flames.
The next day I stood there with Mr Rose to survey the damage. The fire brigade had doused it all down but it had been burnt to the ground. All that was left were the charred remains.
I felt destroyed so I could not imagine what he was feeling. It had been his whole life. I didn’t know what he was going to do now. I thought it would be the end of him.
The next day he was out there clearing up. He was shoveling up the ashes. We went and helped. We cleared the debris and he started rebuilding, painting and putting it back together.
It was sad in one way. You could see that he could never get it back to what it had been. It was far too big a project. He was too old. He was too physically limited. He did not have enough years.
Yet it was majestic in another way. He refused to crawl away and die. Mr Rose was so much greater than that. He refused to give in. He was out there at the crack of dawn, painting and building. He did what he could, as good as he could manage; he immersed himself in his work and applied his creativity. He knew that he could not possibly rebuild it to anything near what it had been but he could still do what he could.
The human spirit is immense.
Mr. Rose has always been an inspiration to me. I took a lot from him:
You start from where you are and do what you can do as well as you could do it. It didn’t matter if it wasn’t perfect. It didn’t matter whether it compared to anything else – you did it as good as you could with all of your heart.
That’s all you’ve got!