We’ve had a lot of fun with the story of the snail, which has become known as “Snailgate”. It’s a story which took up half a page in the Daily Telegraph and which had me giving a live interview on radio 5’s “Drivetime” at 1.30 in the morning (Japanese time). The snail in question was found in an antique stone trough in a container load of material which I had shipped from Southampton for the Gardening World Cup. The ship arrived on time at the port of Hakata in Fukuoka. The container held 20 tons of limestone and slate for the walls and paths in Mr McGregor’s Garden and several antique artefacts, including the stone trough, which I needed to “stage” the garden. At first I was told that there would be a slight delay in getting customs clearance. Then, four days into the build, I was given the news that the whole container and its contents would have to be shipped back to England.
It was at this point that a distinct difference between Japanese and English culture emerged. To the Japanese, if a government official makes a decision, this is something to be accepted and complied with. In England we are less respectful of officials – some say we treat them with the contempt they deserve. Our Japanese hosts were rather taken aback by my insistence that we challenge the decision, but to their great credit they became English for a day. To their great surprise they managed to get the decision reversed, and our cargo was released. It was much too late for us to use any of the limestone or the slate, and we didn’t get the artefacts until after the judging was over (in fact they arrived on site while judging was taking place), which meant that our medal was reduced from a silver to a bronze. But the important pieces, including a 200 year old pump identical to the one at Hill Top, were installed in time for the public opening, which was good enough for me.