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People: Paul & Di Nice
Enthusiasts and Servants in the Community
Eventually we managed that and here is the end product. In these interviews, with a little prodding, we just let people talk. In Paul and Di we found two people who have been fully involved in the community but almost quite reticent to talk about their achievements. Well, we did get them to talk and we consider it a privilege to be given an insight into what have been two very full lives. Here it is just as they talked it. We hope you will agree with us as to what we felt about them.     

Rochford Life: You have this little dog who has been mistreated, now recovering with you. Have you always had dogs?
Paul: I was brought up with dogs. We had a nursery and a kennel and I used to look after the dogs quite a lot. We had some twenty greyhounds at the time.

RL: Paul, let me clarify something. You are well and truly retired?
Paul: Supposed to be, yes.
Di: Yes, we’ve both retired, supposedly.

RL: But I get the feeling you’re both very busy
Di: Yes we are. I work at the church, St. Mary’s. I was in the office there this morning.  We’re very involved with the church which takes quite a bit of time really. In the wider world we’ve been involved with flowers of one sort or another for many years.

RL: I seem to have heard somewhere that you used to do Chelsea Flower Show each year?
Di: Well Paul did. I used to help. That was when we were involved in the Alpine Society and each year they put on a stand at Chelsea.

RL: How do you get involved in something like that?
Paul: Well belonging to the Alpine Garden Society (  I was cajoled into helping. They found out that I was a plumber and said, we need you to do the water each year on the stand at Chelsea. So I went up there and they told me what they wanted and I got it all working and after that I was on the team and I think I did seven Chelsea’s and we got seven gold medals. I was only part of it, part of the build-up team. We used to go there usually two weeks before when there was nothing, just a pile of equipment, and build it up into the stand; other people would come along and plant it, and other people would man it during the week. It was a great experience.
Di: And then twenty four hours to take it all down again afterwards.
Paul: We had a lovely garden at our last house because most of the stuff came from Chelsea left-overs, because when it was broken down at the end, most of the stuff was dumped in skips. We had a lovely rock garden with a waterfall made from the rocks on the 2000 exhibit.

RL: Have you always lived round this part of the world and been involved with plants?
Di: Yes, we’re both from Hockley. Paul’s dad had the nursery smallholding in Hockley. I was going to say that’s where his love of plants came from but I think he more hated it as a boy having to do the donkey work and taking the plants to the end of the lane to be ready to be taken up to Covent Garden and that sort of thing. You don’t like having to do it when you are young, but years later when our children were small, we got involved with the Hockley Horticultural Society and we were Secretary and Show Secretary and we did that for about thirty to forty years. In the mid seventies we belonged to the Fuchsia  Society at Basildon, the South East Essex Fuchsia Society, and we got into fuchsias and then we were in at the forming of the Rochford Fuchsia Society.
Paul: I think we’re one of the three remaining founder members of the Rochford Society, and are still members of it.
Di: Yes, and then it was in the nineties that Paul started going to the Alpine Society.

RL: I am intrigued. I’ve heard you had a love-hate relationship with the nursery when you were young  but your life has been filled up with plants. Why didn’t you go into the business to start with?
Paul: Because I had to get a trade didn’t I!  My Dad’s view was that, “This is a dead end job” and so I had to get a trade and I was apprenticed to a plumber. I suppose if we could have seen what was going to happen with Garden Centres it might have been different.

RL: So what drew you into the Alpine Society then? You just liked alpine plants?
Paul: Well I like plants of all kinds but I like the little dwarf bulbs and Di likes the cyclamens. I was Show Secretary for a while and then Secretary.

RL: You don’t do anything by halves, you two, do you?
Di: No, I suppose not. I was and still am Show Secretary there and I’ve been editor for years but I’ve given that up last year because I was so overloaded really.

RL: So how long back did you retire Paul?
Paul:  Well I should have retired five years ago but I suppose I’ve been retired properly a couple of years now.  We had our own business, working with my son, and we used to work in London and so when I decided to pack up I handed everything over to him and now he works locally. I was helping him out this morning.  

RL: So how does one develop to become a judge, because I understand you’ve both done judging?
Di: Well I suppose over the years we’ve done quite a bit of judging – fuchsia judging we did, but it’s come, I think, with experience. We’re not heavily involved with fuchsias now but when we were, we were talking fuchsias, judging fuchsias all the time.
Paul: We used to go to Kent and Suffolk and into London and Hertfordshire, just talking and judging and demonstrating.

RL: But how do you get into that? Is it pure experience?
Di: You start by going to a show and you think, ‘I’d like to grow one or two of these’, and so you join a Society and go along to the meetings, buy a few fuchsias, listen to what different speakers say. They you put things in the shows and win prizes and so gain the experience. Then they’ll say to you, ‘You’ve won a lot of prizes at this Show. Can you speak and tell us how you grew them etc. So you do that and then others say, Oh, I hear you did a talk at so and so; can you come and do a talk for us, and then, can you judge at our show?  Because you’ve grown them for years, you know how they should look and everything else, and then you can judge them – not that we’ve passed the BFS Judging exams, or anything like that, but because of the experience we’ve had and the amount we’ve grown, we’ve been able to do it. The same applies for the Horticultural side. Paul was a judge for quite a while as a Horticultural Judge.
Paul: Oh, that must have been forty years ago, I should think. I think it was probably through the Fuchsia Group and somebody said, we’re looking for trainee judges and so we both went along. You do a year or so out with an experienced more elderly judge and then you take an exam.
Di: I had so much on that I didn’t do the exam but Paul did, and so I really only judge the Home-craft  at the Summer Show at the allotments. I used to do the Home Crafts judging at various horticultural shows but I’m not involved in it now.
Paul: We used to go out together. I used to go on the horticultural side and Di would judge the Home Craft. If it was a small show we’d do the whole lot together.
Di: With the Home Craft they have WI judges and they have to have top awards to be able to judge, but a lot of these little horticultural shows can’t afford all these judges because there is not the money, and there’s not enough of them to go round anyway, so that’s when, if you have an element of knowledge, they will ask you to come in. It’s the same with the Floral Art; there are exams to pass but I’ve done floral art for years – I do the flowers at the church – so you learn along the way. I wouldn’t dream of judging at one of these national shows because I wouldn’t think my knowledge was high enough, but local horticultural shows, I can do.
Paul: The rules for floral art can be very strict and you have to have this shape and that shape; it’s very hard.
Di: If you’re judging you have to follow certain things but when they are experts they will come jusging very strictly, and people in the little local show try things for their ability and I don’t think they should be slated for what they do. You have to encourage people so you can turn a blind eye with one or two bits.

RL: If you don’t mind me saying, in this modern age you two are remarkably together. You have similar interests and you clearly do stuff together in a day when so many couples seem to almost live apart.   
Di: We always have done.
Paul: Yes, it’s like the art we do together now.  I must have been doing it for about ten years now. I thought, I wouldn’t mind doing some painting and I went for some lessons over at the Beecroft Art Gallery and then I heard of the evening Roche Art Group and joined that and enjoyed it. Then we formed a new little group in the afternoon and got the use of the Parish Rooms and we’ve been going just over a year, and Di now comes along and does it as well.
Talking with Di & Paul Nice (22nd Nov. 2012)

The purpose of the ‘Interesting People’ pages of Rochford Life is to bring you insights into the lives of some of the people who live in our community. We had run across Paul and Di Nice in a variety of places around the town and had the feeling that we had two particularly interesting people in our midst – if only we could pin them down to find a time when they might be free to talk.