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About A Week: Lawn Mowing

The evenings are lengthening in England now, and Peter Hinchliffe’s lawn is summoning him to give it a short-back-and-sides.

Any day now I will launch myself into the first cut of the year. Lawn mower permitting. There's no question the grass is ready. More than ready. With all the rain we've been having, it's long enough for a shy cat to hide in.

As the March evenings lengthen, I continue to hesitate and dither.

"If it's fine tonight, I WILL mow the lawn." At tea-time, I feel the grass as knowingly as a textile man fingering a Huddersfield fine worsted lapel. "Still too damp. I'll wait a day. Maybe two." Then it rains again. And the dithering goes on. The lurking nightmare is that when the grass is finally dry enough to be massacred, the motor mower will refuse to start.

It happened four years ago. The faithful old Mountfield could not be roused from its winter hibernation. After five days of pale sun and light breeze, I trundled it opimistically out of its snug at the back of the garage. I treated it with sympathy. Gave it a taste of fresh oil. Made it feel like a long-lost friend. Then tried to crank it up.

Nothing.

Not so much as a complaining grunt from the engine.

I tugged on the starting cord again and again, silently rehearsing words which should never appear in a family newspaper. Then took out the plug, cleaned it, dried it. Further violent tugs on the starting cord. The mower remained mute.

I interpreted this silent protest as a plea that even a machine should one day be allowed to retire. The upshot was a new Mountfield, a four-stroke, which now sprints across the grass as though getting itself fit for the mower Olympics.

Don't get the idea that I hate mowing. In this unruly world, mowing a lawn is one of the most immediately satisfying ways of bringing order out of chaos. You start with a jungle, and end up with something as neat as a short-back-and-sides.

I have a lot of lawn to mow. The more grass, the fewer flower beds that have to be weeded. Even with the Mountfield in full stride, I have to wait 40 minutes before I can straighten the crick out of my back and admire the mower's bladework.

Our lawn, by the way, is not one of those ghastly set-square-accurate arrangements of parallel lines. Such dreary examples of the geometrician's art are usually surrounded by flowers of such well-drilled perfection that they might as well be made of plastic. Some folk are not happy until their gardens are as disciplined nd dust-free as their living rooms. It's not really fair to leave these gardens outdoors to face the trials of the English weather. They should be brought inside, under a warm roof, and cossetted as unatural hybrids.

Our lawn is definitely not one of those striped affronts to nature which look as though they have been manicured with a pair of nail scissors. It's oddly shaped. It slopes here, and bumps up there. It is a willing home to daisies, dandelions, the odd thistle. When it is cut, it looks like what is left after a flock of sheep have safely grazed. A stretch of turf that invites a kick-around with a football, rather than awed admiration.

The grass is enclosed by shrubs and trees which are also allowed a fair amount of wayward independence. Two holly bushes which will scratch you where you don't want to be scratched if you crowd them too close. Three flowering cherries with trailing branches which either make you duck or give you a headache. The odd rose bush ready to claw like a cornered leopard. Not at all a picture garden. Something to sit in, rather than look out on.

Those unkempt bushes and trees make for privacy and peace. Don't you dare prune them! It's the perfect place to enjoy a summer's day. Sprawled in a deck chair. A pot of tea close to hand. An Elmore Leonard novel on your knee.

Roll on the fine weather!

Mind you, the privacy is sometimes disturbed by magpies which from time to time build nests in the flowering cherry trees. When you hear a pair of magpies cackling and nattering at one another it is easy to believe that their relationship will end in divorce proceedings.

Magpies are cocky, over-confident birds. Garden bullies. Often, they don't even bother to catch their own worms. They wait for a sparrow to make a juicy find, then rush out, puffing up their chests to make themselves even more formidable, and steal the smaller bird's dinner. If magpies could wear bandannas over their faces and dress like Wild West desperadoes, they would be delighted to do so.

I don't like magpies in general, but I I get used to the ones who make their homes in our trees. They behave as though they own the garden. And they don’t half make a fuss when the lawn mower starts up.

Which reminds me...

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