Lawn mowers

There is great contentment in brushing the grass clippings from a lawn mower and putting it away. There is a sense of a duty having been fulfilled (and possibly a wish for very dry weather, a wish for weather so dry that the grass does not grow for two or three weeks). The satisfaction of having completed grass cutting is the satisfaction of finishing something one did not want to do. It is a task comparable with ironing or shopping, things that you would not do if you were rich enough to pay someone to do them for you.

Part of the problem in cutting the grass is the lawn mower itself. How many lawn mowers are not temperamental?

When I was young, the first lawn mower I remember was a Hayter rotary mower that had to be pushed up and down the garden. There was nothing it would not take on – and chop to pieces. In memory, it had a 325 cc engine. Its capacity remains in the memory because Dad explained it was a bigger engine than that of many motor bikes. It ran on four stroke petrol and filled the air with a throaty roar. The throttle lacked refinement, it was either stop or full power. Should someone come to speak, there was a need to step away from the machine to hear them, for stopping the engine might mean the mower would have a fit of pique and refuse to restart.

The Hayter was succeeded by a cylinder mower, an old Atco with a crest on the grass box. It had been left at the roadside outside of a house in the village, along with household rubbish, for the binmen to take. Dad had asked permission from the owner who said that it was broken and to take it. The mechanical problems were resolved and we had a mower that was self-propelled, that cut the grass in stripes, and that had a box for the cuttings. It seemed the greatest of engineering achievements.

Never having Dad’s mechanical aptitude, lawn mowers were things I bought and paid to be fixed when necessary. None of those I bought linger in memory in the way that the Hayter and Atco do.

The one consistent thing about all of them has been their capacity to make me fearful. Lawn mowers can cut off the fingers or the toes of the unwary. A colleague once cut off a big toe and was in such a state of shock that he was able to pick up the toe and drive to the local post office, whereupon the postmistress drove him to the hospital. Sadly, the toe could not be restored to its rightful place. Every time I turn over a lawn mower to clear the clippings, I remember that story.

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