The unmistakeable scent of spring, freshly cut grass. The driver of the ride on mower cut the verge in neat swathes. The engine was barely audible above the sound of passing traffic. The machine was a far remove from mowers of the past.
Even if there had been money to spare, which there never was, my father would not have parted with cash for something he could improvise for himself.
For a number of years, there was a heavy rotary mower. With a 325 cc 4-stroke Briggs and Stratton and a dodgy exhaust pipe, it announced its presence each time it was used. Priming the engine was a precise art, too little fuel and it would not start, too much and it was flooded and would not start. Turning over the engine put the starter cord under severe strain each time the machine was started, it demanded frequent repair. There were no neat swathes, but the blades seemed capable of cutting anything set in their way: grass, weeds, thorns, all were sliced without hesitation. Had the mower gone over the user’s foot, boots would not have offered much protection. Pushing the mower up and down the garden was physically demanding. Heavy and with a handle that vibrated constantly, it was a tiring job to complete the cutting of the lawns.
Easier days came when my father was driving home one day and saw an old cylinder mower beside a dustbin awaiting collection. Calling at the house, he was told the mower didn’t work and that he was welcome to take it. Bringing it home, he had it working within a couple of hours. It had a grass box and was self-propelled, mowing the lawns had never been so easy.
Lawn mowers seemed to be fertile ground for improvisation.
Calling one day about ten years ago with Bill, a man who was about ninety four years old at the time, I discovered that newspaper had been laid neatly across the kitchen table and on it there were two engine parts. He had noticed my quizzical expression.
“Magnetoes,” he said. “I have a 1947 lawn mower I use for cutting the grass; an air cooled four stroke engine. The magneto has gone on it; I’m looking for one that works. If one of these doesn’t work, I’ll have to get one on the internet.”
Not only was a ninety-four year old repairing an antique lawn mower, he was happy to order parts online. How much easier cutting our lawns would have been if there had been lawn mowers online in the 1970s.