What sort of lawn mower do you use?
OPINION: Grass is like Alexander the Great: it won't rest till it's conquered the world.
The house across the road from me is red-zoned. Grass has clothed the doorstep already, is sprouting in the spouting, round the chimney. Another year and it will break and enter. And that will be that.
"Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo," wrote Whitman, "Shovel them under and let me work. I am the grass. I cover all."
Watched grass never grows. To your face it's as meek as a maid. "Go on," it says, "tread on me."
Turn your back in spring, however, and suddenly the grass is deep enough to smother a dog. You have no choice but to declare the loveliest of all wars.
I rarely find myself agreeing with Catholic cardinals. But 40 years ago I read a newspaper article by a cardinal who hoped there would be lawns in heaven because he liked mowing them. So do I.
I don't know what sort of mower the Vatican favours, but there is only one ethical choice. The push-mower is cheap and efficient. It burns no fossil fuels, leaves no carbon footprint, emits no polluting noise, and gives us suburban fatsoes a bit of life-extending exercise. In short, if you care about your health, the planet's health, coral reefs, the low- lying Maldives, the Indonesian rain forest, the orang-utan, the monsoon-dependent farmers of India, if you care indeed about life itself in all its wondrous forms on this remote but paradisal outpost of the galaxy, you use a push mower.
I keep my motor mower in the garage. I wheeled it out so it could feel the sun on its back and view the enemy. The dog as always barked at it then crouched in front of it and begged it to play.
I fed it a pint of Saudi brut. I pressed its rubber nipple thrice to stir its blood. Then I seized the starter rope.
On a previous mower I called the starter rope the chiropractor because it never did my back any good. But my current beast, a Lawnmaster Laser, is a wonder.
Its little Briggs and Stratton engine, though it gets no maintenance, is as keen as an intern. I hauled on the rope. Briggs said "shall we?", Stratton nodded, the Lawnmaster roared, the dog scarpered, and I returned to the garage to don my safety shoes. For I am haunted by Jack Bodell.
Memory's a fickle beast. It cheerfully discards passwords and pin numbers but it keeps a gorilla grip on ancient trivia. Articles by long-dead cardinals, for example, or the fact that Jack Bodell, former heavyweight boxing champion of Great Britain, ran over his own foot with a lawnmower.
When I emerged in my Crocs (I favour pink ones for visibility) Briggs and Stratton were still chuntering to each other and the Lawnmaster was inching forward. This machine makes mustard look apathetic. I upped the revs and one man went to mow.
As a kid I lived next door to a cricket ground and on the long summer evenings I used to help prepare the pitches for the weekend. The mower was a reel mower with a roller at the back. It flattened the grass one way, then it flattened it the other. The result, stripes. Is there a more beautiful sight in heaven or Earth than a properly mown cricket field on the morning of the first day of a test match? The question is rhetorical and the answer's no.
Sadly a reel mower needs a well- tended sward. Humps and tussocks thwart it, and if it hits a discarded dog bone it whimpers and dies. Not so the Lawnmaster. It's a rotary machine, you see, and I take my hat off to the club whose name it bears. When the Lawnmaster hits a dog bone it rattles it, splits it and biffs out the pieces like low-flung grenades to bounce off my safety Crocs and terrify the chooks.
Up and down I went. Every time I turned there was a new swathe of orderliness to be pleased by. I was taming the world. When I met a particularly lank tussock I would rear the beast up on its hind wheels and then bring it down on the clump like an inverted helicopter. I mowed for an hour.
Aftermath means literally after mowing. My aftermath comprised a seat in the shade and a bottle of beer as the sweat dried on my shirt and the spring sun sank. And I surveyed Alexander's army routed, or at least pushed back beyond the city walls, and I raised my beer and said, "I'm not dead yet".
- The Press