At the End of the Day

Zen and the art of Tractor-mower maintenance

Here in Borassic Park we are having one helluvan Indian Summer, and I understand from my friends to the North that it’s the same for you too. Summers prior to major screw-ups (1914, 1939) also had wonderful Septembers, so we should all be cheered about being on course for another cultural game-changer.

The best part of this is that the grass – which by now is normally growing much more slowly anyway – is hardly growing at all, thanks to another long, dry spell. So not only does it need cutting much less often, it’s also far easier to cut when I get around to it. My trusty assistant in this endeavour is the tractor mower, an invention up there with the pc and fire as far as I’m concerned: few other things have saved more labour than these machines.

Our model has various names – the Green Beast, because it’s green and a bit of an animal; and also the Tommy Gun, because we bought it with a small legacy left to Jan by a fine bloke called Tommy Arden. Tommy was a World War II fighter pilot – one of  The Few – and something of a special person. He was also something of an invalid in later life, but once reduced me to tears of laughter explaining how his scarf had got stuck in a Stenna stairlift. Anyway, Tommy’s legacy guns its way through all types and lengths of vegetation here; it’s also a lot of fun to drive – but like all machines, it has its moments.

I’m not good with mechanical things that go wrong. I’m of the Basil Fawlty school on this one – find a substantial sapling and hit the bloody thing until it obeys – but somehow the Tommy Gun is a fairly simple engine to understand. I wouldn’t say I could get a job tomorrow in the F1 pits at Brands Hatch, but I’ve fixed it on several occasions….always to the helpless laughter of the service people when they come to pick it up twice a year, and see the methods I’ve employed. However, of late it’s developed an odd noise. It sounds like the rotors are slicing up several truculent hobgoblins, and the result is much less power. As some parts of our land here are on a steep slope, this can lead to slithering backwards at times when one would prefer to be thundering forwards.

In the last few weeks, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s something between the engine motor and rotor-drive. The only problem is I’ve looked at what is between the engine and the rotor drive, and the instrument there is a new one on me. Could be a hair-drier, could be the second stage of an Atlas rocket, I’m not sure. So I decided to wait until the service chaps come.

Last Friday, however, I made a remarkable discovery – thanks to the Tommy Gun’s safety system. Basically, if you have a heart attack or fall off hopelessly drunk while on it, there’s a Dead Man’s Bum system which cuts off the engine two seconds after your buttocks part company with the seat. At times in hot weather, a chap glows rather a lot in the undercarriage area, and so it can be a relief to lift up from the seat (which is conveniently fashioned from black leather) and let cool air from the engine-fan waft through the shorts – even one second is enough to feel better. In that time, the engine goes truddly-pump as it prepares to cut out, but then starts up again as one returns the seat to the seat – if you follow.

Like I said, it’s been hot down here of late, so as the Beast battled small devils in the lower field, I did the Betty Swollocks maneouvre and sat down with a harder than usual bump. To my delight, the engine cleared itself. About ten minutes later it clogged itself again, so I tried the same trick, and bingo – it functioned as if it had just emerged pristine from the factory.

As it happens, my wife was a spectator of this event, and spent the next half an hour watching me apparently using a bad case of personal wind to power the tractor mower. She gave me an odd, lingering look as I explained my scientific discovery later.

Our younger terrier Tiggy has taken to getting up early and heading outside. She’s thoroughly enjoying Autumn, because it’s a busy time for wild animals. So for the first five minutes of every morning, the garden is a war zone as she belts after rabbits busy digging pointless holes by the herb patch, and then spots Sydney and Cynthia Squirrel at their daily work of nicking and storing walnuts. She barks at the tree they shin up for, oh, no longer than an hour, and then spots the hedgehog ambling home for its daily kip. This she circles and yelps at, until one of us picks up the hog on a spade, and plonks it safely the other side of the hedge. I say ‘safely’, but Tiggs will then launch herself at the hedge, and only putting the lead on and yanking her back inside will work. We give her some breakfast then, and she forgets all about anything else. Pets suffer from a form of peripheral Alzheimer’s once they know grub is in the offing.

And there isn’t much they won’t eat. Indeed, if you are eating at the moment, I suggest you either stop, or look away now.

I mentioned, I think, that one of the neighbour’s cows was safely delivered of a calf last week. Joy was uncontained, but ever since the event, both our terriers have been pestering mother and daughter, neither of whom seem to be enjoying it very much. So we encourage them to ignore the whole thing with walks, breakfast, treats, loud shouting and so forth. Then one or both of us falls asleep, and they tear back down again for more investigation.

Four days ago, they returned carrying an odour along with them that is not easy to describe, but I’ll try. Think sweaty feet meet dead cats, and you’d be almost there, save for the unmistakeable whiff of decaying lettuce – the stuff in the plastic bag you bought with good intentions a week ago, and then forgot all about. It was a pretty retch-inducing combo.

What our dear little friends had been eating was afterbirth. Norfolks will, you see, eat anything with a smell, however disgusting. And just to add to the fun, they both had copious runs for the next two days.

I think next time it might be goldfish for me.

There is new silliness at The Big Top