Alex James: Costly business of the miraculous mower

Rural Notebook

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By the time the lawnmower salesman arrived, quite a lot of people had become involved in the lawnmower acquisition process.

A sunny Friday lunchtime in spring and suddenly nothing in the world was quite as fantastic and fascinating as a shiny, new ride-on mowing machine. It drew a crowd. Just looking at the thing was enough to reduce any man to a childlike state of wonder.

Well, I needed a new lawnmower. That was beyond any reasonable doubt; yet another lawnmower. We are surrounded by grass, a serene, green, pristine moat that keeps the real world at arm's length. Lawn at the front, lawn at the back, lawn all round the sides: the farmhouse floats on a carpet of lawn, and beyond the lawn, always threatening to seize us, all kinds of chaos: extremely large mounds of weapons-grade cow manure, piles of building rubble, concrete pads, dust, the yard. Without the lawn, we're in the trenches.

The old lawnmower went for its annual service and a lengthy document came back with the exact scope of the works required: cutter deck was bent, issues with the bearings, it would need new blades, new tyres, new brakes, new engine. New mower, they could have said.

You would struggle to believe that a lawnmower could have so many things wrong with it. Then, the more I thought about it, the more I read the document, the more complicated and miraculous a contraption the lawnmower seemed. It's a wonder such a thing can exist at all. It's an upside-down helicopter, really, and the old one never recovered from last summer's lawnmower man, who used to play drums in Hawkwind, accidentally mowing the rockery with it.

I'll never buy a new car again. You can buy three nearly new ones in different colours for the same price as one new one. But lawnmowers, I now realise, are something it's better to get new and shiny. Money well spent.

A lament for the cowshed

A neighbouring cattle farmer knocked on the door on Saturday and asked if I had any sheds he could use for his animals next winter. I don't but I've been admiring his beasts and was pleased to make his acquaintance; quite saddening, though. He reminded me of the previous owner of my farm, another lifelong cattle farmer, now retired. Most of my neighbours have torn down their cowsheds. We talked for a while. There really aren't many left, you know, cowsheds or cattle men.

Better than yoga

We're about to turn the cows out to pasture. It's our first year with cows. Pretty much the entire farm is turned over to grassland, which is probably why I'm so interested in lawnmowers. Still, if there's anything more compelling than a new lawnmower, it's a cow. Go and check some out. Staring at cows is better than yoga.

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