In the spring, the strimmer's fancy lightly turns to . . .

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SPRING] And the voice of the strimmer is heard again in the land. Yes, this cheerful little fellow, almost unknown in Britain 10 years ago, is now to be found on every bank, grubbing out our native flowers, getting rid of those unsightly hedgerows and cutting through those heavy electric cables installed by the authorities some time last year.

Only the very big ones are capable of breaking and crippling the branches of small trees in the hedges, but the small strimmer is not overshadowed by the strength and ability of the giant strimmer - if anything, his distinctive cry is even louder and cheerier.

By now we must all know the sound of the strimmer, something between a First World War biplane in a state of hysteria and a concrete mixer in fifth, cruising gear. And it is at this time of the year also that the strimmer's voice is in full cry, because his mating season is upon him and he goes in search of his loved one.

It used to be thought that the strimmer sought his own kind to mate with, but now we know different. The strimmer, for preference, looks out for a lad of about 18. When he has found one to his choosing, he fastens himself on to the back of the lusty young teenager, and off they both go into the countryside, out on to the embankments and dual carriageways, and there disport themselves.

'I'm very happy with my strimmer,' says one such lad, who would give his name only as Jed. 'I picks her up in the morning and we goes out in the grass to do a bit of strimming, and then we lays down for a while unless the gaffer comes along, in which case we gets up sharpish and gets on with it.'

And so the age-old custom of strimming is kept alive. But what exactly is strimming? How do you do it? And how do you conjugate the verb? How would John Patten conjugate the verb, assuming he could do such a thing? Is it like 'swim' - I strim, I have strum, I stram? What does the expert say?

'I say,' says Professor Ainslie Bodkin, who holds the chair of Heritage Studies at Milton Keynes University, 'that the whole thing is a complete con. There is no such thing as strimming.'

Don't be a spoilsport] What are all these people doing if not strimming? Has the strimmer not been with us from time immemorial?

'As a matter of fact, it hasn't,' says Bodkin. 'A strimmer sounds as if it should be an ancient tool. It sounds as if it has been around for ages. It sounds as if it should be mentioned in Shakespeare - 'Gaily now the strimmer sounds, easy on the lover's ear, in the ancient village grounds, where the strawberries late appear . . .'

'But I can find no mention of the strimmer before about 1980. It is not mentioned in any old and weighty dictionary. It is not mentioned in any new dictionary that I have, from Cassell to Collins. The words strimmer and strim are absent from the record books.'

Ah, but may it not be a dialect word, some revived regional relic?

'I have here,' says Bodkin with quiet triumph, 'a copy of Wright's Dictionary of Obsolete and Provincial English, printed in MDCCCLVII, let's see, what's that, 1857? And do I find 'strim' therein?'

Well, of course he doesn't, otherwise he wouldn't ask, would he? But we must let him have his fun first, mustn't we? Because first he is going to tell us of some of the words they do have there, isn't he?

'They've got 'sparrowfart' for dawn, and 'strum' for prostitute, and 'strift', which used to mean death struggle in Norfolk, and 'stramash', a nice northern word for to destroy, and 'Stockport- coach', which apparently means a horse with two women sitting sideways on it, but not a sign of 'strim' do I see.'

And what can the solution be?

'Either the word was made up by some rascally manufacturer, attempting a heritage gloss for his product, or . . .'


'Or these strimmers are coming from outer space, from the burn- out planet of Strim, and are mating with our strongest young male teenagers to produce a new super race of road maintenance people.'

It's a terrifying thought.