The seed that fell on bare ground

The state of my lawn, writes Michael Hutchinson, reveals that Major is soon to be put out to grass
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The Independent Online
April 9th, 1992 may have been the day that John Major won his improbable victory at the polls, but it was also the day I turfed my lawn. I live in London but, like many people, dream of living in the country - something that is much easier to do while lying on the grass.

So when I moved in to my terraced house in spring 1979, I rejected the patio concept, and laboriously excavated sycamore roots, endless lumps of rubble, and a surprising number of Victorian beer bottles, to create the perfect lawn: 15 foot square. After gentle raking, feeding, seeding, and erection of a Heath Robinson system of nets to keep birds and the neighbours' cats away, all I had to do was wait.

Facing south and surrounded by high walls, the lawn thrived and by 1983, it was an ideal place to daydream staring at the sky and counting Jumbos. Friends and neighbours complimented me on the immaculate stripes and said how unusual it was to have grass in such a small garden.

1983 was a high point for Chateauneuf du Pape, Margaret Thatcher - and my lawn. But by 1987 it was showing signs of neglect due to long trips abroad, and damage caused by the wheel of an ancient hand mower my grandmother had brought back from India well before Independence. It was small, but incredibly heavy, and bulldozed as much as it cut.

In June 1987, I bought a lightweight electric mower, in order to prevent further mechanical damage and, for a while, things did get better. But by the time the stock market crashed, it looked as if the writing was on the wall - not only for the economy and the Tory government, but for the lawn as well. The slow decline continued until spring 1992, when John Major decided to call an election, and I decided to start again and lay new turf.

Despite these apparent coincidences, it's only recently that I've come to realise that thanks to an inexplicable and uncannily accurate mechanism, the condition of my lawn somehow provides a graphic representation of the Tory's majority in Parliament.

Given that some people can do the same thing with tea leaves, sheep's entrails, and even opinion polls, I see no reason whatever to doubt that my lawn has the gift of prophecy. My only dilemma is whether William Hill or John Major will pay the best price for its services.

Last summer, when the Eurosceptics started to whinge about Brussels and John Redwood challenged John Major to a "conquer" fight, a small patch of moss appeared in the far right-hand corner. When raked this turned into a bald patch of earth which steadily grew larger. In the past, this has been successfully repaired with a sprinkling of new seed, but just as recent by-elections have made it impossible for the Tories to sow any new seed, the drought of 1995 did the same for my lawn.

Then there's the cherry tree. I planted this years ago as a spindly little sapling attached to a massive 2-inch pole. Seventeen years later, its girth is tremendous, its blossom has been spectacular (especially after last year's summer), and its branches provide welcome shade from the sun where our baby daughter can play. But grass needs light, and the painful truth is that the majority of the lawn is no longer really grass - just as the majority of MPs are no longer Tories.

Moss from the right has met the bare earth caused by shade from the tree on the left. A small patch of grass remains in the centre near the French windows, but the word "lawn" is really no longer appropriate, just as the word "government" no longer seems appropriate to what the Tories are up to.

I wouldn't dream of chopping the tree down, but the lawn can't survive unless it goes. So perhaps I should write to inform Downing Street that on Thursday 4 July, work starts to replace the vestiges of a working lawn in Sedlescombe Road with a new patio paved with tiles in a tasteful shade of terracotta red.

I imagine the lawn at Downing Street still looks as good as ever, but then you'd hardly expect a politician's lawn to give a frank opinion about anything.

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