Sunday, October 5, 2008

The joy of strimming

One of the unforeseen consequences of global warming that doesn’t seem to appear anywhere in the Kyoto agreement is the fact that people’s lawns now grow in the winter. Whereas before, you could safely pack the lawnmower away at the end of September and know that you wouldn’t have to clap eyes on the damned thing again before April, these days the sprouting jungle both back and front is a constant nagging reminder during the winter months that you really should get the finger out.
Being a traditionalist when it suits me, I put even the vaguest thoughts of lawn cutting out of my head and make up spurious excuses why a trip to the shed to retrieve the lawn mower should be shunned. The ground will be too wet, I maintain. The grass needs to grow and breathe for a while without being ruthlessly scythed down every couple of weeks. I feel a twinge in my back.
It was therefore with great satisfaction last week that I cut the grass for the final time in 2008. Due to the inclement weather and a bout of sheer laziness, it had not been done for a month previously and, despite the fact that it hadn’t rained for five days – surely some sort of national record – the ground still resembled Strangford Lough at high tide.
But I persevered, squelching through the mashed grass and finally finding a use for the brown bin which had been put out empty for the recycling people the last few times.
Finally I took the strimmer – which had come free when we purchased the lawnmower eight years ago – and proceeded to laboriously unravel the flex which had somehow become tightly woven around the body of the strimmer like a thin python asphyxiating a sausage dog.
The strimmer.
Surely this model of modern technology has to be the most useless invention ever devised by man? Is there anybody in history who has managed to cut five yards of edging without the bit of cord snapping off?
Sure enough, as I began, I knew that a particularly sturdy looking dandelion three yards away was going to cause problems. There was no escape. We had to go into battle. I whispered a few words of encouragement into where I imagined the strimmer’s ear should be, shouted “Death or glory!” at the top of my voice, startling a jackdaw on my cotonaster, and ploughed into the fray.
It was all over before it began. The green cord was no match for the soft juicy flesh of dandelion stalk and, after the all too familiar “zip” and the change in tone of the strimmer, the two inch green strip went sailing into the hebe further down the herbaceous border, as we fancifully call the few miserable plants straddling the lawn. (My garden is littered with two inch green strips of strimmer cord. One day, I am going to go around collecting them all and construct an astro turf football pitch out back)
I uttered the word that is worse than “feck” and turned the strimmer upside down, tutting impatiently while the rotating bit of plastic slowed to such an extent that it wouldn’t take the skin off my fingers. As I removed the cap, the tightly wound coil of cord sprung out at me like a joke toy and I sighed and commenced re-winding.
It was then that I glanced up. Declan, my neighbour from two doors down, was similarly engaged. As was the man with the white van further up the street. And the man with the dog further down. It seemed that a good fifty per cent of the street was at that moment engaged in trying to thread the required two inches of green strimmer thread through the tiny hole in the base and a blue haze hung malcontentedly over the estate as expletives punctuated the afternoon balm.
Suddenly I realised what a brilliant marketing ploy it had been to hand out a free strimmer with every lawnmower. Yes, it would have cost the company millions but they would have made a tidy profit in the intervening period with all the spools of strimming thread sold to disgruntled lawn cutters who saw the cost as a necessary extra.
Now we like to think of ourselves as a modern society at the cutting edge of the technological revolution sweeping the globe. I work for Intel and their level of expertise is so great that I have no idea what they produce. We can split atoms, whether for profit or simply for amusement, and we have devised machines that can actually tell you that you have just taken a wrong turning and I told you to turn left at that petrol station, you dumbkopf.
Would it be possible, I meekly enquire of our budding inventors and teams of research scientists nervously wondering if they are the next for the dole queue – would it be possible for someone to come up with a strimmer cord that didn’t actually break in hand to hand combat with a thistle or a daisy or a dock leaf? One that flashed brightly like a scimitar in the hands of a crowing Mongol, scything down all that stood up to it?
Maybe – and I am no scientist, so I am open to correction – the material used in the strimmer cord is not up to the job? Perhaps if tungsten steel were used instead, or at least something that didn’t give up the ghost when confronted by something thin and botanical?
Naturally there would need to be limits. We wouldn’t want one that knocked down your garden fence when you tried to decimate the sprouting grass springing joyously up against it or sliced through the breeze block that your shed is standing on but surely there must be some happy medium?
Personally, and I realise that I am abandoning all my principles of snapping up free gifts, I would be happy to pay a modest amount of my hard earned cash for a strimmer if I didn’t have to perform a cycle of running repairs on every circuit of the lawn.
Anyway, all you budding inventors out there, you have until next April.

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