...And it's pretty obvious what the problem is. A lawn that is only half-cut. My ancient electric hover-mower packed in yesterday, with only half the back lawn done. It first went into a kind of 'limp mode' then fell silent. I will of course be plugging it in again tomorrow morning, just in case it had simply become over-stressed, and had shut down to protect itself, and will be fine the next time I try to use it. But I fear the worst.
This was the hover-mower in question.
Having lost my mower man last spring, I had to mow my own lawns. I remembered that there was this mower somewhere in the garage. So it was, hung up on a wall. I cleaned it up, plugged it in, and it worked. Even though - to my personal knowledge - it had been idle for at least eight years, and had been purchased long before. It has produced acceptable results. Here, for instance, is the state of my back lawn in early June, just before I went off on my last holiday. I think you'll agree it looks good enough.
The bare earth on both sides of the grass is where I had got rid of unwanted shrubs and other herbage, had broken up the soil, had raked it smooth, and then seeded it with grass seed. I hoped that in the following four weeks the grass seed would sprout and give me new areas of lawn. This would be a step in my long-term plan to make the garden labour-saving for my old age. Mowing grass is of course quicker and easier than tending shrubs and flower beds. Or should be.
But I had pretty well doubled the size of the back lawn. Much more work for the poor old hover-mower to do. No wonder it had a seizure.
I now have a likely fatality on my hands, and will have to attend to consequences very quickly. I can't leave the lawn only half-mown. And I must be able to mow it again before I set off on my next holiday. So I must do something decisive in the next week or so.
I've thought about engaging another mower man. In the short term, this is the least expensive solution, but gradually the overall cost will mount, and after maybe three years it will exceed the cost of buying and maintaining a mower. Besides, I would relinquish care of my lawns to paid help, and lose the satisfaction of doing it myself. I've got used to that satisfaction over the last few months - plus the benefit of mild exercise. And I think it would be a retrograde step to hand the work back.
So I'm thinking about buying a new mower. What sort? I've got a front lawn big enough to park six or seven cars on. Any kind of mower would do for that. But the rear lawn is much larger. I am fully justified in getting a mower that's powerful enough to cut all that grass. I don't want to mess about with electric mowers. I want a proper petrol mower.
I've used a petrol mower before. I bought one in May 1998, to use on the even larger rear lawn of the house I then owned. This was it, shot two days after purchase when still pristine.
It was a sturdy beast, made by Mountfield, with a Briggs and Stratton engine. Self-propelled, of course - even though I was younger then, I didn't have the oomph to push and pull the thing unaided. It was quite heavy. It was nevertheless easily manoeuvrable, had a much-used cutting-height adjuster, and coped very well indeed with the bumpiness of my rear lawn. It wasn't difficult to produce those much-desired straight stripes, as in these shots, taken from an upper window, and looking out towards the countryside beyond my back hedge.
That was a good mower. It lasted a long time. I did have it regularly serviced, but even so it was still doing its stuff flawlessly seven years after purchase. I can't now recall what happened to it. I must have passed it on to someone else. I never used it at the Cottage - there were no lawns there - and didn't have it when I moved into Mum and Dad's house after they died.
It was charming to have that farmland at the back. Sometimes there were cows:
I loved that view, summer and winter, rain or shine. It was always good to see.
Once retired, and on pension, I could no longer afford to keep up the mortgage repayments and had to sell the house. Suddenly I had a lot of money in the bank, but I'd lost that view forever.
Let's return to the problem of which new petrol mower to get now. Oddly enough, I noticed this Mountfield mower at B&Q only a week or so before. I took some shots for future reference, believing then that it would be spring 2018 before I'd be seriously looking at buying a new mower. I was wrong.
It was remarkably similar to the mower I'd bought in 1998. That mower, also from B&Q, had cost me £349. They wanted £318 for this one, which might, or might not, represent good value for money. I'm researching what's currently available in my area, to put that £318 into perspective..
I have to say, I'd be happier if I could get a decent petrol mower for less than £300. But I will pay that if I have to. I know I can't get away with a cheap and flimsy machine: it just won't last, and will be money wasted.
It won't necessarily be another Mountfield. But a less well-known make may be harder or more expensive to get serviced. I'm thinking particularly of what a mobile service man might be able to tackle. What parts he might carry around in his van. Fifteen years ago I'd personally take my mower to a mower servicing shop, and collect it later. Now I want them to come to me, and service the mower on my front drive. So it needs to be the Ford Focus or Vauxhall Astra of mowers, not a Ferrari - nor a Dacia.