Hard to believe, but once upon a time I might have been an engineer. This weekend I had good reason to wish that 45 years ago, history had taken a different turn.
Leaving school with A-levels in pure maths, applied maths and physics, and not really interested in any of the university courses on offer in those days, I stumbled into journalism – which as any fule do no, requires no talent or qualifications whatsoever.
It was one of those accidents which, happily, has generally served me well – but has left me ill-equipped for fixing a lawnmower.
Cutting the grass, or at least having a plan for getting the grass cut, is an absolute pre-requisite for anyone like me. This weekend’s weather seemed like a good opportunity to get the orchard back under control, now that the bluebells have finished.
Unfortunately, ten minutes into this venture, and needing to re-start the engine, I suddenly noticed that I had my left hand on the lawnmower and in my right hand I held, quite separately, the starter cord – no longer attached to the petrol engine. The cord had snapped, with the shorter end wound back onto its spring, inside the engine cowling.
You might well have been in this situation yourself – it’s 3pm, the sun is shining, and instead of making progress with an oft-postponed chore, your day suddenly seems scheduled for hours of messing about with spanners and assorted painful ways to remove the skin from your knuckles. I thought for a few moments, abandoned the grass-cutting, and came indoors to write this column instead.
Over the years I have tried all kinds of ways of keeping the grass down in the orchard, of which the worst was pushing the Allen scythe – a fantastically heavy, blunt and wildly dangerous instrument, which for every minute spent actually cutting grass, I had to spend 20 minutes trying to re-start the engine. I once had a ride-on mower, which was easy enough to ride but very vulnerable to accidentally running over large stones, or bricks, hidden in the long grass, and then requiring tricky (for me) replacement of broken drive belts.
I’ve also tried assorted strimmers, but in every case the nylon cutting cord has worn out long before I’ve made much of an impression. I really do need to find a permanent fix for this issue. Next week’s Royal Cornwall Show might suggest an answer.
It seems that as a nation, we have lost much of our appetite for DIY. In days gone by, even small agricultural holdings like this would have had some knowledge of carpentry, coopering, wheelwrighting and blacksmithing.
I remember, as a small child, my Dad had a workshop and would always mend things himself (but he really was an engineer); as a teenager I had no problem repairing and maintaining cars and motorbikes in the 1960s and 70s. These days I wouldn’t know where to start.
My latest wheeze requires me to persuade actor Aidan Turner, of Poldark fame, to bring his scythe and just get to it. I will sit in a deckchair, supervise, drink beer, and sell tickets.