Thursday, March 24, 2011

Rage against the machine

This is a story of one man’s battle with the inanimate; of human ingenuity pitted against mechanical obstinacy; of native wit vying with the vindictive malice of a powered garden implement.

It’s a tale of frustration, of heroism in the face of adversity and ultimately of triumph – but of whom, and over which?

It begins in a small allotment on the edge of Bath, lovingly tended and nurtured by... Well, let’s just call her Mrs D.

It is spring, or at least something approaching it, and her thoughts are turning, as they always do at this time of year, to the burgeoning grass and weeds that thrive in the paths between the sturdy raised beds fabricated by her loving and resourceful Other Half.

Grass and weeds that might ultimately stand between Mrs D and the coveted title of Tidy Allotment Holder of the Year 2011.

After some debate, the die is cast. Yours Truly will buy a new grass trimmer to replace the current rechargeable model, whose battery goes flat after 10 minutes and whose approach to unsightly tufts is to tickle them into submission rather than give them the sound whacking they so richly deserve.

And Yours Truly will go where Yours Truly has never gone before: into the world of the two-stroke.

Now a two-stroke grass trimmer is a scary thing. It comes with a manual as thick as your wrist, and dire warnings about donning eye protection, ear defenders and hobnail boots before you even take it out of its box.

In fact, “scary” is an understatement. The new grass trimmer is downright terrifying, especially for someone whose relationship with two-strokes has never been close since the days when his dad wouldn’t get him a moped.

First, you have to put it together. You’d think they might have done that in the factory, but no, this trimmer is the grown-up equivalent of a Meccano set, designed to educate as well as to entertain.

Next, you have to fuel it up. In the special bottle provided, you mix 500ml of unleaded with several drops of gloop (whose main effect is to turn the petrol an evil shade of blue) and decant the heady brew into the tank of the waiting trimmer.

Which only holds 300ml.

Cue smothered guffaws from the assembled audience, who should be standing no closer than 15 metres IT SAYS HERE but persist in rubbernecking like gawpers at an accident waiting to happen.

Tighten fuel cap, clean up spill, tighten fuel cap even more, proceed to launch pad, stand by for blast off.

Contrary to expectations, this is the easy bit. A quick tug of the rope and the trimmer starts first time.

But will it trim? Not on your nelly. The business end whizzes round like crazy, but as soon as the plastic wiry stuff hits anything tougher than a single blade of red fescue it vanishes into the innards of the machine.

Turn off, dismantle soi-disant Bump Head, rewind plastic wiry stuff, re-assemble, pull rope, bump Bump Head, watch plastic wiry stuff do magic vanishing act for a second time. And a third, and a fourth.

Swear, give up, go home, try again next weekend.

There’s a knack to this trimming lark, apparently, so watch this space. If we ever find out what it is, we’ll let you know.


  1. A fascinating story..... Is the spool in correctly? Perhaps it should be the other way round or the nylon should be wound in the opposite direction so it unwinds when 'bumped' instead of winding in. Just a thought!

  2. Well, the spool will only fit in one way, and on a couple of occasions it did feed correctly. What seems to happen is that the line jams under itself, sticks and then jerks inside. As I wrote, there's a knack, which I am slowly getting.