I hold a hand outstretched while peering at the hazy blue sky. Despite my attempt to look doubtful we all know that rain is very far away. It’s a sunny Saturday and that means jobs in the garden. I could plead that this morning on the telly is the opening session of the World Snooker Championship but I suspect I won’t get a sympathetic hearing.
I try an old stalling tactic, walking up and down the little path with my hands on my hips, shaking my head and tutting over and over. But mummy is wise to the trick and gently points me in the direction of the garden shed.
I get to it. The shed is tidied, the barbecue wheeled out and scrubbed, the patio washed and the flowers watered. I’m beginning to consider that I might make it inside in time for the afternoon session at The Crucible when mummy comments on the length of the grass. And not in a flattering way.
Back when I worked full time I used to pay a man to cut the grass. When I left my job it didn’t really make financial success to keep this arrangement going but I liked the chap who did the job and didn’t have the heart to tell him that I couldn’t afford him anymore. So he kept cutting my grass. Then later, when he discovered I was unemployed, he kindly offered me a job working for him. This raised the bizarre potential situation where I would be paying him to pay me to cut my own grass. I refused the offer and let him go. Now I cut my own grass.
Mummy has to take our son to aikido class so she leaves me alone to do the job. Before she goes she makes a plea.
‘Please be careful. Just don’t do any Jonny things. Don’t cut your foot off or anything.’
This is borne of compassion, not cruelty. My wife knows how clumsy I am. Just yesterday we were preparing supper. Mummy was slicing tomatoes for a salad while I cut some bread. I looked over and watched her technique with disapproval. I knew I had to get involved.
‘Just be very careful with that knife,’ I advised.
Seconds later I jumped high in the air and howled with pain as I sawed the bread knife right into the top of my thumb.
I wheel the old mower out. It’s an electric mower which means a confusing entanglement of leads and plugs. As I begin to straighten the cords I can hear the dull roar of several other mowers. It seems that about half of the householders in my little estate are also mowing today. I don’t feel so alone anymore.
The back garden is quickly navigated. Then I take the mower outside of the yard to start on the long thin strip of grass at the side of the house. Exactly whose responsibility this strip of grass is has always been a bit of a grey area. It’s outside my fence but I’ve long been aware that if I don’t cut it then nobody else will. Last week a streetlight on this strip of land fell over. Within a day an official van had arrived to remove the pole. But they didn’t cut the bloody grass while they were here.
As I take my mower out onto the road I notice that several of my neighbours are similarly active. In the next house up from me the husband is also cutting the grass while his wife is weeding the flower beds. The man who lives across the road is also mowing his lawn.
I have to take the extension lead over my wooden fence to reach the mower outside the yard. As I walk past the woman next door looks up and smiles expectantly.
‘Great day,’ I say.
Then I put the plug into the extension lead and begin to walk back to the mower. As I walk past the woman next door looks up and smiles expectantly again.
‘Powerful heat,’ I say.
Then I begin to mow. Up and down. Each time I pass the women next door she looks up and smiles expectantly. I smile back. Unfortunately the noise of the mower spares her any more of my banter.
As I mow I become more and more conscious of the other two neighbours mowing in the other houses. It is hard not to notice that their mowers are substantially larger and more powerful than mine. While my little electric machine coughs and splutters its way through the long grass my two neighbours are effortlessly cutting neat straight lines into their lawns.
In my mind I become convinced that my two neighbours are unfavourably judging my grass cutting efforts. I’m flustered now and this means that my mowing becomes even messier than before. I keep missing bits and then having to go back over to fix it, creating an untidy patchwork.
Then I have to go and empty the grass cuttings into the compost bin. As I come back see that my two neighbours are now finished and have come together for a conversation. The way normal people do.
I pass them as I walk back to my mower. They look up and smile expectantly.
‘That’s some day,’ I say.
And I return to the grass. But it’s even worse now because the two of them are standing just yards away, chatting. It’s obvious to me that they are discussing my mowing prowess. One makes a remark, the other laughs and I burn with shame.
But I struggle on until I’m finished. It’s messy but at least it’s done. The two neighbours are still talking as I begin to tidy up. As I start to wrap the extension lead I begin to relax. Now I’m wondering why I allowed to myself to become so flustered, why I became so obsessed at what they were thinking. Now I’m thinking that I might even join my two neighbours for a chat. I’ll gather up my things and go over and say hello. The way normal people do.
Then I step back. On the grass is a round, plastic reel which my extension lead winds into. My foot goes into a gap in the receptacle which is just large enough for my heel to become wedged. It’s like a giant shoe or a cast on the bottom of my foot.
I jump forward but my foot is stuck fast. At this point I should really sit down and remove my shoe, but I’m still self-conscious about the two watching neighbours. So instead I try to walk normally, as if giving the impression that having my foot stuck in a reel is all part of my plan for the day.
But this movement succeeds merely in pulling the extension lead, which is still plugged into my mower, taut. It wraps quickly around my legs and I fall face first into the grass. The newly cut grass.
I rise quickly, brushing bits of grass off my face and clothes and spitting fragments of soil out of my mouth.
I pass the two neighbours and the woman weeding the flower beds. They all smile expectantly at me.
‘Aye, that’s some day,’ I say.
Then I go back inside to watch the snooker.