After a mild winter, the life cycle of the flora that surrounds us here at Tranquility Base is already well advanced. The forsythia is budding, the Narcissi are in bloom, the air is filled with birdsong.
And the grass needs cutting.
This year, we have a new weapon in the unending war against nature. I’ve cranked up the shock and awe by upgrading from an electric to a petrol-driven mower. I’ve never had, or used, one of those before, so I approached it with some trepidation, especiallly as I obviously had to put it together before I could actually use it and, to put it politely, my track record on self-assembly is – well, let’s just say it’s not flawless.
With commendable initiative, and completely unaided, I opened the box containing the new machine. On top of the plastic and polystyrene packaging was a small booklet titled ‘Original Instructions’. It seemed sensible to have a look inside rather than try to wing it (given my track record etc etc).
It was scary stuff.
The first two inside pages were taken up with ‘Description of Symbols’. There were a lot of symbols, and each came with a largely superfluous line of explanation – except the one that carried the invocation ‘Push the bubble 10 times before use to make sure the petroleum spirit full of the oil way’. Riiiight.
The next section – ‘Safety Instructions’ – took up over two pages and included no less than 42 separate sections, some with sub-headings. It’s hard to say which is scarier: the number of things that could go wrong or the stupidity of the people for whom such statements of the bleeding obvious are presumed necessary. Here are just a few:
- ‘WARNING – Petrol is highly flammable’ (who knew?)
- Mow only in daylight or in good artificial light (no sense of adventure, some people)
- Never pick up or carry a lawnmower while the engine is running (oh, okay then)
- Never use the product in environments where there is a risk of explosion (good job you told me, I was just going to give the local minefield a bit of a going over)
With so much to worry about, it came as a relief to turn the page to the next section, ‘Intended Use’. It was even more of a relief to read that ‘This lawn mower has been designed for cutting grass’. With all that had gone before, I was beginning to worry that it was actually a weapon of mass destruction.
Finally, I got to the nitty gritty and the test that I was dreading (given my etc etc): ‘Assembling lawn mower’. That bit earlier about pushing the bubble 10 times had planted a seed of suspicion that maybe the instructions had been written by somebody who was not a native Anglophone. I was right.
We begin by putting the two parts of the handle together, as follows:
‘First, release bolts, and then fit the lower handle on the brackets, last ensure bolts that it does not tighten enough’
I got the drift of that, but the next bit had me throwing in the towel. This involved hooking a couple of cables to various levers attached to the handle, just the way the Manual said:
This had me baffled for a couple of days. Although the labels were attached I simply could not work out how to put them together properly: and in my defence, figs 4 and 5 aren’t terribly helpful. Eventually I conceded defeat and went back to the shop, where, fortunately, the model was on display and I could get a picture of how it was supposed to look:
I had to return to the shop in any case, because I didn’t have the right kind of oil – a fact I only discovered when I looked into the other booklet that came in the box, the ‘Operator’s Manual’. Although that’s a whole other story.
After that, it was comparatively plain sailing. I attached the grass catcher and adjusted the cutting height, put in the oil and the petrol with something approaching aplomb. I even got the engine going. Second time. I’m ready to rumble.
Pity it’s raining.