Last year, in an escalation of the ceaseless struggle against ever encroaching weeds – if you wanted to flaunt your French vocabulary, you could call it the war on terroir – I traded up from an electric to a petrol-driven lawnmower.
Despite my initial concerns, this has actually turned out to be rather effective: to the extent that what I used to call simply ‘the grass’ is now usually referred to as ‘the lawn’ or even – flaunting the French vocab again – ‘la pelouse’.
So this year we’ve opened a second front, with the intention of establishing a vegetable patch (‘potager’ for the linguists). However, this is only feasible with a massive leap forward in the arms race. A lawnmower simply – and literally – just wouldn’t cut it. The putative potager needs to be dug over and given a damned good talking-to before it’s fit for purpose. It’s too big to be done by hand, so we’ve gone and got ourselves the cultivatory equivalent of a bunker-buster – a rotavator. One of these if you don’t know what I’m talking about:
In France, these doomsday devices are usually called ‘motobineuses’, although if they’re big enough they can also be known as ‘tillers’. This one’s certainly big enough; indeed, it even says ’tiller’ on the packaging.
When Madame enquired as to what I intended to call our new weapons system, my stock response for anything mechanical of ‘ [expletive deleted] Useless Heap Of Metal’ was adjudged either inadequate or rude (probably both). The mnemonic FUHOM didn’t pass muster either, so I settled instead on Attila. This seemed appropriate as it’s supposed to lay waste to all before it.
Attila; a tiller. It’s a pun, you see. Hun; pun. Hence the title of this post….oh never mind.
FUHOM Attila came with an operating manual. As you might expect – I certainly did, based on past experience – it’s incomprehensible. It consists largely of blurrily duplicated exploded diagrams of the various components – the front wheel, the cutting blades and so on – but no instructions as to how you’re supposed to fit them together. Beyond, that is, ‘connect A to B’ in seventeen different languages. Yes, but connect how? comment?, come? cómo? hur? (that last one’s Swedish, although it could equally be an enquiry by somebody from Hull).
Somehow, after a great struggle and through a combination of luck (me) and common sense (Madame), together with a generous dash of deleted expleteives (me), we got the beast put together and manhandled it out onto the battlefield.
It wouldn’t start. Of course it bloody wouldn’t.
After a cooling-off period of a few days, and a close reading of the manual, I concluded that
we I hadn’t put enough fuel in. Sure enough; after topping up the tank – and trying every conceivable combination of open/closed for the various engine switches – it finally sparked to life. Exultant, I set off to give the targeted patch of ground the hiding of its life.
I’d gone about twenty feet when I noticed that the blades on the left hand side weren’t turning. This no doubt explained why the thing was pulling to the right like a particularly demented rodeo bull. I turned off the engine and made a close inspection. The nut and bolt that had attached the blade to what I suppose you’d call the axle had disappeared.
Another deleted expletive. Or seven.
A painstaking search turned up the nut, but of the bolt there was no sign. You will not be surprised to hear that there were no spares.
Although quite a few more deleted expletives.
After another few days we managed to get a replacement bolt (and a couple of spares). These were the correct diameter but longer than the original, which meant that the nut wouldn’t screw on far enough to tighten it up, because those nuts had the little blue cushion in that stops you from screwing it in too far.
Yet more deleted expletives.
Then, with the last vestiges of my will to live rapidly draining away, I noticed that we had a couple of metal struts lying around that happened to have the proper sized nuts, but crucially without the little blue cushions. Don’t ask me where these struts came from. As a general rule, I don’t believe in divine intervention, but having no idea of the provenance of these mystery bits, you do start to wonder…
Anyway, the key point is that they did the trick. The bolt’s still too long, but not too long, if you know what I mean, and it’s effectively secured the blades. I can say this because I’ve finally been and gone and done it: rotavated the living daylighgts out of the potager.
And let me tell you, it was – eventually – a bloody sight quicker than using a fork and spade.