Being the latest despatch from the front line of one man’s war on terroir….
Our rural idyll here in the heart of la France profonde is lovely, but there’s one problem. Nature rather objects to us having muscled in and wants to take our little piece back – which it tries to do relentlessly throughout every growing season.
In a country the size of France, you’d think that Mother Nature wouldn’t particularly miss our little parcel of land, but no. She obviously operates a zero tolerance policy and is unblinkingly focussed on making the place look like it has never been seen by human eyes. Keeping her at bay is a serious task.
To be fair, we have delegated responsibility for prosecution of the campaign over five of our seven acres to a local farmer, who cuts the grass in our two fields for hay to feed his livestock. That works to mutual benefit and on our two acres of direct responsibility, progress has been reasonably satisfactory. Last year, wiith the aid of our new WMD, Attila The Pun, we carved out a plot for growing vegetables and in Spring this year Attila was deployed again to establish and even extend our squatters’ rights for 2017. For the rest, the ‘lawn’ is pretty much under control, as is the patch of grass behind the house, and even the ‘orchard’ (seven trees; no fruit) actually looks like somebody owns it.
So it was all going fairly well – until a few weeks ago.
Then our very good friend and neighbour, Alain, ‘sort of mentioned’ that I really needed to cut back the growth on my side of the border between my field and his garden. A perfectly reasonable request certainly, even though it was news to me (a) that I even had a border with Alain and (b) that I was supposed to do anything about it – it’s never been mentioned before and we’ve known him for nearly all the time we’ve been here.
So, one sunny morn – there have been a few – I sallied forth on a reconnaissance mission. I was confronted with about a sixty foot stretch of untamed brambles and hawthorns at least eight feet high. Like this:
My natural inclination was to follow the wise words of Homer Simpson and tell myself that there was no problem so great that I couldn’t ignore it. However, it’s important to be a good neighbour and I could see that Alain certainly had a point. Accordingly, I beat a tactical retreat to mull over which particular weapons in my massive arsenal were most appropriate for the job.
That should have read ‘least inappropriate’. The best I could come up with was a decent-sized pair of loppers and a battery-powered strimmer. In other words, I was going to be taking a knife not so much to a gunfight as to a tactical nuclear exchange.
Mais qu’est qu’on fait? A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do and maybe it would be the making of me.
Or the breaking.
The strimmer soon proved to be well short of what was required, unable to deal with thorn-covered trailers as thick as a thumb, so I got cracking with the loppers. This proved more effective, but it was very slow work.
I’d been plugging away for about half an hour when Alain appeared at the one gap in the foliage. ‘What are you using?’ he enquired. I held up my plucky little loppers for inspection. This produced a sympathetic whistle in response. “That’s hard’, he said. I could only agree, also making the point that it was so slow that by the time I’d finished I’d probably have to start all over again at the beginning.
It was at this point that the confusion began to arise. You see, I thought he said that he had a ‘Size A’ (which I took to be the big daddy edition) strimmer that I could borrow. I accepted the offer and said I’d meet him round the front to take delivery.
So I was a bit nonplussed when I rocked up and he was holding what I took to be a chainsaw, of the petrol-driven variety.
It goes without saying that one who has led such a sheltered, urban life as me has never used a chainsaw, but it was too late to back down, so I accepted the instrument and made some light-hearted – and only half-joking – comment about hoping I’d still have arms to be able to hand it back when I’d finished. The fact is, I have a morbid dread of doing myself some kind of life-changing, if not actually life-threatening, injury with one of these devices. I’ve never actually watched any slasher movies , but it’s not difficult to get their drift.
Trepidaciously, I went back to the metaphorical coal-face, fired up the brute and started cutting. At that stage my only hope was that somebody would hear my screams and call an ambulance before I bled to death from whichever artery I was inevitably going to sever.
Wow. It was a revelation, slicing through branches like they were blades of grass. I almost forgot that this thing could probably cut me in half with equal facility. Dammit, this was properly taking the fight to the enemy. In my fevered, blood-lust imagination I kept thinking of Jack Nicholson in ‘The Shining’ (and yes, before you write in, I know that he used an axe, not a chainsaw, to get through that door).
After a while, Alain reappeared at the gap to review progress. ‘Well, now I know what I want for Christmas’, I told him. And I wasn’t joking – there are plenty of other places I could put one of those bad boys to good use.
What looked like would take me at least a week was accomplished in a couple of hours, to my entire satisfaction and – crucially – a nod of approval from Alain. I returned his murderous machine with effusive thanks and took the rest of the afternoon off for good behaviour.
Later that evening, still buzzing with the adrenaline rush of victory in battle, I visited the web-site of a well-known internet retailer. The one named after a South American river. I searched for a ‘tronçeuse’, that being the French word for chainsaw.
Hang on; that wasn’t what I’d been using. Well, how deflating. I poked around a bit more and discovered that what I’d actually been kicking Nature’s butt with was a hedge-trimmer: the chainsaw’s baby brother. So ‘only’ a hedge-trimmer; no slasher movies with them.
Now, in French this is known as a taille-haie. And that explains why I was originally expecting a big (Size A, remember) fuck-off strimmer. ‘Taille’ does mean size – I knew that, but as a verb it also means cut. I didn’t know that. All my macho chain-saw dreams evaporated in an instant, leaving me confronted once again with my wimpish limitations.
I still went out and bought one though….