Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

The Dennis was a beast. A 36-inch cylinder mower with a heavy rear roller to give you those lovely stripes down a big lawn. Because of its size, it wasn't easy to handle.

To get moving, you shoved two big levers forward to let out the clutches, one for the cylinder and the other for the roller. And then you hung on. Until that is, it was time to turn round.

That felt like steering a recalcitrant bull, until you got the hang of it. It was a young man's mower and even though I loved the look of its dark green paintwork, I wasn't sure I could handle it.

That felt like steering a recalcitrant bull, until you got the hang of it. It was a young man's mower and even though I loved the look of its dark green paintwork, I wasn't sure I could handle it.

The first job was a test - a large and horrible house with valuable specimen trees dotted about an uneven lawn and a sunken pond at the centre.

The family had an ancient butler and some decrepit cars, which was somewhat eccentric as they were rumoured to be pretty rich.

Above all, they liked their stripes straight and their trees untouched.

I had a small altercation with the lady of the house in the morning. She approached me to ask why I was having a tea break. 'I don't pay you to drink tea, do I?' she asked.

I had to explain that, owing to various factory acts, she did in effect, though I was actually not directly in her employment.

It was a frosty moment. She said she was going to talk with her son who was at Harvard, studying law. I wished him well.

It was his summer vacation, as it was mine. I saw him later as I manoeuvred the Dennis through a dense patch of the valuable specimen trees.

He was standing at the window, staring intently at what I was doing. I didn't wave. Piloting that Dennis required all of my strength and both hands.

Later, his mother came out to inspect the bark on the trees. When I was packing the equipment back into the van, the son came out and stood on the back porch.

It looked like he might have something to say, but when he came across, I was driving the mower back up the planks and into the back of the Transit - never an easy thing to do, especially if the roller picked up gravel. The noise of the mower dominated the scene.

The Dennis slammed into the back of the van, shaking the metal connectors which stopped the planks moving. That was always the tricky bit. I shut off the engine and clambered out. From some distance away, he said 'My mother¿' and paused.

I wiped my hands on some rags. 'She's not always¿' he began again, and then, not sure of how he could finish, turned and went away. I mowed their lawn with the big Dennis mower every fortnight through the whole summer.

The last time was early autumn. It had been raining and I was just finishing off near the pond when the Dennis slipped sideways down the slope and slammed into a prize eucalyptus.

I covered up the problem as best I could, but when I got the Dennis back in the van, I saw that the crankcase seal had split. A good lot of oil had disappeared.

I learned later that the fish in the pond had died, but it was thought that a leaky diesel tank in the farmyard next door was to blame.

The family's response, to avoid further damage, was to buy the farmyard, and, by next summer, the ground where the tank had stood was covered with more lawn and more trees.



My Story is a daily series on BBC Radio Ulster, 11.55am Sunday to Friday and on Saturday at 8.55am. For more information contact www.bbc.co.uk/northernireland/ mystory

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