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w/e 2022-08-14

As well as listening to Counting Crows’ August and Everything After a couple of times, because of Helena Fitzgerald’s beautiful essay which I linked to in links, I’ve also been listening to some Muslimgauze this week, from another Substack email, James A. Reeves’ Atlas Minor Digest. I don’t think I’d heard of him before but I’ve enjoyed what little of his vast output I’ve listened to this week. Here’s one of the albums Reeves mentions:

§ Given I rarely do much work in the garden I’m not sure how I let the cutting of our meadow-that-used-to-be-the-lawn take up so much of my mind for the past three weeks. Maybe that’s why I don’t do much work in the garden?

A photo of an old mower-like thing, with two big wheels and a push-handle at the back and a strimmer at the front.
The trimmer mower
  • This week I started doing a bit of scything first thing, before 9am, before the heat arrived.
  • By Wednesday I’d had enough. A newly-peened (hammered to a fresh edge) and sharpened (with a whetstone) blade was cutting some grass but still leaving a lot of long grass left, flattened to the ground. I wasn’t getting better.
  • I wheeled our ancient trimmer mower out of the garage, eventually managed to start it, and spent just over an hour trimming about 300m2, a similar area to what had taken me 13 hours to scythe. It wasn’t a great result – a lot of long clumps left – but it was so good to get that done quickly.
  • A couple of days later we cut the remaining grass, using the trimmer mower again, until it conked out. Then I strapped myself into the harness of the also-petrol-powered Stihl strimmer and finished off the remaining meadow.
  • Such a relief to have flattened all that. But now, a new problem… what to do with so much grass? It was a lot!
  • We filled three of those big, white, cubic bags that rubble and stuff are delivered in and it was barely noticeable.
  • I went to see Ray, our friendly local farmer, who arrived on one of his old tractors and scooped up several loads of the scythed grass with a kind of giant rake and took it away.
  • We’re currently part-way through the big job of raking up the trimmed and strimmed grass and putting it on various compost heaps around the garden.
A photo looking up a country road under a clear sky. We're looking at the rear of a tractor which is entirely hidden by a huge pile of dry grass being carried behind it.
Ray taking one load of grass away

I often self-deprecatingly joke about stupid things I’ve done here and I could continue to do that about obsessing for three weeks over how to cut an overgrown lawn. It is stupid lol ha ha but, seriously, it has also not been good for my mind, particularly while I was here alone. The importance of this difficult physical activity expanded to fill my head, increasingly frustrated with any slow, hot progress. When the farmer picked up the last of the grass I nearly cried. It was (nearly) over!

I have to say at this point: I realise I am fortunate that we have a large lawn, and also that I’m clearly so free of worries that “how to cut and dispose of a lot of long grass” has been so mentally trying.

So, scything. Good idea? I can see that if you are good at mowing with a scythe, and at sharpening it, there is a lot going for it:

  • It is quiet – so much nicer than the ear-defender-requiring racket of a strimmer.
  • It is pollution free – no petrol required (or electricity and batteries if you have a new-fangled strimmer).
  • It is cheap – no petrol/electricity again.
  • It is more interesting to do – each good stroke is a successful use of your skill, rather than simply having to move a whirring machine around.
  • It results in better grass/hay – you end up with long grasses, cut neatly near the base, rather than the demolished fragments thrown around by a strimmer.
  • It requires less/no raking afterwards – all the cut grass is left in a neat “windrow” to your left as you move forward. Much easier to collect.
  • It’s not that slow – I was very slow, but watching videos of people who are good, it looks more reasonable, especially if you factor in not needing to rake.
  • It’s gentler – it feels more like harvesting while strimming is more like demolition.

There are downsides – it’s harder physical work, and peening and sharpening the blade takes time – but there’s lots going for it.

If you’re good at it.

Next year we won’t be letting all of the lawn become a meadow, unless we have someone with farm-scale equipment who is willing to cut it and dispose of it.

Maybe I’ll have another scythe lesson next year and work out why it wasn’t working for me. But small steps from now on.

On the plus side I can now say that I’ve literally cut a swath through something, and literally mean “literally” literally.

Update: Mary took the photo below which shows the difference between the scythed grass – foreground and left – and the grass cut with the push strimmer – right and rear. Having cleared the cut grass, the scythed grass is much neater, shorter, and more regular than that cut by the strimmer. The long grass on the right edge is the area we cut later.

A photo looking down at the lawn. The loose scythed grass is in neat rows leading away from the viewer, about 2 metres apart, with neat short grass between. The strimmed grass is more messy with the cut grass spread around.

§ While I was strimming I got a nasty bite on one thigh which I assume was from a horse-fly. A couple of days later it wasn’t looking great – a 2cm diameter bubble – so I called NHS 111 to see if I should go to a doctor and, judging by the guy’s reaction – “you’ve got a bite from a what?!” – I can only assume that when describing it I omitted the word “fly”.

It still looks pretty grim but you’ll be pleased to know all the puss has since dripped away down my leg. 🤮

§ I renewed my passport last week, figuring I should do it before I actually need it – I assume I’ll leave Daily Mail Island again one day – given the delays I’ve heard about. It was so easy and quick! I paid too much to have a man take my photo at Timpsons in Sainsbury’s but then I only had to type a code into the passport website and it already had my photo! Internet magic! And the new passport arrived super quickly, with email updates at every stage. Nice that some things just work. Well done everyone. 👏

§ This week I started watching Annette (2021, Leo Carax) but didn’t last long. I wasn’t sure, but it turns out that a modern musical being by Sparks, and starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard, still isn’t enough to make me enjoy it.

Instead I scrolled down MUBI and picked Zero Fucks Given (2022, Emmanuel Marre and Julie Lecoustre) which I knew nothing about, but thankfully enjoyed. I liked the often close, phonecam-style shooting, plus the general air of aimlessness. It did not make me want to be an air hostess.

I also re-watched The Souvenir (2019, Joanna Hogg) and somehow I’d forgotten that the entire movie consists of awkward conversations between posh people. Completely unbearable, but somehow in a good way.

§ That’s all. May you be rained on when you most want it.

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