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Suffolk & Norfolk Life

Another interesting article from October’s edition of Suffolk & Norfolk Life. The cut off point. No more mowing the lawn for John Stone – he rather likes autumn. That’s it, then. Summer, at last, is over for the year and we’re heading for the dark evenings and the frosty mornings.

For months to come, there’ll be no more deserted midday villages baking silently in the heat of the sun, no more languid toffee ice-cream under the trees, no more larks ascending joyously above the parched fields and, in the chill North Sea wind, yachts can only clink their rigging in lonely isolation, abandoned now until the first spring warmth brings their owners back.

And good riddance to the lot of it, too. If we still had our wits about us, besotted as we are with the notion that the only good weather is the weather that will burn our skin a dark orange colour, the end of summer would be a period of rejoicing for everybody, of festive rumpypumpy on the village green and in the beer-gardens of village pubs across the county. Church bells in old flint towers would peal out triumphant Grandsire Triples and roasted chestnuts be given away freely on street corners to warm the heart’s cockles under the bunting strung from tree to tree.We would be eating caviar to the sound of trumpets.

Why? Because we don’t have to mow the lawn any more, that’s why.

For the next few months, the lawnmower, that evil contraption so productive of far more than its fair share of the world’s blood, tears, toil and sweat, can be shunted away into the garden shed to rust quietly away in the gloom. It’ll rest there alongside the lawn edging iron, the lawn edging shears, the lawn scarifier gadget, the lawn spreader, the lawn rake, the lawn aerator thingy, the strimmer, the lawn roller, the lawn sprinkler, the bags of lawn moss killer and clover killer and the sacks of lawn food for the spring and lawn food for the autumn.

Where did we all go wrong? Astretch of grass was once a pleasaunce, a place of gentle pleasures and jewelled wild flowers and easy relaxation where you could lazily watch the clouds scudding across the sky and listen to the humming of bees in the lavender, a green oasis where children could gambol and peacocks strut and somewhere in the background there was always the trickle of water.

Now, it gives us nothing but neurotic anxieties, stress and worry. None of this would have been possible had it not been for the culprit who helped to create our national obsession with lawns. And, appalling though the admission may be, it all happened in East Anglia. Indeed, it happened in Ipswich.

Robert Ransome started up an iron foundry in Ipswich at the end of the c18th. They produced all sorts of agricultural machinery, from harrows to cultivators, ploughs to threshing machines. It was an innocent and profitable occupation that gave employment to many and did harm to none. Then, on an ill-fated day in the 1830s, the Ransome people bumped into a gentleman called Edwin Budding, from Stroud, in Gloucestershire. He’d come up with an idea for a machine to make lawns as smooth as the cloth he was used to working with. The Ransomes bought the patent and began churning out lawnmowers by the hundreds, by the thousands – and they’ve never looked back and all our lives have been changed for ever.

And, to our eternal shame, it happened practically outside our own garden gates, just down the road in Ipswich. (Mind you, Ransome was originally a Norwich man, though even that’s not much of an excuse.)

Lawnmowers? Pah! All you need is a couple of sheep. At least you can eat them.


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