‘Did you put this together yourself?’ he said. His eyes eyes gave nothing away at all: not a flicker of interest, or disdain, no sign of the complete and utter sense of despair he must have felt, as I showed him the lawnmower. The landscape gardener who lives across the road said that there was no problem with the mower that a service wouldn’t fix, and why not go to the next village?
It went badly. I stopped to ask an elderly lady with too much shopping wher the lawnmower repair shop was. She balanced her various purchases carefully, and said, ‘Don’t ask in there’ – she nodded at the new mini-mart – ‘but they’ll know in the corner shop’. I said thank you very politely, and as he moved, I saw the sign saying GARDENING SUPPLIES behind her head.
‘Do you fix lawnmowers?’ I asked, politely. He looked at me as if to ask whether, looking around the shop, I noticed that it consisted principally of lawnmowers in various states of disrepair.
‘You want your lawmower fixed,’ he replied, monotonously. After a pause, he added ‘Have you got it with you?’ It was true, I looked the sort of idiot who might have failed to bring it. I said Yes. He disappeared through a door and nodded me back through the entrance to the shop. We met in the car park, and he extracted the mower from the back seat. ‘I don’t know how you got it in here,’ he said. Looking at it, neither did I. Especially when the car was full to the gunwales with dead videos on their way to the dump.
This was the point when he asked me whether I had put it together. I stalled him, by saying I couldn’t remember. (Yes I had.) ‘These things her are supposed to be on the outside, not the inside,’ he said, indicating some wing-nuts. Oh. Still, I thought, it has cut the grass a fair few times. It took me back in one horrible flash to the last, the very last time I went camping, in France. It was somewhere south of Paris, I had been driving for two hours looking for a site, and the one I found was about to close. I hurried in and put the tent up. As I did so, a voice from the next camping-space said ‘I think you’ll find that that bit is supposed to be inside, not outside.’ The owner of the voice then stripped my tent down and put it back up, adding ‘No charge.’ Bastard. And the next day, I went to a camping shop after the lantern went kaput, and disgraced myself further by asking ‘Avez-vous un lit?’
Well I think it’s an easy mistake to make.
‘What sort of engine does it have?’ asked the lawnmower man. ‘It says Briggs & Stratton,’ I said helpfully.
‘Oh yes, very good make’ – was it? it was in a B&Q sale ten years ago – ‘but what sort of engine?’ I gave a colossal shrug, and he had a look. ‘Also,’ he said, ‘when you put it in the car, you broke the cable. That’ll take some finding.’ And off he went, sucking his teeth, I bet, only not showing it. Machines. I was not born to own them.