I have a good relationship with my lawnmower repair man. I have never met him and he has never once asked me to bring the mower to him or come out to repair it.
What he does is give me free moral support for my own efforts. He saves his time and I save my money.
To be frank I am not very good with combustion engines. Just as some people go to pieces at the mention of maths, I tend to lose the will to live when the mower packs up.
It is not a logical response. It is an emotional one. There is an overwhelming feeling of entering a strange land where parts covered in grease and compacted dried grass do unknowable things in complicated ways and have impenetrable names.
And then you look at the manual (only available online) and all it tells you is not to ride it on a slope. In manual world, people’s mowers don’t pack up. Or if they do, they telephone the manufacturer who instantly whizzes out the right part – complete with a team of mechanics in spotless uniformed overalls – labelled “Mountfield” to install it. Or they give you a complete new mower.
In the real world, the mower is an expensive bit of kit, badly designed and assembled, that will pack up for a host of generally fairly simple reasons – but there is no one in the shop where you bought it, or at the manufacturer, to tell you how to fix it.
Also things happen to the mower that seem designed to sap your mental energy. For example – the latest mower fault was a broken belt. Now, warning, here comes the mechanical part – ride-on mowers have two belts – one that drives the wheels and the other that drives the blades. The one that broke for me was the blade belt.
I got on the phone to Simon, my official mower repair man, to ask his answer machine how easy is it to replace the blade belt. “Pretty easy,” was his voicemail reply. “If you look underneath you should be able to see how it fits on.”
Well, eventually, I did. With the help of my father – moral support again – and a great deal of logical thinking, we got the new belt on correctly. It did need more advice from Simon and the loosening of one pulley – but we did it.
Back to mowing the lawn – neglected now for so long that dandelion flowers had turned to dandelion clocks and the buttercups were growing into shrubs. A couple of hours mowing and the ride-on suddenly refused to ride. The engine was going but the mower was not moving. Heart in mouth I clambered off to lie flat on the grass and inspect the dark mass of pulleys and cogs underneath. Sure enough, the drive belt had now broken.
It is genuinely hard to believe that the mower isn’t doing this deliberately as some kind of emotional wind-up.
So what to do? Reader, I slept on it.
Long ago I read a book called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Much of it was guff, but one bit really stuck in my mind. That was the bit that said that if you are trying to repair something mechanical and it is getting you down then stop. Take a break, think about something else, have a cup of tea. Once the anger and frustration are no longer there, your mind is left free to actually think of a solution. But also to build up the moral courage to tackle the job.
So I left it a couple of days. I got onto Youtube, where generally there is an American farmer drawling into a smartphone held by his wife/daughter while he shows you how to replace a belt on his ride-on mower. The mower restarts and they wife “yeehaars!” him as he drives off into the dust. But there wasn’t. No one on the internet it seems knows has to repair a Mountfield 1430 ride on.
And then I phoned the voicemail of Simon my repair man. “Is this as easy to do as the blade belt?” I asked. Ominously my answer machine received no reply for a day. I slept on it again. And during the sleepless hours in early morning, my brain somehow resolved that I was being silly. That it would be relatively easy to do. They MUST have made the mower so that the drive belt can be replaced. It would just be a case of unscrewing what needed to be unscrewed to get at the pulleys around which the belt travelled and then loosening whatever pulley needed loosening to get the belt on. And then putting it all back together again.
That’s what my early morning brain told me. And it was right. I stuck to it all of the next day. Unscrewing bits of metal and plastic in inaccessible places, all with different size bolts, all needing different spanners. Until I reached the nirvana of the six pulleys that held the drive belt.
I put the new belt back on. Screwed all the little gizmos back in to their places. Reconnected the battery….Except I couldn’t reconnect the battery because I had lost the tiny nut that holds the wire onto the negative pole. Next day a trip to the hardware store, back again, insert the nut, turn the ignition. Bingo! The engine started. Into gear, kazam! The mower moved forward. Connect the blades – Whump! The blades turned around.
I have fixed the mower. I reported back to Simon the repair man. “Well done,” he said. “You’ll have to come and help me with some jobs.” Now that’s an accolade.