1Weeds to Triffids

You Little Beauty

Unseasonably warm weather is an opportunity not to be missed. The grapevines are pruned; ready for the coming season. My next task is to till the ground between the rows. Brilliant sunshine and damp soil transform dormant winter weeds into ravaging triffids.

In years gone by, weeding the vineyard was one of my least favourite jobs: hour after hour of back breaking labour, wielding a mattock. Nowadays; in a perverse kind of way, I quite enjoy it.

This unexpected change of heart coincided with the acquisition of a rotavator. She’s a little beauty, fire engine-red with a powerful, single cylinder 4.5 horse power petrol engine.

During the winter months she sits in a corner of the shed, waiting to spring into action. Unfortunately, spring start-ups tend to be a slow affair.

Carefully, I wheeled her out from the shed and stood her straight and level on the terrace. Sympathetic to her extended break, I twisted open the dip-stick and checked her fluid level. She was a bit on the low side. Taking care not to spill, I topped up the oil and she was ready for off.

Hand on handlebars we walked across the garden and into the vineyard. The bright sunshine reflected off her gleaming-red paintwork. I adjusted the transporting wheel and lowered her row of tines onto the weedy ground. So far she’d been the perfect workmate, and I the attentive handler.

The operating controls couldn’t be simpler. On the left hand side of the handlebars is the throttle control. The lever has three settings; full choke to assist cold starts, the symbol of a tortoise indicating slow, and a hare indicating fast. On the right hand side another lever engages the transmission. What could be simpler? All I had to do was coax her into life.

I slid the throttle lever into the full choke position and grabbed the starter pull cord. This is where things become slightly less predictable and a hell of a lot more physical. After a long, damp winter, getting her going usually proves problematic. Summoning all my strength I yanked on the starter cord. Nothing: not a cough or a splutter. I pulled again, and again, and again. Fatigue started to set in.

1Weeds what weeds

As my strength drained, my rhythm became more erratic: the recoil trap loomed.

I was rapidly reaching the point when an under strength tug could initiate a ferocious starter recoil resulting in agonising shoulder whiplash; and believe me, when that happens it chuffing hurts. On this occasion I managed to avoid this unpleasant experience and on my eighth almighty effort she exploded into life.

A long lay-off and a cylinder smothered in engine oil form a lethal combination. As she burst into life, plumes of blue smoke ejected from the exhaust billowed into the air. As she emptied her cylinder, I filled my lungs. Like two old smokers, the pair of us coughed and spluttered. Within a minute she’d burnt away any remaining oil deposits and I’d emptied my lungs of carbon monoxide.

Now for the real challenge: like a Grecian wrestler I took a firm grip of the handlebars and prepared for the ride of my life. Engaging the transmission sent my wrestling partner leaping into action. Up and down, side to side, a relentless battle of man against machine and machine against the earth. Four hours later and the first round of hostilities drew to a close. I was exhausted, my swollen arms screamed in pain and my bruised knees throbbed but together we’d reined supreme.

Weed, who are you calling a weed?

Copyright © 2014 Craig Briggs

1You little beauty

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