Old John came out today to mow Big John's lawn and the paths. He looked terrible. His hair was long and awry. His clothes were scruffy - he was wearing an old pair of jogging bottoms - and he had ink from a ballpoint staining his breast pocket.
He has a splendid petrol mower, but he could barely hang on to it. He managed to do Big John's lawn, then set off down the path, the mower almost running away with him. It ground to a halt near the end of the path, and he stopped to empty the grass holder. I said I could use the grass on the allotment. I'd just been digging a particularly clayey, rock hard bit, and had only just been thinking it needed lots of organic matter in there.
I emptied the grass holder, but he couldn't start the mower again. He wore himself out pulling the string to start it. I didn't dare offer to help. I'd already offered to mow the paths but he said he didn't want anyone else using the mower because it was "temperamental". I'd also offered to move the table and chairs off the lawn, but he'd said he could manage, though I saw him struggling with the wooden table.
He came back up the path muttering that "it must be flooded", which saved me saying it. I had decided not to because women aren't supposed to know things like that and he would've felt insulted if he thought I thought I knew better than him what was wrong with it, just as he would've been insulted if I'd been able to start it and he hadn't or I'd been able to pick up the table and he hadn't. Such are the ridiculous considerations women have to make with old-fashioned men like John if they care about them and want to protect their pride. I wouldn't have bothered with anyone younger.
The mower stalled twice more, and each time John pushed it laboriously back into his garden by his door. He obviously didn't feel safe leaving it on the allotment, even though I was there to keep an eye on it. After the last time, he drove it back to his garden and disappeared. After a while I put the garden furniture back on Big John's lawn. Old John had said he had two more bags of grass he'd already mown from his own lawn, but I knew I wasn't going to get them today, nor the last hopper full of grass he'd mown from the path. The whole episode made me feel very young, strong and healthy. I forgot to ask after Joan. I'd better ask Big John first, I think.