And lo, there it was. Yet another plot in a truly dismal state, presided over by yet another serial non-gardener who managed to hoodwink me into thinking he might be up for a spot of allotment gardening (yes, I know it’s been a godawful year and he and his like have all been far too busy elsewhere, as usual). So what to do about it? The weeds at waist height and heading for your throat, and the chances of getting said serial non-gardener kicked off coming in at somewhere between zero and minus 2, given the final implosion of the so-called “service” once offered by our landlords, the People’s Republic of Haringey. Well, we all know how the proverb goes: “If you want something done …”
So in the spirit of that, step forward my mate Rob of Mowdirect. Over a glass of light ale in the local, he lent his best bedside manner to my grumblings about the shocking state of said plot, along with my reminiscences on the subject of an old-fashioned Allen cutter – a “motorised scythe” that I once used, to massively destructive effect, in my former incarnation as a country lad. That beastie would have sorted out the offending jungle in about 20 minutes flat (I am told that something similar still exists, but about three times the price of what follows). Rob’s sympathetic hearing then morphed into the offer of a trial with one of his bits of kit – dunno what it’s called, apart from a “strimmer on wheels”. I get to have a go with what I dubbed “son of Allen”, and he gets a blog for his website. Beers were duly guzzled, off we went.
First things first – “son of Allen” proved to be a whole lot easier than the original Allen to start, and likewise a fair bit easier than many a temperamental 2-stroke strimmer. My second impression was that the gentle purr of the 4-stroke motor was a big relief from the demented-banshee din of a 2-stroke. It’s not self-propelled, but the big wheels (a bit like a golfing trolley) and light weight made it easy to manoeuvre, even over very uneven terrain (just as well really as we couldn’t actually see where we were going).
Once we dived into the thicket, it’s cutting credentials became apparent. Like the Allen, the machine’s preferred diet consisted of anything with a thick stalk – nettles, docks, thistles, brambles and tall grass. It seemed less interested in shorter grass, which it was inclined to flatten rather than cut. It showed an occasional tendency to become entangled in the long stuff (though nowhere near as badly as a conventional strimmer would have), though that may have as much to do with an inexperienced end-user. The blade comprised a heavy duty fixed cord (about 4mm diameter), the replacement of which was about 1,000 times easier to fit than some of the conventional strimmers I have tackled.
Fast-forward about 25 minutes, and little was left of our five-pole jungle, and not much left of the cord either (we hadn’t bought any spare), so we were obliged to adjourn for a further glass of light ale to toast our success with “son of Allen” and whet our appetites for the next bit of creative destruction.
So to answer the question – would I wish to acquire such a thing? The short answer is probably not – unless I had a regular and frequent use for one. If we at the allotment site continue to allow our tenants to flout their contracts and seek recourse in direct action only, then I may well try and bounce the site committee into buying one.
Bruno Dore has been site secretary (a voluntary role) at Shepherds Hill allotments in North London for more than 11 years (and a tenant for 16). The site is the largest in Haringey with 225 plots – most of them 5 or 6 pole plots, occupied by about 190 tenants.