There's the thing about coming to live in a quiet, rural neighbourhood. You don't have noise. Or, put correctly, you don't expect noise. In London, I was lulled to sleep by the sound of sirens; here there's a blissful nothing, except the birds and, in warm weather, the gentle hum of insects. Which makes any noise all the more intrusive - and the summer lawnmower menace so much worse.
We are blessed with few neighbours here - the houses on our country lane are far apart and everyone can have a fair bit of land and privacy for relatively little expense. I enjoy our big, beautiful trees and I've made some modest attempts at gardening.
Americans, however, have an obsession with smooth, green lawns. Practically every house you see is surrounded by a huge, empty expanse of lawn - often with no fence between it and next door's. How the average Brit would shudder at that. And often there's hardly a tree or flower to be seen, or even any children scuffing the immaculate surface with a football. I don't know what they have these lawns for except to look at them.
And mow them. I have a feeling Americans don't mow the lawn because it's there; they put in a lawn so they can mow. And in mowing, make as much din as possible. Loud lawnmowers, of the rider kind (Heaven forbid they should have to push anything) are status symbols - the ghetto blasters of the middle classes. One of our neighbours is in possession of the noisiest ride-on mower known to man. And he has an uncanny knack of sensing just when I'm about to pop outside for a little relaxing coffee break. No sooner have I settled myself into the sun lounger - currently unoccupied by the turkey family - than there's an ominous clank and off he goes, the sound amplified a hundred-fold by the echo from the hills behind. Another nearby mower is so loud you can even hear it inside the house with the windows closed and the chap has so much lawn he takes hours over it, going back and forth meticulously in case he misses a blade. How do I just know that, tomorrow, which promises to be the first sunny day for a while and we have guests for lunch and want to sit outside, he is going to be out there and at it.*
Even people further into town, with very small lawns, have ride-on mowers - the size of the mower often in direct proportion to the girth of its owner. Instead of getting some useful exercise pushing a normal mower, they sit on their ridiculously expensive little tractors, going round in small circles, headphones on, their faces trance-like, almost as though enacting a religious ritual. To me it seems inexplicable, except, as hubby suggests, it may be the only time they can escape to some peace and quiet.
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