Lawn Free: Whipper Snippers for Beginners

Finally.  After decades of fitful perseverance and multiple failed attempts, I am happy to confirm that I have now, officially, completed my evolutionary journey.  Whereas a short time ago I was still struggling to grow a pair of metaphorical back legs, I am now up and running.  I am whole.  I am complete.  I am evolved.  More to the point, I am now the owner of a whipper snipper.

 This achievement requires context.  To fully appreciate the Himalayan scale of this accomplishment, you need to know that my family have previously forbidden me from owning a whipper snipper (and, for that matter, a robot vacuum and a chainsaw – honestly, you threaten to juggle a chainsaw once and, suddenly, you’re banned for life).  This is both an outrage because it impinges on my absolute right to own the whipper snipper of my choice; as well as being best for all concerned for health and safety reasons.  It’s not as though I don’t have form.

I blame my father.  Not just on this particular issue, but generally.  But amongst the menagerie of tools that are stuffed inside his shed, there’s not a whipper snipper to be seen.  In that sense, he was both whipperless and snipperless.  Not that we allowed the grass to do as it pleased.  Instead, it was kept under control by the type of ride-on lawnmower that Mad Max would be proud to call his own.  The yard was enormous – it took several days of mowing around the clock to get the job done, by which point the idea of moving on to the whipper snipper probably seemed intensely unappealing.  When you’re dealing with that kind of acreage, that level of precision seems kind of redundant.

So whilst I’m a dab-hand with a ride on lawnmower, I’ve never ever laid so much as a finger on a whipper snipper.  Until now.  With a change of circumstances and a new address, it quickly became clear that it was time to launch myself into, if not the abyss, then my local Bunnings.

Let me make this clear – I have a lawn mower.  It’s battery powered and – there’s no easy way to say this – I absolutely love it.  I adore the fact that there’s no need to carry a little petrol can to the service station.  I am relieved that it doesn’t require a spark plug, grease or anything else you might associate with an internal combustion engine.  It’s one of my all-time favourite appliances, right up there with the microwave and the silicon oven gloves I bought at Spotlight (mock me if you will, but until you’ve known the security and comfort of a silicon oven glove, you best keep your thoughts to yourself).

It was because I love my lawnmower so much that I decided to get a matching whipper snipper.  It was good idea.  Or, at least, it was a good idea in theory.

The first thing I learned about whipper snippers is that they’re not called whipper snippers anymore.  Rather, they’re called ‘line-trimmers’.  This is a sad turn of events.  A ‘whipper snipper’ sounds like something that sorts out your garden before giving you a soft serve ice-cream.  Whereas a ‘line trimmer’ sounds like a grooming device you deploy before a trip to the beach.  Or, worse still, like a pair of scissors you take to a line-dancing event. 

In a practical sense, it meant I had to stand around for ages with my phone trying to figure out if I was buying the right thing.  After several hours of research whilst in aisle seventeen, I eventually concluded that the terms ‘whipper snipper’ and ‘line trimmer’ were interchangeable.  What was somewhat less interchangeable, however, was the battery.

I had determined to buy the same brand as my mower.  Not only would the colours match, it’d also be more efficient as I could use the same battery.  Or so I thought.  Having brought my new ‘line trimmer’ home, I unpacked the box and assembled the contents after only thirty-seven hours of continuous labour.  This, for me, constituted a new record.  Then I attempted to connect the battery, before discovering that it was the wrong size.

Batteries, as it turns out, come in different sizes.  As the owner of no fewer than sixty-eight remote controls, I’m acutely aware of this generally, but it never occurred to me these rules applied to lawn care.  It is impossible to describe the level of frustration I felt at that moment.  Had I owned a small tin of petrol I would, doubtless, have splashed the contents over the line trimmer and set it on fire.  Just to teach it a lesson.  Instead, I had to slink back to the hardware store and ask for a battery.  I suspect they felt sorry for me.

In possession of the right-sized battery, I charged it before attaching it to the line trimmer / whipper snipper.  As I pulled the trigger, the thin nylon line began to whir as the engine roared to life.  I was then asked by girlfriend, Katrina, whether I would mind taking it outside.  Being a cooperative person, I reluctantly obliged.

Nothing can describe the pure exhilaration I felt as I wielded the line trimmer like Arthur’s Excalibur, subduing the unruly edges of my front lawn.  I may well add ‘whipper snippering’ to my resume.   Right under ‘fully evolved’.

The Big Bendigo Crock of Ages Quest

It was an epic weekend, one that tested my patience, my sanity and my navigational skills.  Over the course of two days, I was pushed to the absolute limit, before being dangled over the precipice for an extended period as my knuckles turned white.  Looking back, I’m not sure how I survived.  Having seen ‘The Sixth Sense’ several times, I’m not entirely sure if I survived.  That’s because I spent a whole weekend watching sport.  In Bendigo.

I’m not really a sports fan.  I realize that’s an odd thing to say, but I’m profoundly averse to investing emotionally in something over which I have absolutely no control.  Plus, as a kid I went to the football with my father and witnessed firsthand the kind of emotional mayhem that comes with supporting the Essendon Football Club and it put me off the idea for life.  But some are born to sport.  Others have sport thrust open them.  That’s how I ended up in Bendigo.

I realize that some people will be drawn to speculate as to which sport I devoted my entire weekend.  Darts?  Polo?  Or some kind of revolutionary combination of both darts and polo that sees riders hurl small metal missives at each other as they canter from one end of the paddock to the other?  Unfortunately not.  Instead, I went to watch soccer.  Played by ten year olds.

I know.  The first thing about watching soccer in the company of other people who really, really like soccer is that you mustn’t, under any circumstance, call it ‘soccer’.  In fact, calling it ‘soccer’ – even if only by accident – is the quickest way to reveal that you’re a total and utter fraud.  Rather, the beautiful game must at all times be referred to as ‘football’. 

We were attending a soccer / football tournament somewhere north of Bendigo.  As we travelled, Liam celebrated his tenth birthday in the backseat of the car by confiscating my phone and selecting a playlist.  The results were not so much musical as they were harrowing.  Before our trip, I’d heard the name ‘Bo Burnham’ in passing.  Now I hope never to hear it again.  Ever.

We drove through town whilst being tailgated by a large, white Mercedes driven by a lady with massive sunglasses and even bigger hair.  Clearly, she’d travelled up from Melbourne.  According to Katrina, who was navigating, we were nearing our destination.  Then, without warning, I saw the words: ‘Bendigo Pottery’.  It was a sign.  Albeit one that just said ‘Bendigo Pottery’ but a sign nevertheless.  Finally, I could redeem myself.

My parents owned a bread crock from Bendigo Pottery.  I’ve no idea why.  A ‘bread crock’ is, as names go, about half right.  In essence, it was a giant ceramic jar with a lid in which you stored your bread.  Occasionally, bread would go into the bread crock and return in a state I can only describe as ‘green and furry’.  The only thing worse than owning a bread crock, though, is owning a slate floor.

I was ten at the time.  Instead of playing soccer (I mean ‘football’) I was playing ‘Charlie’ in the Tyabb Primary School production of ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’.  During our sold-out run of two shows, I tapped into Charlie Bucket’s heart of darkness and delivered an acclaimed performance for the ages.  But it left me exhausted.  It was whilst in this fugue state that I dropped the lid of the bread crock at which point it fractured into a million pieces on the slate floor.  Now, four decades on, I had a chance to get a new bread crock.

That idea lasted about five seconds, with five seconds being roughly the amount of time it took for me to mention that I’d really like to go to Bendigo Pottery and for Liam to remind me it was his birthday and there was no chance in hell he’d be spending it looking at pottery.  He smashed my dreams as surely as I had smashed the lid to the bread crock.

The tournament was a big deal.  There were cars everywhere and you could tell how uncomfortable some were to drive on gravel.  Others were shocked at the distance required to reach the nearest comfort station.  One parent decided to take matters and possibly something else into his own hands and wandered off into the long grass to answer a call of nature.  It seemed an unnecessary risk.  They probably don’t get many snakes in his part of Melbourne.

On the first day of the tournament, I watched four football games.  Which doubled my lifetime total.  Liam’s team won all four matches.  On the second day, there were two more matches, the first of which they won, the second of which they lost in a penalty shootout.  There was crying.  There was wailing and the gnashing of teeth.  Some of the children were also upset.  Eventually, I pulled myself together.

I may not know much about soccer / football, but I know I felt extremely proud that day as we drove back to Melbourne, a giant white Mercedes tail-gaiting as we went.  It was an epic and wonderful weekend.  Even if losing on penalties is a complete (bread ) crock.  Happy birthday, Liam.

When Memory Lane Is An Eight-lane Freeway

Getting older is a strange business.  Last month, I tripped over whilst jogging and crashed into the footpath with all the grace of the Hindenburg.  As I lay there, writhing in a mix of embarrassment and pain, I realized it was the first time I’d fallen without being able to get up.  It’s one of many less attractive aspects of ageing.  Hair disappears from the places you want it and sprouts from previously unexpected locations.  The idea of waiting to see a band whose gig starts at eleven o’clock (at night!) is not so much an inconvenience as it is unbridled insanity.

Worst of all, I regularly forget my age.  By which I don’t mean that I’m incapable of answering the question ‘how old are you?’ but that when spending time with younger people, I think of myself as their peer as opposed to their elder.  It’s a tragic case of self-deception.  One that disintegrates the moment I mention anything that happened before 1990 and I am left staring into a sea of blank faces.  When you make a reference to ‘Holiday’ by Madonna and no one else knows what you’re talking about, you know you’ve reached a turning point. 

It saddens me to think that there’s an entire generation who’ve no idea who Hector the Safety Cat is.  Last week, we spent a night in Guilford and our cabin had a cassette deck.  The ten year old was, in turns, bewildered and fascinated.  I found myself explaining the art of rewinding a tape to an enraptured audience who then proceeded to rewind every cassette he could find.  As I bathed in the whirring sound of a TDK C-90, I was flooded with thoughts of demo tapes and afternoons spent in cramped rehearsal rooms.  And then it came to me in a rush: Cam Rogers had died.

Twenty-four hours earlier, I’d been at a memorial service.  The room was a mix of lost friends and strangers with a picture of Cam looking over all of us.  The message had come as a shock.  It had been a simple email with the heading ‘About Cam (Maybe read after work)’.  Of course, I couldn’t wait and read the message almost immediately, but I struggled to understand what it was saying.  Maybe I was in shock.  Perhaps the truth of it seemed impossible for me.

I’d met Cam Rogers at Uni.  He was older, cooler and effortless.  In stark contrast, I was clueless, naïve and trying far too hard.  We didn’t have much to do with each other that first year but, inevitably, we fell into playing music together.  At first it was covers, playing other people’s songs for anyone willing to pay us to do so.  Some songs we performed with gusto.  Others we butchered.  But it was enormous fun.  After a time, the band started writing it’s own music.

There were five of us.  Having met at Uni, we ended up living together in a gigantic share house in St Kilda.  We thought we were bohemian and hip.  We were sorely mistaken.  Our house had seven bedrooms and psychedelic wallpaper and it was there that we wrote our songs.  Cam Rogers played bass.  When we started, his playing was rudimentary.  By the time it ended, he was extraordinary.

Being in a band may sounds trivial but it’s a big deal.  You experience a lot of highs and lows together with a group of people.  No matter how difficult things were, I don’t think I ever saw him lose his composure.  To say that about a housemate, much less a band-mate, is nothing short of remarkable.

There are plenty of things I could tell you about Cameron Rogers.  Such as the time that he stayed up too late drinking beer but decided that the best way to ensure he wasn’t late for work the next day was to connect his alarm clock to a one hundred watt bass amplifier.  The resulting din the next morning sent everyone within an eight hundred-metre radius shooting bolt upright, except for Cam who remained stubbornly asleep.  He was rarely rattled.

There was a consensus at the memorial – that as young men in our twenties we’d been (for want of a better term) idiots.  To some degree, that’s what being young is about.  For a brief period of time, you get to try and fail before moving on.  And, eventually, that’s what we all did.  Now we were all in the same room, dressed in suits like a long-forgotten boy-band making some last ditched-attempt at credibility. 

Eventually, the band broke up.  Which is exactly what most bands do.  Not long after, we all vacated that big, rambling share house in St Kilda.  I didn’t know it then, but it was the end of an era.  The other band members kept working together and, over time, I lost touch.  The last time I saw Cam, he’d performed at the Melbourne Comedy Festival as ‘Alexander Downer’ in a production called ‘Keating’.  The show and Cam’s performance were a total sensation.  It was a moment of exultant triumph.  That’s how I’ll remember him.

The worst thing about getting older is that people start to leave you.  At the front of the room was a table of memorabilia including photos.  Of him at school, at work and, of course, in the band.  It’s strange that you don’t see someone for years and then miss them when they’re gone.  But I do.  I’m grateful that I knew Cameron Rogers.  Rest in peace.