Notes from Catherine Rowett, former Green Party MEP for East of England and deputy coordinator of the Eastern Region Green Party*(UK). Biographical reflections on life as an MEP. Longer reflections and discussions on issues relating to policy, the good life, justice, equality, anti-austerity economics and the future of the planet. This is also a forum for exchanging ideas on how to tread lightly on the planet and avoid supporting exploitation and corrupt practices. Here we go...

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Gardening the hard way

As I sit in my study (being on research leave, I'm doing a bit more of this) I watch other lucky people (the gardeners employed to do the shared areas of our courtyard) come and spend their time doing energetic things in the fresh air and the sunshine. Today they have been shooing leaves about with a noisy machine that pretends to be the wind.
Now, what more stupid activity could you engage in on a very windy autumn day, than shooing leaves about with a blower? What a waste of fossil fuels! The mischievous leaves briefly go in the direction you intended, but then you turn your attention to the next leaf, and the one you just deposited gets up and goes somewhere else, assisted by the much more powerful Boreas, who knows a thing or two about how to scatter Autumn leaves. When, briefly, you do succeed in making a small and rather loose pile of leaves in some corner, out of the wind, then you come along with the next two or three leaves you've just collected with your blower, and as you approach your untidy pile of leaves, the blower helpfully blows away the ones you'd already got there, in its attempt to deposit the newcomers. Off they all go again, and you're back to square one.
I don't know what you call this stupid machine for blowing leaves, but I am quite certain that it is one of the most useless inventions known to mankind. What you need (Mr Gardener) is a large outdoor broom and a pair of boards. Someone long ago, many thousands of years ago, invented the idea of a broom, and really this is one of the best inventions known to mankind. You sweep up the leaves with the broom, and then you pick them up in piles with the pair of boards (holding one board in each hand and pulling them hard together with the leaves compressed between them) and load the leaves into the wheelbarrow like that. It's easy. In fact, I don't think it's any harder than lugging that ineffectual blower around. And it's good for you. And it's quiet. And it would be much more satisfying for me to watch from my window, though it would make me more envious of your job.


Anonymous said...

The device you refer to is known variously as a 'leaf blower' or a 'garden vac'. I own one (unlike your gardeners' one, mine's electric-powered, so can use non-fossil-fuel energy if my electricity supplier can get any). It's an absolute godsend in the autumn when one lives in a clearing in a wood, as this part of Edgbaston is, and reduces the time required to collect up the leaves by a factor of about four compared to the broom/rake and two boards method I used until about four years ago. Brooms are all right on tarmac, but no good on grass, which needs a rake.
Employing a powered labour-saving device to clear the leaves, in the same way as using hoovers and washing machines and lawn mowers, allows us to sit at computers and do interesting and/or remunerative things and probably to pay someone else to clear the leaves.
It's never sensible to try and collect dry leaves on a windy day, whether using a blower or a broom. The trouble, no doubt, is that your contract with the gardeners requires that, during the months of October and November, they clear fallen leaves at least once a week. They put the task down on the schedule to be done on Wednesday 1 October, not knowing that it would be windy that day. You or I would have decided to swap tasks around, and done it tomorrow or friday instead, but commercial firms aren't able to do that nowadays because of 'quality standards' and BS5750 and auditing of their processes and Health and Safety and all the other nonsense that they have to do to get awarded the Evening Court gardening contract.

Catherine Rowett said...

Well, Philip, I might be tempted, since I am your irritating sister, to make rude observations about your not-entirely-satisfactory height to weight ratio, and suggest that less time in front of the computer and more time in the garden with a rake would be no bad thing (subject of course to the risk of the same thing being thrown back at me).
If you really believe your electricity company is supplying the bit of energy you used for the blower from a wind farm, you're a bit optimistic I think. If we all used a lot less of the stuff a greater proportion of it would be from such resources, and there'd be a slim chance that you weren't thereby causing them to burn that much more in the gas powered power stations.