It's British AND broken – perfect for Al the lawnmower man

| 6 Aug 2011

I’ve been obsessed with cars since before I could walk, but in recent years I’ve noticed an alarming trend. Actually, it isn’t really alarming to me, but my wife is certainly becoming a little perturbed. You see, I’ve found myself increasingly being drawn to other “old junk” as she likes to refer to it, in addition to the cars (and bits of said) that already litter our suburban semi.

Fortunately, for my own safety, I haven’t yet been bitten by the ‘bike bug (although it’s surely only a matter of time), but the groaning shelves are being overloaded still further by books on yachts, tractors, powerboats, planes and steam trains, plus Airfix kits of Ekranoplans and warbirds.

It’s all about the lure of machinery, the oilier and smellier the better – preferably with a light coating of surface rust and some faded signwriting. Mmmmm. The bottom of the garden is my domain, where I’m lucky enough to have a shed and a rickety asbestos garage, the latter already crammed to the rafters (and in the rafters themselves) with car parts – chipped windscreens, rusty doors and desirable period optional extras that are too rusty to fit to the car but that I just couldn’t resist buying.

The conversion of the shed into a proper man-nest began with a delicious old solid-beech workbench that a teacher friend of mine rescued from the skip when his school refitted its CDT workshops (although I think they’re called something different these days) with nasty plastic tables. And now I have moved on to the garden itself.

I do already own a mower, a horrid orange Flymo job that functions perfectly well, but is about the most unsatisfying tool that I have ever used. It doesn’t even cut the grass in a particularly attractive manner. ‘What I need,’ I thought to myself, ‘is one of those cricket-ground specials. Then I’ll have a perfectly striped, manicured lawn.’

Now I do have some experience in these matters: my early indoctrination into machinery came in a garage at the bottom of my dad’s garden that contained a fearsome bottle-green Dennis ride-on groundsman’s mower – that when I was little seemed like some sort of mechanical monster from a Stephen King novel, but that I grew to love for its all-round magnificence – and a pair of Suffolk Punches. I used to strip and (try to) rebuild the latter, with their disintegrating fuel taps and single-pot motors with fading compression, and even attempted to turn one into a go-kart.

Now, in a sad childhood revival that I’m kidding myself is a sensible and practical idea, I own another, a fantastic-looking aged Suffolk Super Punch secured after a few glasses of red via ebay for the princely sum of £2.21. Drawbacks? Well, it doesn’t work – serious déjà vu here – but it can’t be that complicated to fix, can it? And even if I can’t it’ll be a great garage prop beside the MG.

And it turns out I’m not alone in this passion – nor even the worst-afflicted in the office. Nestling in the garden of art man Port’s home is a quite scrumptious David Brown water pump, in chipped green paint with Villiers engine. It was unearthed by the maintenance guys at work and swiftly made its way from a skip into the back of his Land-Rover. Must say, I’m more than a bit envious, but then Mr P does have a rather more sympathetic missus than most.

So come on, fess up, it can’t be an affliction restricted to the sadder end of the C&SC office; what mechanical skeletons lurk in your closet?