A bicycle, a gate and a lawnmower. Scratching beneath the surface of suburbia

I’m out on my bike. A gorgeous day – cold and crisp as a shiny new apple, fresh from the fridge. Wearing my helmet, of course, so can’t exactly feel the wind in my hair, but never mind.

‘Urrreugh.’

I can’t write it. You’ll have to imagine it. A sound like a gruff voice howling from a cave.

I look around – we’re in big-house-and-garden-world here – and through a set of iron gates see what looks like a bear climbing out of a drain. OK, so bears aren’t this colour – sort of greyish – but it’s what my mind says.

That’s minds for you. Here I am in leafy suburbia – quite near Liverpool, actually – and mine says, ‘bear’.

Anyway, I’m about to cycle on, thinking it’s a workman calling his mate, when I realise it’s an elderly man, lying on the ground, yelling, ‘Help me!’.

I swing round and pedal across the empty road.

‘Are you all right?’ I ask. Then, rather feebly, realising he’s not, I yell through the gate,  ‘Help, is there anyone there?’

I pull out my mobile. ‘I’ll phone for—’

‘No!’ It’s a sharp cry.

The man’s lying on his side, one leg under his ride-on lawnmower, its trailer spewing autumn leaves across the neat driveway. The steep grassy bank he was navigating rises above him.

A woman runs across the garden. I’m about to leave – he plainly doesn’t want me there – but she can’t manage alone and opens the gate to let me in.

I prop my plum-coloured, pride-and-joy-bike against the wall and it falls over. That’ll be her first scratch, I think.

Ah well.

We attempt to haul the mower upright – and fail. So we regroup, I try to drag him out while she lifts the machine a smidge, enough for me to get his trapped foot out.

She – the gardener – runs off to fetch a neighbour.

Elderly man, breathing hard, is still on his side and though it’s no longer trapped, his leg’s lying under the big machine.

Which is leaking fuel.

So, why don’t I call 999?

Well, because the man becomes really quite agitated at the suggestion.

But I’m worried by that fuel approaching his leg. I want to move it. But should I?

I try to remember what Anthro-man (a first aider) does.

Is he hurting, I ask. Can he move?

I risk it – pull his leg out.

A few seconds later he crawls up onto all fours, like a bear – well, a bear on its knees.

Does a bear have knees?

Whatever – it wasn’t such a silly image, after all.

He’s breathing in gasps. I ask, again, if he’s OK.

Sounding grumpy now, he mutters that he just needs oxygen and nods when I ask if it’s in the house.

The neighbour arrives. A calm man, he offers reassurance – and tea, which elderly man refuses. He’s all right, fine, doesn’t need tea. I’d love a cup, but my presence seems to upset the lawn-mower roller-over. So off I cycle, faster than usual, adrenaline-powered, to the sea.

The waves are tipped with a thin foam of pale steely grey, glittering in the sun, like an elderly head with a tightly curled perm. I don’t stay long, I’m too buzzed with the experience.

Cycling home I notice the houses more than usual.

The homes of longstanding residents mostly have wrought iron gates, small brick walls and shoulder-height hedges. Boundaries, yes, but not total exclusion. Or seclusion.

The newer owners – property tycoons, footballers, gangsters or who-knows-what – have high, brutal fences, electronic gates and video entry systems.

Money, seeking privacy.

It’s an odd thing, privacy. A friend tells me he worries about me baring my soul online. I suppose I have been a bit open lately. But, you know, it’s been like breaking a log-jam.

All my life I’ve been attempting to be perfect – I know, it’s impossible, but it’s the legacy of my upbringing. My father was terribly shy and desperate to maintain his privacy. Our house was never welcoming to friends and we had hardly any relatives.

And I realise now what a tension it creates, that desire to keep everything hidden, to present a perfect face to the world. To refuse help.

‘No, I’m fine thank you. Don’t worry about me.’

So British.

When I published a book I had to screw up my courage. I posted a biography online and – horror of horrors – a picture. And you know what? It was a relief.

Which makes me wonder about privacy on a bigger scale. The fuss about the NSA’s surveillance of the world and all that’s in it.

Do we need privacy? What do we need it for? Is it only criminals who need to keep things secret? Or people with odd predilections who don’t want their loved ones to know? Or Trolls exploiting anonymity to be nasty?

Celebrities, poor things, crave privacy. Fame has set them atop a cruel, fickle, revolving pedestal – too fat, too thin, genius, stupid, druggy, wife beater. Spin, spin, spin. Nothing too private for the prurient.

So I can understand their fences and their electronic gates.

But where would the man on the lawnmower have been if it wasn’t the day for his gardener to call, or if his gates had been like his next door neighbours’ – high, solid wood and electronically controlled? What if an escaped bear had found its way into his garden? Sorry, silly thing to say, it was just that image of a bear on its knees.

My plum-coloured bike, by the way, isn’t scratched, but the basket’s a bit out of shape. It’s no longer perfect – and it’s a bit of a relief.

Coming soon (but not necessarily next): more about privacy, the future and the Facebook generation

This entry was posted in Liverpool, Thinking, or ranting, or both and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to A bicycle, a gate and a lawnmower. Scratching beneath the surface of suburbia

  1. Tess Ross says:

    So glad you bared your soul Mary … lovely story! And so good of you to help. It’s the little things that we can do for others that really count isn’t it? By the way, writing frees me up emotionally and that’s the reason Ive kept a private journal since 1980!! But even sharing on my blog helps also. All the best Tess x

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  2. charliebritten says:

    Enjoyed reading this, memoirsofahusk. What was the old man afraid of, I wonder? Was it just his pride?

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    • Yes, it was his pride, being helped by two women I suspect, he was much happier of course when his neighbour arrived and I understand that – admitting weakness can be difficult especially for his older generations of men. Glad you enjoyed it Charlie, thanks for reading.

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  3. Becky says:

    Thoroughly enjoy your style of writing and the way you describe your experiences. I’m right there with you, and can see the man “crawling on his knees like a bear”! I’m glad you stopped to help him, even if he didn’t want your help, he really did need it, he just didn’t know it. I’m sure in his quiet time of reflection on the event, he is quite thankful for you and your help! 🙂

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    • Hi Becky – thank you, what a nice thing to say! I’m glad you could share the experience. The chap was obviously embarrassed and once helpers that he recognised were there just wanted me to go – and I do understand that – and he did say thank you as I left. But it really did strike me how he would just have been lying there if he had lived in the house next door (I believe bought by a well known footballer) with high wooden fences and an entry phone system. Privacy is something so many of us seek and don’t realise that it comes at a price too. Thanks again Becky

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  4. Judy Barnes says:

    I’m so glad your plum coloured bike didn’t suffer as a result – but how sad for that man(and sad of him)to be unable to rise above his pride after a fall.
    I’m very grateful to you,amongst many,for your self honesty;we waste such a lot of energy talking trivia when there are real issues to share and learn from.A book called Kitchen Table Wisdom jumped off a book shelf at me,years ago,(well almost – kind of stood out)and it was all about sharing the stuff of life;sometimes mundane(unlike your blogs)around the kitchen table..that we all have a story to tell and invariably it will touch a nerve with someone.
    After my breakdown in the mid/late 70’s,I painted a series of watercolours called Growth Through Pain which I subsequently exhibited;it felt as though I was standing in the gallery stark naked.Very raw and vulnerable,but so many people said they caught glimpses of themselves,which was as if they were offering me a leather hide to wrap up in.
    It is so important to express feelings and thoughts for those who can’t and for us all to understand each other in the wider picture of humankind.
    Thanks Mary.xo

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    • Hello Judy, I’m touched and glad and, selfishly, grateful that you find something that speaks to you in my blog. I often feel like it’s – well, all sorts of things from self-indulgence to a waste of time – but every now and again someone says something that tells me we’ve connected and that they can realte to what I’ve said which helps them in some way – and then that helps me too! I empathise so much with your experience of feeling exposed when you put your work out for others to see – I don’t have to face people in real life (well some I do, some people I see do actually read this thing even if they never comment – which is almost worse – I mean, do they like them, hate them, love to find mistakes, jeer, cheer, what?!). I’ve always been very concerned to keep my privacy guarded (legacy of working for a then-reviled privatised industry when a colleague opened the door to a man threatening to punch him just for what he did for a living) but now wonder if that’s just part of our human problem. Retreat to the susburbs, build a fence, add a gate, shut the door and turn inwards. Hunter-gatherers have little or no privacy do they? I’ve never had a breakdown but have experienced real depressions and it’s awful. I see nothing shameful in admitting we sometimes can’t take what the world is for us or does to us. I look forward to seeing some more of your work one day – meanwhile, the vultures are still perched on the bookshelves! Mxx

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Thanks for reading, please comment if it struck a chord

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