Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Illicit Mowing

Strewth what a hullabaloo! If anyone has followed this blog over the last 2 years you might have read about the incident over at Great Berry Open Space. A quick synopsis -

The field is a council field and when the football season had finished we started to practice over on the field. But it is just a field and it's used by footballers so there's loads of ruts and damage to the surface and we found that when you were trying to bowl the ball at 90m.p.h it was dangerous because of the uneveness of the grass surface. People were ending up having a ball in the face so we had to come up with a solution. I noticed that in between the two pitches there was a bit of no-mans land and it was much flatter and smack bang in the middle of the field. The only thing was - the grass was too long. What to do? My solution was to get a mower and mow it - so okay it looks a bit nuts some bloke in the middle of a public field mowing it with a tiny little qualcast panther mower, but other than that our cricket team had no-where to go and that would have been the end of that. Besides, I'm sure that when people like Christopher Columbus set out on his journeys and Leonardo Davinci told people there'd be helicopters in the future people sniggered at them and look how fun we're all having off the back of their nutcase endeavours, who knows one of these boys in 15 -20 years time might be lifting the Ashes in Australia? So I'm not fussed what people think.

Note* prior to starting the mowing I checked all the byelaws regarding the use of council fields and no-where is there anything that says you cannot use a lawnmower to cut the grass. An electric or petrol mower would be a different issue. Damaging trees and pulling up plants is obviously vandalism but mowing daisies, buttercups, dandelions and an inch or two off a patch of grass that constitutes 2 or 3% of the field doesn't seem to be a breach of the byelaws?

But then the inevitable happened - I was busted! The council turned up and caught me red handed, but instead of kicking me where the sun doesn't shine as suggested by someone else on a green-keepers website, the council blokes were really positive about what I was doing and supported my actions. Now these blokes weren't labourers, one of them was the area manager for the bourough. They went as far as right there and then ringing the green-keeper of the nearby cricket pitch to see if he could get a roller onto our field and get it really flat, but they couldn't get it over without having to commission a flatbed truck. So what they then did is arrange that we could use the cricket pitch free of charge for the rest of the summer on Sunday mornings if it wasn't being used by anyone else.

So with the support of the council once a fortnight I'd mow the grass with my Qualcast Panther and we'd have a practice in relatively safe and even grass. Then one evening I noticed that there was a bloke watching me cut the grass at the nearby pub that over-looked the field and he looked agitated and animated while using the phone and watching me. Eventually he came over and basically told me I couldn't mow the grass anymore because he was in the residents association and they paid money to play football on the field and that if I had any issues about this I should ring Mr X at the council and he'd put me straight. I pointed out that Mr Y at the council had sanctioned my mowing and I'd contact his Mr X in my own time and find out why he was contradicting my Mr Y? But more importantly if his Mr X was a council employee why was he getting drunk, abusive and intimidating cronies to do his work for him?

I didn't appreciate this drunk blokes threatening behaviour and decided to bypass all the Mr X and Mr Y's and go straight to the most senior person I could find. I emailed local MP's and different NGO's with agenda's around widening participation in sport and the encouragement of sport as well as the Director of Parks and Gardens (Mr A). It took a few weeks and while all this happened we stopped practicing on the field and as a consequence the momentum and enthusisasm waned and our team disintegrated.

It turned out that the Cronie's Mr X was in fact my Mr Y and that Mr Y knew nothing of the Football yobs feelings regarding me mowing their football pitch. In fact Mr Y took offence of the Football yobs use of his position to intimidate me and also the inference that the field was under the control of the football/residents association. On Mr A's instruction Mr Y had a meeting with the residents association and the football club and reviewed their use of the field and then found that the verbal agreement that they had with regards the use of the field and the payments to use the field were not being upheld. This then kicked into place a new formal contract that made it very clear that we or anyone else could use the field for cricket out of season.

Finally I received a call from the most senior person Mr A at the council and he said that we'd no longer have any aggro off of the football bloke and his residents association. He then went on to say that we could play cricket on the field anytime we liked once the football season was over. I asked whether we could mark a boundary out and play a proper game and he said as often and whenever you like. Nothing was said about the mowing of the grass - it wasn't mentioned.

At the time this was all happening as well as trying to get support from local MP's, NGO's and the council I posted a synopsis of the situation on a Green Keepers website asking how they'd feel if someone took to mowing a patch of grass on one their field 66' x 9' once a fortnight and the reaction was unbelievable - they went absolutely ballistic. They would be livid and their main argument was that it was a massive health and safety issue and that if anyone was to get hurt I'd end up in prison and/or get sued. But the weird thing was my council sanctioned and supported my actions and thought that what I was doing was good? Again the green-keepers website were incredulous "If the chiefs at the council new what you were doing...... " But they did! The last call had been from the Director of Parks and Gardens?

Now I can see that there might be a health and safety issue if I was using a electric mower and that maybe if there were people crowding around as I was mowing within range of a stone being kicked up by the blades someone might get seriously hurt. But it's a 12" blade manual mower with no-one within 400 yards of what I'm doing and it's all over and done with within 10-15 minutes. No-one comes near me because they probably think I'm either a council employee or I'm from the local mental institute or they simply hate cricket and have no reason to come and have a chat while I'm mowing. Besides this is England when do English people ever approach strangers and start talking? It is never going to happen is it - so where on earth are the H&S issues the Green-keeper blokes are getting so wound up about?

Another point; Surely if you were a council employee and your remit was to look after the field and the safety of the people using it would you not be more concerned about the blokes that ride up and down the pathways on 400cc Quadbikes or scrambling bikes that then get onto the field and race up and down like Steve McQueen at up to 50mph doing jumps over what were Golf bunkers whilst being chased by Rottweiller and Pit Bull dogs off their leads? Or gangs of kids smashing windows of the changing facilities and toilets, pushing over site screens and smashing them up, or stealing carp out of the lakes to eat, rather than get really wound up by a bloke that cuts another 2" off your grass after you've cut it with your tractor mower? A bloke you never see and no-one else ever sees because he's so discreet?

One of the blokes as mentioned earlier said that if he caught me he'd stick his boot where the sun doesn't shine. Well - let's look at this point on the field that I was cutting this summer. Imagine the scene...... It's dusk 9pm and for ten minutes I'm on the field with my mower preparing for the next knock about with my sons and the cricket kids off the estate. Then I notice that there's a van and bloke with big boots un-doing the lock on the gate trying to come in and he doesn't look to happy. For a second I think - ooh crap has my 12" manual mower just kicked up a stone or chip from the wicket and flown 150 feet over or through the trees and embeded itself in someones eye? Probably not but I can see I'm not wanted and I'll start packing up. Now Percy Park-keeper has 2 options now -

1. He comes into the field and shouts "Hold on mate" and gets on the phone to the local constabulary.
"Is that the police"?
"Yes this is desk sargeant Plod - can I help sir".
"Yeah - I'm down the road at x and there's a bloke here vandalising our field can you send a car out and nick him"?
"What exactly is he doing sir and can you describe him"?
"He's mowing a piece of grass 66' x 9' in the middle of our field - he looks about 40 + years old - going grey".
"But what is he doing sir"?
"He's mowing the grass"?
"No sir the vandalism - what is he doing"?
"Yeah - he's cutting the grass - that's the vandalism..... I normally cut it and leave it 4" and this blokes cutting it about 1/2".
"Right sir let me get this straight - there's a man with a mower mowing a small section of your field and he's cutting it shorter than you want - is that it"?
"Yes - he's vandalising the field".
"So okay sir - I've a list here of jobs our chaps have got to attend in the next 2 hours. There's a car crash on the A2, there's a domestic issue in Acacia drive where a man is reporting a woman is being beaten up, there's a burglarly in Chard Hill, over at the night clubs there's been a fight, we've got a missing child, we've got reports of children on the railway line throwing stones at the trains........ shall I go on sir? We'll get a car out to you as soon as possible, I wouldn't think it'll be there this side of midnight though and that's if nothing else turns up in between".

Scenario 2

1. He comes into the field and shouts "Hold on mate" walks over to me and kicks me up the bum "What the **** are you doing you **** this is my field you ******* ****-taker, get your ******** mower off this field and never come back again".
"Whoa - slow down, I'm going, but I'm just going to make a phone call". Guess who I call? Yes the police but I want to report an assualt. Being realistic though I wouldn't expect the police to turn up anyway, but as I walk out of the field making the call I'd then go round to the entrance and take the blokes vehicle registration number and get a good description of him. I'd then write to his employees once I'd got and incident report number and let them know that their staff are of the type that assault people for no good cause and do my damndest to get the bloke sacked.

Admittedly there might be a counter claim on the basis of tresspass and possibly vandalism which I really think is stretching it a bit. In the meantime I'd photograph the vandalism and how soon without a trace it naturally disappears with no-ones input. I'd also photograph all of the fencing and all the (Non existent) attempst that the owners make to state clearly that no-one is supposed to tresspass on the field. There are loads of holes in the fence and the gate is never locked.

Tresspass laws in the UK are notoriously weak, you can access someones house go inside and sit in their living room, turn on the tele and refuse to leave when asked to and not commit any serious crime. The people's house in which you've tresspassed run a massive risk of falling foul of the law if they resort to violence in any way in the process of trying to eject you from their house. Even taking your arm and man-handling out of the house or off the field could easily fall foul of assault if the action ended in bruising.

So even though the Green-keepers are really wound up by my mowing, they really do need to get a sense of perspective. I can only assume that they live in little villages where nothing else happens and that they read the Daily Mail?

added later.....

Oh yeah, I've been on the field numerous times when the police have been over-head hovering in their helicopter and up there they'd be able to see what I'm doing very clearly, but strangely they never seem to have seen fit to send a squad car over and ask me what I'm doing?