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Tim Dowling: I’m going to start answering the door holding a chainsaw

Aug 20, 2023Aug 20, 2023

People who want to give me leaflets about God seem taken aback when I appear with garden implements

I open the front door to find two women standing on the other side of it, one of them poised to push the bell.

“Oh!” she says, taking a step back.

“Hello,” I say.

“I can see we’ve caught you at a busy moment,” she says. She means: I see that you are holding a large electric hedge trimmer.

By this point my wife had already asked me several times to cut the high hedge that grows along one edge of the front garden, between us and next door. I had already said that I was leaving it untrimmed on purpose – for the bees, I said – a claim my wife answered with a deep sigh.

A week later the last of the blossom had fallen off the hedge, and my wife asked me again. A week after that she asked me once more, this time presenting me with our cordless hedge trimmer, charged and ready to go, while I was sitting in the kitchen.

“What, now?,” I said. My wife answered this by raising an eyebrow, as if to summarise all our past exchanges on the subject.

“Ugh, fine,” I said, carrying the trimmer through the house to the front door, where I found these two women standing on the other side.

“We’re just giving people leaflets,” says the second woman, standing slightly behind the first woman.

“OK,” I say. What I should say is: I don’t normally come to the door with a hedge trimmer in my hands. If I had opened the door after you’d rung the bell, I would have put it down to answer. But none of this occurs to me.

“So we’ll just leave one for you, if we may,” says the first woman, holding out a leaflet with two fingers.

“Sure,” I say. “Thanks.” I take the leaflet, smile and close the door.

The front page says: “How do you view the future? Will our world … stay the same? Get worse? Get better?”

“Get worse,” I say, opening the leaflet to see if I got the answer right. But the answer appears to be: get better, because of God. I put down the leaflet, and open the door again. This time the coast is clear.

Once I’m outside I can see why my wife raised her eyebrow. It’s a shared hedge, and the contrast between our side and next door’s side is pretty marked. On our side the hedge is encroaching on the path between the street and the step, so that you have to lean slightly to get to the front door. It must be pretty unwelcoming for visitors, I think. Though not as unwelcoming as a man answering the door with a hedge trimmer.

I start with the top, levelling the hedge to the height of next door’s side. Once I’m satisfied I begin to shape the vertical plane, aiming for something neat but not overly boxy. There’s such a thing as too welcoming.

As I work I begin think of all the times I’ve found myself facing a stranger at my own front door, feeling put upon, conned, occasionally mildly threatened. A man once shat on my doorstep because I refused to buy a washing-up brush from him. I think about how all those past interactions could have been reframed, if only I’d answered the door while holding a bladed gardening implement.

The best thing, I think, as I taper the bottom half of the hedge so it narrows slightly towards the ground, would be an idling chainsaw, accessorised with some protective eyewear and a set of armoured sleeves.

“Is it important?” I would say. “I’m kind of in the middle of something.”

I would be polite, but the message would be clear: go shit on someone else’s doorstep.

I consider the finished hedge from all angles – it looks straight, if a little depleted. I go back inside, leaving the trimmer on the little bench by the coats. In the sitting room I find the middle one watching the tennis while perusing the leaflet the women left.

“The answer isn’t ‘get worse’,” I say, sitting down. “Even though it is.”

I hear my wife open the front door, pause, and close the front door. She comes in with a rake in her hand.

“Are you expecting me to clean all those trimmings up?” she says.

“No,” I say.

“You are, aren’t you?”

“I’ll do it in a minute,” I say, pointing at the telly. “This is on a knife-edge.”

“I’ll do it,” she says. “If you just could manage to put the hedge trimmer back where it lives, that would be great.”

“Sure,” I say, thinking: it lives right there, by the front door. I’m going to put up a hook for it.