Di­nosaurs still have their uses

Country Life Every Week - - Spectator -

We said a sad good­bye to Tyran­nosaurus Rex the other day— sad, be­cause he had been sit­ting qui­etly in our field for a cou­ple of weeks, rest­ing from his re­cent ex­er­tions.

T. Rex (def­i­nitely not T. Regina) was our pet name for the 35-ton Ja­panese mon­ster Ko­matsu earth­mover, which has a reach of 72ft and the abil­ity to dig down 55ft—hap­pily, we only needed to go down about 10ft—that rid us of reed­mace in our moat.

Reed­mace is more com­monly known as bul­rushes, but the Shorter Ox­ford English Dic­tionary de­scrip­tion is vague: the term bul­rush ‘dates from 1440 for Scir­pus la­cus­tris, but is more pop­u­larly ap­plied to Typha lat­i­fo­lia, the cat’s tail’, it says un­help­fully, adding that the name bul­rush is also used for the pa­pyrus of egypt in which Moses was found by Pharaoh’s maid.

Our reed­mace was Typha lat­i­fo­lia and it had grown so thick and dense that even the moorhens had a job push­ing through it. We had last had the moat fet­tled about 20 years ago, when it had to be dredged—and the house in­sured from fall­ing into it.

At that point, some cen­tury’s worth of silt was shov­elled out with a drag crane—an­other di­nosaur in looks, but not as men­ac­ing as T. Rex. We had no choice be­cause we weren’t al­lowed a ve­hi­cle on the floor of the moat it­self.

This was fair enough, as it turned out, be­cause the moat’s orig­i­nal, 14th-cen­tury base was still clearly de­fined, ac­cord­ing to the dredger op­er­a­tive. I say 14th cen­tury be­cause that’s the date of the house, but we had a moat ex­pert round—did you know there were such peo­ple?— who told us that it’s not pos­si­ble to date moat con­struc­tion.

Dur­ing those 20 years, the reed­mace took a hold, ex­tend­ing it­self like couch grass, its roots in­sid­i­ously creep­ing un­der the soil and then pop­ping up in un­ex­pected places. What had been a clear sheet of wa­ter on which the house rode like a ship at an­chor had be­come a morass of weed.

en­ter T. Rex and his op­er­a­tor, Colin: I’ve never seen such an un­wieldy ma­chine worked with such dex­ter­ity. The great arm would be poised del­i­cately over a swathe of reeds, its pow­er­ful jaws wide open, be­fore it would de­vour a hefty chunk of green­ery.

Then, Colin would give the whole load a good shake and wa­ter would pour from be­tween the teeth back into the moat like a rins­ing at the den­tist. The reeds were dumped on the field be­side the ma­chine, look­ing for all the world like its van­quished prey, in a move­ment that was both ef­fec­tive and grace­ful.

Colin picked up the mounds and took them to a large dump from where we later moved it. The silt from the roots was lev­elled on the field so that, in spring, the grass will come through, en­cour­aged by the new, fer­tile soil.

T. Rex had done his job. He stayed qui­etly in the field, his pow­er­ful jaws raised to the sky, wait­ing for his next as­sign­ment. The moat’s wa­ter level tem­po­rar­ily went down 1ft, but is now back up to its nor­mal win­ter level and, as far as we can tell, the mal­lards have stopped fuss­ing and the moorhens have a free run on the wa­ter.

Our ship is back at an­chor. The only doubt is whether the drag­on­fly nymphs have been dis­turbed, but spring will tell.

It wasn’t easy to get T. Rex out of our sod­den field, along a coun­try lane and through the vil­lage. His exit in­volved a low loader with a po­lice es­cort and the lane was closed for an hour. Thanks for ev­ery­thing, T. Rex!

I’ve never seen such an un­wieldy ma­chine worked with such dex­ter­ity’

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