“You shouldn’t cut your fingers off if you hold onto the wire with your other hand” said my husband, giving me a demonstration from his side of the tree. The secateurs snapped with cold precision, cutting through thick branches as though they were bread sticks.
He held out the second pair to me and I took them reluctantly. Tugging the wire behind me with one hand, I squeezed the lever on the handle with the other. The secateurs took sudden flight in my hand, the blades opening and closing in rapid succession. Whooshes of icy air blasted my face and a series of pneumatic pssssts filled the orchard. I felt as though I was holding the reins of a runaway horse – one that was waiting to whip its head round and bite a chunk out of me. I released the pressure on the lever and to my relief they stopped their manic slashing.
I gave my husband a desperate I don’t think I’m up to this look, but despite his bemused expression he ignored it and launched into a “Pruning apple trees with a highly dangerous implement for Dummies” speech. I listened as best I could, trying to absorb his 15 years of experience in 5 minutes before he returned to the other side of the apple tree.
I gripped the wire and pulled it with me to the next tree, watching it snake 150 yards back down to the tractor to where it was connected to whatever makes pneumatic secateurs work. The whole lot was on loan from a neighbouring farmer and it had been with a certain dread that I had agreed to come and help cut back the thousand or so Golden Delicious apple trees in our orchard. I am so bloody clumsy that I had convinced myself that I would snip off some vital body part before we were finished.
I hesitated, carefully holding the wire in one hand before aiming the secateurs at the tip of a small branch in way of a test. I pressed the lever gently, hoping that they might just nibble this time, but the blades gnashed through the twig with all the tenderness of a lion biting off its trainer’s arm at the shoulder. My husband glued a smile of encouragement onto his face, metal flashing in his hand accompanied by the sound of pneumatic hissing.
I hacked my way up the row of trees, pruning with great concentration, afraid that I would choose the wrong branch. The cold had started to sting my face and feet and I stopped to pull my scarf up round my ears forgetting about the secateurs in the other hand. They flew into action dangerously near to my coat. I cringed and my husband caught my eye. “Be careful” he said looking at me “those things are sharp!” I started to smile in way of reassurance, pleased with his concern about my safety, but my smile faded as he continued “it would be better if you didn’t cut through the wire.”