Friday, 17 January 2014

Boys and their Toys

Now Christmas is over and the wrapping paper recycled boys can now start playing with their new toys, not that big boys ever needed Christmas as an excuse to get a new toy. Perhaps you should really read tool for toy and bloke for boy for if there is anything more 'Blokey' it is the absolute need that before any new task is embarked upon you must first get the right tool for the job, even if what you have will do the job just as well. I guess every 'better half' will recognise this peculiar trait in the Bloke of the species as if it were a genetic tick, rather like if the Bloke driving from A to B takes a wrong turn but rather than turn around just puts his foot down in the belief that eventually you will end up on the road to B. Well okay maybe that's getting a bit too close for comfort, but really I did need that tool and we did get there in the end.

This rather curious preamble is because some time ago at an open day on the allotment, and after a series of thefts from plot holders tool boxes, I did a little talk about what tools were really necessary and what were not. Basically all you need is a spade, fork, hoe and rake with a trowel for planting. Simple portable and if of the best quality you can afford, durable. In fact rather than go to the garden centre and spend a fortune, try the local car boot sale were you can pick up a top quality items for a fraction of the price. Just because it is old will not mean it's knackered, rather, think that it has already lasted someone a lifetime and will probably last yours as well.
After the talk and quite unashamedly, I thought to my self  "I'm the last person in the world to do what I preach", the damn things are spilling out everywhere. In my defence it maybe because I have a reluctance to throw things away and, as I learn more and get older, there is the realisation that an old hand tool is often better than the raucous smelly 2-stroke that looked the ticket in that catalogue. I have to admit to a shed full of petrol tools of which the lawn mower is the only one now in use. The strimmer is now superseded by a scythe and a sickle, the hedge trimmer by adjustable shears and the chainsaw by a 3' bow saw that cost me £1 a foot down the car boot.
The other thing I have are shelves full of books on allotments, gardening and the way it 'used to be done'. The forgotten Arts (John Seymour), The Victorian Kitchen Garden (Jennifer Davies), Old Garden tools (Kan N Sanecki) or The Kitchen Gardens at Heligan (Tom Petherick) where they garden as if it was still 1870. What comes across most clearly are the number of similar looking but very different tools each designed to do a specific job (can you see a link to the 'bloke' thing here) but strip away the regional differences and what you have are tools that are designed do the job, efficiently. It is at this point that you realise power tools are a bit of a blunt instrument who's only saving grace is speed, and that over accuracy.
Take for instance the spade. Once made from wood (which was a significant improvement over the antler) now in its metal form can be for heavy digging or delicate border work or as a shovel to move loose material. The fork, which surprisingly was not really developed until the 1860's, does much the same task but is better for lifting root crops with one just for potatoes. Then you get the crossover tools like the adze hoe and Canterbury hoe which can be used to dig or hoe, and then the hoe itself which of all tools appears in more shapes than you can shake a stick at. As a narrow onion hoe or as a draw hoe for ridging potatoes, as a dutch hoe for weeding or oscillating for both push and pull. Rakes by and large are rakes but I have long handled draw hook (for pulling dung from carts) which is used like a rake so I keep off the beds.

The last set of tools that I can't be without are for cutting. Bill hooks for coppicing and chopping (the smaller the bits that go in the compost bin on the allotment the better) sickles for the grass paths (I cleared my last plot using a reaping hook from a boot sale) and now the scythe which came about after watching youtube and reading The Scythe Book (David Tresemer) which is brilliant for large areas but requires a knack in using it and sharpening it (you use a hammer! and its called peening) but the swish and rhythm of cutting is a pleasure and the speed at which it cut down the wild flower meadow at home - amazing.

As I mentioned before these tools have been given or bought from boot sales for sometimes as little as a £1, others such as the scythe and oscillating hoe were quite expensive but all together they probably would seem a bargain. What I ask myself is - would I have heard the three buzzards mewing over head at the allotments if I had been using a power tool.