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Fools for Tools

The Plot So Far

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Bad workmen blame their tools, the saying goes. But good gardeners - and there are one or two down here on the allotments - develop a great and fond admiration for them.

Red, over the fence, says proudly: "You got a tool like this?" The challenge in his voice suggests that he who hasn't can't call himself a gardener. He brandishes a hand cultivator, with clawlike prongs. Prongs can be rearranged to suit particular jobs: a multiplicity to stir up a broad bed of earth for carrots and onions, a lone prong to zip out a narrow seed-drill. I don't have one. I've been using my hoe and a long-handled fork for most jobs. And my rake. But maybe I should go cultivator-hunting.

Monty even more proudly let it be known that she now owned a stainless-steel spade and fork. "Cost about 100!" Later, Red suddenly spluttered: "Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous? A hundred pounds! Look at this fork. This'll see me out." His fork had clearly been on the go for decades. It had a well-worn wooden handle. Dark, well-used, flat tines. "See?" he said, "it's a potato fork, for digging 'em up. Handle breaks, I fit a new one. What I always say," and he has a way of pausing before coming out with a proverb, as though it must be the first time you've ever heard it, "is Waste Not, Want Not."

Jean, a newish plot-holder who buses over from the West End, would agree. She has a new stainless-steel spade of immaculate German manufacture. She bought it on sale, dramatically reduced, at a supermarket. It cost between 6 and 7. She cleans it carefully after work, replaces its blade in its heavy plastic protector, and carries it home on the bus. When I praised its shining elegance, she almost purred.

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