I am ridiculously fond of some inanimate objects. Too fond probably. Long association with a non-sentient – some may say soulless – thing can forge an intimate bond and I am sometimes stupidly upset by its loss.
Affection for my childhood collection of Biggles books needs no explanation – obviously – but take The Priory’s marvellous old Hayter mower for instance.
When thieves did just that a while ago, it felt like a grievous personal blow. Over several years during long hours of shared toil, that stoic, reliable, lovely machine and I forged a deep relationship. Or at least I did with it. If the thieves also took several Stihl petrol tools, I felt no hurt at their loss.
And there’s the ten-year-old pair of secateurs given to me as a birthday present, which I use most days and remarkably haven’t yet lost. They no longer have their handle covers nor bottom clip and you wouldn’t look at them twice at a car-boot sale. But I keep them sharp and they fit my hand. They are my go-to secateurs. I shall be angry on the day that I do lose them.
There were the mislaid bonsai scissors that I always carried in a trouser pocket, and which playfully stabbed me in the leg whenever I crouched down (till I impaled their pointy ends in a cork).
Bonsai scissors are an underrated tool … and you first heard that here. I use them for cutting twine, slicing open plastic sacks, poking out weeds from potted plants, deadheading dahlias as well as little hard-to-reach flowers, snipping tiny alpines and despatching weasel-sized slugs. They’re also good for doing the bonsai. I have two or three pairs but the ones I lost, another birthday gift, were special. Isn’t that always the way?
And then there is the old wheelbarrow. My beloved old wheelbarrow.
Like the Hayter, but precious few other tools, the wheelbarrow was waiting for me at The Priory when I started work in July 2008.
It was old even then and battered; and I haven’t treated it gently.
I’ve had them all in my barrow.
Not just non-compostable plants or fallen branches and felled trees carted off to the bonfire;
not just big, tender plants ferried to
and from the greenhouses; nor trays of seedlings and sacks of bulbs for planting.
But more endless trips to the leaf mould bins than you have hairs on your chin.
And then, a year or two later, wheeling back the delicious end result.
I’ve pushed hundreds of barrowloads of compost
and hundreds more of logs.
If the front lip of the barrow’s pan wasn’t split into a jagged ‘V’ at our first acquaintance, it soon was. The ‘V’ couldn’t be better for catching and slicing open my finger. I did so twice before I decided I didn’t want to do so again and stopped.
I’ve filled the barrow with cut turf, soil, manure, rubble, bricks and huge, heavy paving slabs. I’ve slowly, carefully shifted large potted plants from here to there and back again.
Over the years, and like all of us, the state of the barrow deteriorated. I repaired several punctures until the axle bolt seized fast and refused to loosen. No longer able to remove the inner tube, I endured a slow puncture for a couple of years. Thankfully, it was slow enough that I only needed to pump it up once a week.
The pan parted company with the frame but I lashed it back in to place with wire. The wheelbarrow slowly, bit by bit, declined.
And then at last, after years of sitting on wet grass and mud, the frame legs corroded through. One day, as I pushed it back from the compost bins, the barrow lurched suddenly – the pan skewing one way and the wheel the other. I groaned. After almost ten years, we had arrived at the end together.
I have a new wheelbarrow now. And it is good. I like it. It’s reliable. It doesn’t seek to cut my finger, it’s not held together by bits of wire and it has no slow puncture. It has comfortable handles rather than shiny hand-polished, naked ones. It was pretty cheap too at about thirty quid and sports handsome Hues of Sauron. But I don’t yet love it.
It’s not my old wheelbarrow.