It’s indicative of the gulf between his formative experiences and his current priorities in life, that only yesterday did this gardening-loving 35-year-old environmentalist learned how to use a hoe.
Some skills are considered so simple that they should only be learnt by doing, on the assumption that everyone eventually does the doing. But I’ve never owned a garden large enough to cultivate part of it as anything other than a lawn (if you’re as ignorant as I was, you might want to know that hoes only work on weeds in otherwise sparsely planted soil.) Moreover, my parents, ever conscious of their upbringings, doubtless considered an allotment to be too working class in 1980s Lancashire. What might the local Wine Circle think?
Worse: like any “simple” skill, hoeing isn’t actually simple at all; K. and I were both doing it painstakingly, putting weeds into a bucket, when a better gardener showed us that we could just shoof-shoof under the topsoil in ten minutes flat and leave the scraps of weed were they lay, for the sun to dry them out. Anyone who’s ever left similarly clipped grass where it lies on a freshly dug border, to return a few weeks later and find a new grass plant, will look askance at this; knowledge clearly does not beget knowledge, when judged by the realities of an actual garden.
Hoeing is, I’m sure, just the tip of the iceberg. All these skills: vital to fending for ourselves; forgotten for reasons of convenience and comfort; so some that they’re actually very complex. And we’re only just discovering them now. At least digging up potatoes turned out much like I’d expected. Including the bit where I predictably put my spade through one.