The Mattock-The right tool for the job

Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen a run of photos on Twitter and Facebook of broken spades. People have tried using their garden spades to dig out established shrubs and trees or trying to break up hard landscaping. These were all cases of people using the wrong tool for the wrong job.

As mentioned in previous blogs I have lots of building work going on and I am having to remove a number of established shrubs to accommodate the changes. One of the hardest jobs has been removing the hebes from the front garden. I think these have been growing there for about a decade and were starting to die off and no longer flower. The ground was a solid mass of roots. There was almost no soil between the roots to depths of four to six inches. I removed the first one with shovel, loopers and weeding knife. While this got the plant out I knew these were the wrong tools for the job. I figured an axe might be a better tool for the job so did a bit of research and discovered the mattock. I asked around to see if anyone had one I could borrow for the job and had no luck. Pretty much no one even knew what a mattock is. This seems a great pity for such a useful versatile tool.

The term mattock is sometimes used interchangeably with a pickaxe. However, they are different tools. A mattock is a tool with a long handle and metal head. The head has two sides. On one side a narrow axe, then on the other an adze (a horizontal axe blade). The handle is usually wood or fibreglass. The axe head is not fixed on. It can be dismantled for transport. To put the head on it is slid down the handle. Then tapping the handle into a firm surface allows the weight of the head to secure it onto the handle. As such it isn’t designed to be swung up high as the blade can become loose. The mattock is lifted to just above waist height and the weight does much of the digging. The axe can smash apart roots. Then the adze can be used to scrape through. It works through mats of root and sod more easily than the shovel could. The weight adds force you would struggle to deliver with a spade even pushing with your foot. While still a hefty tool to use it is going to prove useful in my front garden where I have solid soil to break it up. This isn’t suitable for breaking up rock, a pickaxe would need using for that. But my ground is just compressed soil with lots of thick roots through.

Evidence for mattocks goes back to the Mesolithic period with mattocks made of antler. By the Bronze Age the mattock design we still use had been established. They have also been used to strip blubber from whales by the Inuit people and the Broch people in Scotland. It was used in agriculture to make planting trenches. Specific forms have been developed for different jobs such as the hop mattock with two forks instead of the axe. The shorter Japanese Ikagata has the same basic adze side combined with a three-pronged fork used for weeding. But the basic design of the mattock has remained the same signalling that this is a useful tool.

BBC-A history of the world-Matthew Bigg’s mattock

A hand mattock in the Hornsea Museum ca. 1840

Within Sumerian mythology the God Enlil created the mattock to give to the humans. It is described as an object of beauty made of pure gold and a head made from lapis lazuli. The tool gives the Sumerians the power to build their cities, subjugate the people and take up weeds. Enlil is an important God within Sumerian mythology separating Earth and Heaven making the world habitable for humans. He is seen as a patron god of agriculture. It’s interesting to read about a tool like this in mythology which has lost its significance in the modern world. But for much of human history, this tool has proved invaluable in digging the earth.

Mesopotamian daggers and mattock head ca. 1000 BCE

My mattock finished off the remaining four hebes in an afternoon. It had taken me an afternoon to remove one without. Whether it is a tool of the gods or not it has proved worth its cost. This might not be a tool you are going to use regularly but it will save time when it is employed for the right job. Which I suppose you can say about any garden tool. But it seems worth saving the lives of all those broken spades and forks and recommending you get a mattock for the serious business of removing roots.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my shout out for this humble and almost forgotten tool. In a day and age where most families will only have a spade, maybe a fork and a hand trowel it is worth looking back to think if you are using the right tool for the job. Is it worth struggling on or go and spend a tenner on a tool that will save you time and stress using the wrong tool? I know I’m thankful I bought my mattock.

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And as a bonus the mattock in poetry.

 SIMON LEE,

THE OLD HUNTSMAN,

With an Incident in which he was concerned.

In the sweet shire of Cardigan,
Not far from pleasant Ivor-hall,
An Old Man dwells, a little man,
I’ve heard he once was tall.
Of years he has upon his back,
No doubt, a burthen weighty;
He says he is three score and ten,
But others say he’s eighty.

A long blue livery-coat has he,
That’s fair behind, and fair before;
Yet, meet him where you will, you see
At once that he is poor.
Full five-and-twenty years he lived
A running Huntsman merry;
And, though he has but one eye left,
His cheek is like a cherry.

No man like him the horn could sound,
And no man was so full of glee;
To say the least, four counties round
Had heard of Simon Lee;
His Master’s dead, and no one now
Dwells in the hall of Ivor;
Men, Dogs, and Horses, all are dead;
He is the sole survivor.

And he is lean and he is sick,
His dwindled body’s half awry;
His ancles, too, are swoln and thick;
His legs are thin and dry.
When he was young he little knew
Of husbandry or tillage;
And now is forced to work, though weak,
—The weakest in the village.

He all the country could outrun,
Could leave both man and horse behind;
And often, ere the race was done,
He reeled and was stone-blind.
And still there’s something in the world
At which his heart rejoices;
For when the chiming hounds are out,
He dearly loves their voices!

His hunting feats have him bereft
Of his right eye, as you may see:
And then, what limbs those feats have left
To poor old Simon Lee!
He has no son, he has no child,
His Wife, an aged woman,
Lives with him, near the waterfall,
Upon the village Common.

Old Ruth works out of doors with him,
And does what Simon cannot do;
For she, not over stout of limb,
Is stouter of the two.
And, though you with your utmost skill
From labour could not wean them,
Alas! ’tis very little, all
Which they can do between them.

Beside their moss-grown hut of clay,
Not twenty paces from the door,
A scrap of land they have, but they
Are poorest of the poor.
This scrap of land he from the heath
Enclosed when he was stronger;
But what avails the land to them,
Which they can till no longer?

Few months of life has he in store,
As he to you will tell,
For still, the more he works, the more
Do his weak ancles swell.
My gentle Reader, I perceive
How patiently you’ve waited,
And I’m afraid that you expect
Some tale will be related.

O Reader! had you in your mind
Such stores as silent thought can bring,
O gentle Reader! you would find
A tale in every thing.
What more I have to say is short,
I hope you’ll kindly take it:
It is no tale; but, should you think,
Perhaps a tale you’ll make it.

One summer-day I chanced to see
This Old Man doing all he could
To unearth the root of an old tree,
A stump of rotten wood.
The mattock tottered in his hand;
So vain was his endeavour
That at the root of the old tree
He might have worked for ever.

“You’re overtasked, good Simon Lee,
Give me your tool,” to him I said;
And at the word right gladly he
Received my proffered aid.
I struck, and with a single blow
The tangled root I severed,
At which the poor Old Man so long
And vainly had endeavoured.

The tears into his eyes were brought,
And thanks and praises seemed to run
So fast out of his heart, I thought
They never would have done.
—I’ve heard of hearts unkind, kind deeds
With coldness still returning.
Alas! the gratitude of men
Has oftener left me mourning.

William Wordsworth

Wildflower Hour-Lesser Celandine

This weeks wildflower contribution was lesser celandine (rannunculus ficaria). I found a patch growing in the shaded passageway behinf my garden, similar in nature to its natural habitat. This is a pretty common perenial growing in open woodland and along hedgerows. It is an early food source for bees flowering from March to May. while it grows in shaded spots it requires sun for the flowers to open.

As a part of the rannunculus genus this places it as a relative to varieties of buttercups, spearwort and crowfoot. It is quite low, forming clumps to a height of 25cm. The heart shaped leaves and small yellow flowers make it quite a pleasant sight at this poiny of the year when little is in bloom.

Poisonous if eaten raw it can cause livestock issues. It is native to Europe, but banned in some US states due to its toxic nature.

The poet William Wordsworth loved them enough to write three poems about them. When he died it was proposed a lesser celandine should be carved on his gravestone. However a greater celandine was carved by mistake.

Edward Thomas also used the lesser celandine as the subject of this poem.

Thinking of her had saddened me at first,
Until I saw the sun on the celandines lie
Redoubled, and she stood up like a flame,
A living thing, not what before I nursed,
The shadow I was growing to love almost,
The phantom, not the creature with bright eye
That I had thought never to see, once lost.

She found the celandines of February
Always before us all. Her nature and name
Were like those flowers, and now immediately
For a short swift eternity back she came,
Beautiful, happy, simply as when she wore
Her brightest bloom among the winter hues
Of all the world; and I was happy too,
Seeing the blossoms and the maiden who
Had seen them with me Februarys before,
Bending to them as in and out she trod
And laughed, with locks sweeping the mossy sod.
But this was a dream; the flowers were not true,
Until I stooped to pluck from the grass there
One of five petals and I smelt the juice
Which made me sigh, remembering she was no more,
Gone like a never perfectly recalled air.

While a common wildflower I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a little more on the subject.

Edward Thomas-Spring thaw

Today have been the birthday of Edward Thomas. With the state of the UK weather it seems appropriate to remember him through one of his poems.

IMG_20180303_094413.jpg

Spring-Thaw

Over the land freckled with snow half-thawed

The speculating rooks at their nests cawed

And saw from elm-tops, delicate as flower of grass,

What we below could not see, Winter pass.

Thaw

The wonder of the Lost Words

In my Christmas Round up I mentioned my main present deserved a blog of its own. Having had time to reflect and enjoy reading it I now feel ready to comment on this book of wonder. I’ve only wanted to read a few pages a day so I could prolong the joy.

For Christmas Amy bought me The lost words by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris. I’ve been aware of the book before its release and had held off on buying it hoping I would receive it as a present. The concept of the book is brilliant for nature lovers and as a teacher who promotes outside learning irresistible. The Oxford Junior dictionary took out 50 nature related words and replaced them with words considered more relevant. These were mainly computer related words such as, “chatroom,” and, “broadband”.

I remember the news story back in 2015 informing us of this decision. While I can understand the reason it saddens me that it is considered more use for children to know what an attachment is rather than an acorn. Many of the changes were seen as a continuation of the disintegration of childhood. Children increasingly have more solitary lives, less time outside and a disconnect form nature. All of this adds up to less resilient children and potential increases in mental health issues. While an argument could be made that the computer time still allows children to interact with people on a global scale it isn’t the same as face to face interaction. This coming from an avid blogger and twitter reader. I appreciate the use of the internet in creating new communities, but it isn’t a replacement for being outside with your friends.

The lost words takes these nature words to use as a basis for an acrostic poem. One poem for each word. Then each word has a title page of the word and then an illustration page. Presented as a beautiful A3 hardback the artwork gets the space it deserves. It feels like a quality package, but is selling at a very reasonable price for something that feels so special. I’ve been a fan of Jackie Morris’s artwork after buying, “something about a bear”. I went onto buy many more of her beautifully illustrated books. The style is perfectly matched to Robert MacFarlane’s words. MacFarlane’s nature writing has been nominated and won many accolades over the years. The partnership between the two on the lost words is a perfect blend. The poems are written as spells. These poems are wonderful fodder for the imagination.

While Alice is currently to young for understanding the poems I like the idea that in the future we use the book as a basis for a wildlife treasure hunt. A fieldguide for childhood lost. We’d attempt to find all the items from the book. Some are readily available in our garden, some would require hunting. A book to go back to again and again. It’s currently making for a perfect fireside read during the cold Winter nights.

And as if by magic a goldfinch has been summoned to my garden.

The dark is rising days 7 and 8

Over days 7 and 8 of the TDIR reading group we’ve been asked two questions by Julia Bird. What are our theological thoughts and what is the significance of the bread and honey?

The church scene indicates the old ones portrayed as older than the church. The other old ones are dismissive of the Reverend’s efforts to hold back the dark. They state it’s only natural he’d try, but futile before freezing him out of the attack. Will comes across as more accepting of the church, but he is still in a position of greater knowledge of the world. The world of the old ones being of an older, greater power. While the book makes use of Christian symbolism it is clear that the light isn’t the same as following the Christian path.

The symbolism of the honey is interesting. Honey being associated with great pleasure it fits well with the light. The land of milk and honey. The light working through joyous emotions. Hawkins requests honey. This may be a throw back to his pleasure working for the light or just a familiar food source from his own time.

Within a biblical context honey has the symbolism of joy and pleasure, “A virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel (God with us). Butter and honey shall He eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good.” Isa 7:14, 15. Honey also signifying truth.

 Within Celtic traditions honey and mead, in particular, is the drink of immortality. Within Greek mythology Pythagoras ate nothing but honey giving him knowledge. To look wider, bees have a strong association with rebirth which plays a large part in the story with the seasonal cycles of Winter back into Spring. The dark rising with the winter cold.

Or it could, of course, have no symbolism beyond Susan Cooper having a love of honey.

Honey haiku

Sweet, heavenly treat

gift from benevolent gods

Bringing joy and light

National Allotments Week

This week is National Allotments Week. This is organised by the National Allotment Society. With people having smaller gardens in new builds and pressure to remove allotments for new housing it seems nice to celebrate the allotment. That little space where Brits have escaped to for many years. The first were established in the 1700’s for the use of the poor. By the name Victory Gardens they played a role in digging for victory in the World Wars. Now with a young child I don’t have the time needed for an allotment. I’m still getting on top of my own garden. But my parents do and they have donated various fruit and veg. So to celebrate National Allotment Week I have attempted a rhubarb and apple crumble using the recipe here.

The variety of apples my parents have grown are supposed to be a cross between an eating and a cooking apple depending on when you pick them. So we’ll have to wait and see whether they are tasty or disgusting in the crumble.

The crumble mix felt suitably crumbly before going on.

The finished result. My parents are visiting tomorrow and since they donated the apples and rhubarb I think I will have to save it for them to test. Just crisp it up a little bit more. So we’ll see what do you reckon will it be delicious or totally inedible?

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Apple Picking-Robert Browning

A quick poem linked to the apples.

My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

Garden update

The long tailed tits have been back again. They are gradually becoming more comfortable with me being around allowing me to get a bit closer for clearer photos than last time.

Birds of a feather

Having written about my new bird feeder I think it’s a good time to look at what I am getting in the garden. Often Summer is quite a quiet time for the feeders with an abundance of food around for the birds they can find themselves. But with the sporadic weather going back and forth between torrential rain and baking sun when the sun is shining the birds are looking to fill up on high energy foods.

Nothing puts the pigeons off coming to the feeders. Even in the rain they will sit out on the feeder getting plumper.

With lots of young sparrows around the feeders have seen the house sparrows back and forth on lots of visits.

The starlings have been swarming in large numbers, then flitting off as quickly as they came.

The blackbirds have been enjoying the wet ground, picking though for the worms come to the surface.

The goldfinches mentioned in a previous blog.

I’ve almost seen the whole tit family. There have been blue tits, great tits, long tailed and coal tits. Although I haven’t managed any photos of the coal tits.

The ever present herring gull shed mafia has been keeping watch over its domain.

I’ve also seen wrens, collared doves, jackdaws, chaffinches and thrushes. Part of the reason for getting so many I believe is down to the variety of food on the feeders. The tits seem to be going mad for the suet and peanuts. The jackdaws come for the meal worms and kitchen scraps. The pigeons seem to devour everything. The finches like the niger and the sunflower heads.

I also have feeders on different levels. Some ground feeders and some up higher on the station. Then I also have some located hanging in the trees and these seem to be favoured by the smaller birds. It’s worth trying putting more than just a seed mix out if you want to attract a variety of birds. Or if there is something you particularly want put out appropriate food.

The insect life has also been pretty good with a good variety of butterflies, dragonflies and bees coming in.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my whistle stop tour through my garden birds and all have good weekends.

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I’ll finish with an Emily Browning poem.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.